[ilds] [RG 2003 Justine 2]

James Gifford gifford at ualberta.ca
Fri Apr 6 13:22:57 PDT 2007

------ Forwarded Message
From: James Gifford
Date: Tue, 15 Jul 2003 21:28:19 -0400
Subject: [ILDS] ILDS:  Discussion Group--AQ.  Gifford.

Hello all,

(and Bruce Redwine in particular)

I'll respond after quotations...

> > 1.  "In section 9, the un-named narrator
> > refers to 'the four of us,' which reminds
> > the reader of the Freudian epigram from the
> > letter to Fliess, which we noted in earlier
> > discussions."
> Re the Freudian model. [snip] Although I think
> Durrell takes Freud very seriously, it may be
> best to treat his treatment of Freud as a
> "mythology."

I couldn't agree with you more.  Durrell's library, and the marginalia in
his psychoanalytic books, would support such an approach.  Rather than a
clear belief system, I think Durrell plundered psychoanalytic texts for
source materials and plot lines.  I have a note appearing in _Notes on
Contemporary Literature_ this Fall on his appropriation of noses from
Groddeck's _The Unknown Self_ that functions in this way

As an aside, while Freud is challenged, many of his notions are quite
commonplace too, such as unconscious motivation and much of the dream work.
Freudian theory is simply too far-reaching and multifaceted to be taken up
as either 'true' or 'false' as a collective whole.  I'm certainly not a
Freudian, and I do have a strong interest in empiric psych., but I think
Crews isn't always even-handed, nor are some of his contributors.
Nonetheless, point well taken, and I agree that veracity really has nothing
to do with how psychoanalytic work functions in Durrell's texts.  After all,
characters aren't real people, but by lifting the structures
(architectures?), Durrell creates some very interesting effects.

> In a darker vein, the freewheeling sexuality
> of AlQ [snip] can have disastrous consequences
> in the real world.  To wit, the example of
> Durrell's daughter, Sappho Jane, who committed
> suicide and accused her father of incest, which
> her mother Eve Cohen Durrell [snip] denied ever
> happened. I've read excerpts from Sappho Jane's
> diary, as published in Granta some years ago ...

I don't recall Sappho ever actually making an accusation of incest in the
Granta materials, which are heavily edited.  She mentions feeling threatened
by her father dating women her age, which she calls "mental incest," and
they are certainly disturbing texts, but I don't really think they can say
much biographically.   This is aside from the Quartet, but what has struck
me as very odd about those texts is the broad assumption of the truth of the
allegation of incest made by Barbara Robson and the lack of substantiating
evidence in the published materials (and the assumption that Sappho's
husband and mother must be lying when they denied it).  An incestuous father
who encourages his daughter to get therapy and shows interest in the
therapeutic process doesn't really fit the pattern either...  His marginal
note to Sappho in the corrected proofs to his _Wordsworth_ collection also
cites her as having helped with the volume (published in 1973), which seems
to suggest his encouragement of her as a creative person (like the inclusion
of her drawings in _The Suchness of the Old Boy_).

While I think any truth rests in two grave, sadly, Mary Hamer has recently
made the very problematic move from Sappho's published notes (which never
directly accuse or describe incestuous acts) to statements such as "Sappho
claimed that her father had overridden her own wishes and forced her into
sexual intimacy with him" (63) - I can't find those claims...  "According to
Sappho it was when she was around the age of fifteen that her father made
his sexual assault" (67) - again, I can't find that quote...  "It is the
father who had come to his daughter's room, when she was staying with him in
the south of France..., according to the oblique and angry references... In
Granta" (64) - again, while I can see the shadows she's casting on the wall
(enter actor in a dark trench coat), this is most certainly not in the text
itself.  While I don't want to make light of what were clearly profound
troubles Sappho suffered with, I would want to stay away from what borders
on sensationalism, and in its lack of substantiation, slander (such as

> I wonder if this aspect of Durrell and Freud has
> been dealt with in the critical literature.  I
> haven't read the biographies.

