[ilds] RG Justine 1.12 -- mirrors, Cohen, Jamais de la vie

slighcl slighcl at wfu.edu
Fri Apr 27 01:38:22 PDT 2007

On 4/26/2007 3:16 PM, william godshalk wrote:

> But why does the narrator (or Durrell, if you wish), begin this 
> important sequence of mirrors with Cohen's face reflected in a barroom 
> mirror? Why not begin with Justine's cubist observation?
        "As I was leaving I caught a glimpse of him in one of the long
        mirrors, his head bowed as he stared into the wineglass" (1.12)

Look into thy "glass" (image / drink / hour glass).  As with Pursewarden 
squirting his drink upon the mirror, time, drink, and mirrors.  Again, 
these all might be taken as the common, recurrent references funding 
LD's work--especially the poetry, where mirrors and glasses abound.

        ON MIRRORS [from Collected Poems: 1931-1974 (1985), Faber and Faber]

        You gone, the mirrors all reverted,
        Lay banging in the empty house,
        Redoubled their efforts to impede
        Waterlogged images of faces pleading.

        So Fortunatus had a mirror which
        Imperilled his reason when it broke;
        The sleepers in their dormitory of glass
        Stirred once and sighed but never woke.

        Time amputated so will bleed no more
        But flow like refuse now in clocks
        On clinic walls, in libraries and barracks,
        Not made to spend but kill and nothing more.

        Yet mirrors abandoned drink like ponds:
        (Once they resumed the childhood of love)
        And overflowing, spreading, swallowing
        Like water light, show one averted face,

        As in the capsule of the human eye
        Seen at infinity, the outer end of time,
        A man and woman lying sun-bemused
        In a blue vineyard by the Latin sea,

        Steeped in each other's minds and breathing there
        Like wicks inhaling deep in golden oil.


On Cohen:  Darley is "haunted by this old man" (1.12), and rightfully 
so.  Cohen becomes the narrator's /dopplegänger /in the text, shadowing 
him pas, present, and future, presaging the sadness of the cast-off 
lovers to come, including Darley--cf. his late realization, "And in a 
little time perhaps, if she should call on me or I on her?" (2.5).  For 
my own part I increasingly appreciate the sense of "an extraordinary 
feeling of intimacy" that the narrator confesses here.  Somehow Cohen 
humanizes the narrator and the book, reminding us that one step to the 
left or the right and we all appear with "the clumsy air of a trained 
seal grappling with human emotions" (1.12). 

Dante Gabriel Rossetti's use of mirrors in the /House of Life/ sonnet 
sequence to overlay "Old Love" and "New Love" is also in my mind as a 
reader.  "How they met themselves," using axes to cut down each other. . . .

And yes:  later on, as he is dying at the hospital, Cohen sings a few 
bars of "a small popular song which had once been the rage of 
Alexandria, /Jamais de la vie/" (2.5).


Charles L. Sligh
Department of English
Wake Forest University
slighcl at wfu.edu

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