Yes, the relationship with Sappho is covered in both biographies, but
neither deals with it in a Freudian manner.  Both Bowker and MacNiven come
to the conclusion that Sappho was a very troubled person and that her father
was at least a person who could be quite nasty at times, but both also point
out that there is no real evidence and that the Granta text is quite
difficult to interpret (and that's why Hamer never quotes either of them in
her book...).  Personally, I doubt incest occurred, and if we assume that
paternal incest is proved by Granta, then a whole host of other issues
should be addressed (dream of seducing her mother, her parallel discussion
of 'cultural fathers,' and so forth).

> > "This foursome that constitutes 'every sexual
> > act' (epigram) must be Justine, Darley,
> > Nessim and Melissa; [snip]
> As Freudian theory this may work, but I'm not
> sure how this works as fiction.

I didn't mean this in a Freudian sense, since it also goes against much of
Freud's works.  The letter to Fliess that Durrell places before the text
mentions that there are four persons in each sexual act (I'm assuming parent
& child on both sides), but Durrell repeats the language to point literally
to the affairs Nessim and Darley have with each other's spouses/partners.
Nonetheless, I think this allusion is meant to inaccurate, or at least a
creative reading, since just who these four people are (in both instances)
remains unsaid.

> The danger here being that characters stop being
> characters and become pipe-organ "stops," a term
> Pursewarden uses in Clea for stock emotions,

I think that's exactly what occurs.  We can read them as characters, in one
mode of reading, but in the work they *function* as interchangeable units.

> > by the time of _Justine_, 'purse' was a
> > common slang in Durrell's works for female
> > genitals)."
> Where else in Durrell's works?  Did LD originally
> pick up the term from the Elizabethans/Jacobeans?

Nice textual references!  I wouldn't be surprised if he got it from the
Elizabethans, and it appears in a number of places in the novels (I don't
have exact references) and also in the poems (see: "Strip-Tease"); although,
the phallic sense of 'purse' would work well in other poems (see: "The

> On the whole, queer doesn't seem appropriate for
> some of the major figures:  either Darley, Melissa,
> Pursewarden, or Narouz.  But, as you explain so
> well, there can indeed be a textual basis for such.
> I also see that you mean "queer" in a critical
> sense.  Still . . .

Yes, I do mean something different by 'queer'; queer as in not strictly
'normal' -- I don't think normal really is a valuable term when it comes to
sexualities, since these are not dialectical poles (gay and straight), but I
more generally think of Durrell's destabilization of discrete identities and
identity categories when I employ the term with regard to his works.

Nonetheless, Boone has done much to point to the fairly obvious homoerotic
subtext in the _Quartet_, ranging from Darley's rapture at Keat's godlike
body in the shower (Clea [Dutton] 179, Quartet 793) through to the
homoerotic use of "woman" as an exchange between men.  This is setting aside
the playfulness of the language, which hints at queer sexualities

I might add to this, Durrell nicely 'inverts' Shakespeare's Tarquin in _The
Black Book_ and shows considerable amount of attention the Wilde's arguments
about Mr. W.H. from Shakespeare's first 120 sonnets.  Paying close attention
to homosexual subtexts is likely a valuable way of reading Durrell's works,
whether it's the references to "Verlaine and Rimbaud" in _Pied Piper of
Lovers_ (275) or that text's fairly overt references to homosexual
experience for the protagonist.  Wilde is also a frequent reference in _The
Black Book_ (pp. 49, 113, 162, 181, & 192, Faber edition) and I already
mentioned that Wilde's "The Portrait of Mr. W.H." informs Durrell's approach
to Shakespeare, who I don't think is anyone's 'straight' man...  Durrell
discusses Shakespeare's homosexuality extensively in his two essays
(Carbondale), which were delivered at UNESCO.

> Although the human personality is often fluid
> and multi-faceted, an identifable core remains,
> which perhaps LD sees (or possibly rejects) in
> the poetic line, "I per se I."

"Carol on Coru" is one of my favourite poems by Durrell -- I teach it every
year.  Also, that particular line seems to have had some importance, as it
recurrs twice in _The Black Book_ (147 & 162, Faber edition).

> As Vadim notes, Durrell knew Greek language and
> culture, and he was probably aware of the semantic
> field associated with Greek pais ("boy, child"),
> which plays on "boyishness" and "playfulness."

Yes, Kimon Friar refers to Durrell's Greek as "Excellent!" (letters in the
American College of Greece, Kimon Friar collection) and evidently he was
considered for translating a Kazantzakis novel.  I do, however, think that
Durrell is careful not to make the easy ellision between Hellenism and
homosexuality that dominated many Victorian discourses -- I think the
notions behind homoeroticism in the two periods and langauges simply are
incommensurable, though I must admit I'm not a Classicist.

I might add to all this, Melissa's mouth falls like "an open petal" (sec. 4)
that is "dusted by the pollen of [another man's] kisses" (sec. 4).  Just
where does that leave Darley?  Kissing another man's pollen on a tulip (the
pun for Blanford's phallus in the _Avignon Quintet_)?  If he's being
pollenated by women who can penetrate him, I think the textual suggestions
of fixed sexual identities become unstable has firm (stable?) ground to
stand upon.  Even the boys who share cafés with Balthazar and Cavafy, are
suspiciously "hunt[ing] for a fellow nakedness" (sec. 3).  If they're in
cafés frequented by open homosexuals and search for a *fellow* nakedness,
the text suggests that certain homoerotic subtexts are at work.  It's not
simply 'another' nakedness, but rather the gender signifying 'fellow' they
seek.  Darley's obsession over Justine's three diaries (sec. 5) also turns
out to be an obsession with Arnauti's creative stylus, which can inscribe on
the page, while Darley's is more or less impotent -- this mirrors his
relationship with Justine as well.

I suppose this might be a major part of Darley's escape from Alexandria.  He
contends he has "come [t]here to heal [him]self" (sec. 1), but one element
of what he really means is that he has come to the rural setting in order to
reinscribe the heteronormative systems that the urban space has disturbed.
After all, he's there as a parent, gazing at the "nude pearl" landscape
(sec. 1), like Memmi's colonizer.  "Child" and "children" appear 3 times in
that first section, which then juxtaposes in section two to the city as a
space of multiple sexualities and people with a wounded sex.  The homoerotic
(or more broadly 'queer' or even just 'transgressive') subtext is tied to
the urban locale, with rural space acting as a reinscribing location for
both Clea and Darley in their heterosexual endeavours.

Admittedly, my interest is not in pulling out a gay reading of the
_Quartet_, but rather something akin to Sedgewick's "universalizing view,"
or what is taken up in Queer Theory.  I doubt the reader is meant to
advocate the lifestyles of every Durrellian character (Narouz anyone?),
sexual lifestyles or any other aspect of one's life -- what strikes me is
the relationship between defined sexual identities and identities in
general.  At the level of both the text and plot, Durrell disturbs any clear
borders for either kind of identity, and by tracing the disturbances of
sexual identity, we can see where blurrings are likely to occur for other
discrete categories.  After all, Alexandria is always referred to as a
"her," even though its namesake is Alexander the Great, which creates yet
another 'Tiresian' ambiguity...

My best,

Durrell, Lawrence _On the Suchness of the Old Boy_. Illus. Sappho Durrell.
London: Turret Books, 1972.

Hamer, Mary. "Sappho Durrell." _Incest: A New Perspective_. Cambridge:
Polity Press, 2002. 62-69.

Wordsworth, William. _Wordsworth; Selected by Lawrence Durrell_. Ed.
Lawrence Durrell. Hamondsworth: Penguin Books, 1973.

James Gifford
3-5 Humanities Centre
Department of English\
University of Alberta

------ End of Forwarded Message

More information about the ILDS mailing list