[ilds] ILDS Digest, Vol 1, Issue 86_Expats and colonialism

Marc Piel marcpiel at interdesign.fr
Fri Apr 27 14:24:02 PDT 2007


Michael Haag wrote:

> Darley is hardly a womaniser.  He had no woman at all, and no history 
> of having had one, until Melissa pretty much offered herself to him; 
> and Justine picked him up.  As for Pombal, well, he does what a 
> Frenchman has to do.  Neither of them are exactly living depraved lives.
> In fact these scenes in the opening sections of Justine are reminiscent 
> of scenes in many books, books set in Europe, and scenes in Durrell's 
> earlier novels Pied Piper of Lovers and Panic Spring where the 
> incidents occur in London.  They are not incidents that Durrell or his 
> principal characters in those books seem to approve of.  One could say 
> that Durrell transposed his material from London to Alexandria.  If so, 
> does that suddenly put his writing into the category of colonialist or 
> post-colonialist or orientalist?
> I find tags like colonial and post-colonial literature unhelpful; they 
> stop people making important enquiries or thinking for themselves.  As 
> for Edward Said, his Orientalism is nonsense and has been properly 
> rubbished by people far better informed in the subject than himself, 
> for example the historian of the medieval Middle East and novelist 
> Robert Irwin in For Lust of Knowing: The Orientalists and Their Enemies 
> (London, 2006).  Irwin has some pretty strong words for Edward Said, 
> calling him something like dishonest and malign.
> I might add that the characters in Justine are, almost all of them, 
> Alexandrians.  I draw the distinction between Alexandrians and 
> Egyptians, and between Alexandria and Egypt.  Alexandria was a peculiar 
> enterprise, a Europe transposed to Africa, rather like Durrell's 
> scenes.  The fascination with Alexandria to a considerable extent lies 
> in the fact that it is a kind of mirror (yes) to European civilisation; 
> it allows you to see something that is familiar yet to see it in a 
> special way.  That is why Cavafy, E M Forster and Lawrence Durrell were 
> always writing about a European experience when writing about 
> Alexandria -- the essence of the city, both ancient and 
> modern-cosmopolitan, was European not Egyptian.
> Melissa is a Greek of Alexandria; there is nothing to say that she has 
> not lived there all her life.  Balthazar is an Egyptian Jew as is 
> Justine, and Nessim is a Copt, more Egyptian than those 
> Johnny-come-lately Arabs or Turks.  Pombal is transitory, being a 
> diplomat.  He will be transitory wherever he goes.  Darley may or may 
> not have been transitory in Alexandria.  As it turns out, he leaves, 
> comes back, then leaves again.  But he might have stayed.  Certainly 
> the hundreds of thousands of people who made up the population at that 
> time belonged to families who had been in Alexandria for generations, 
> whether they were Christian, Muslim or Jew, whether they were French, 
> Italian, Syrian, Turkish, Palestinian, Lebanese, Maltese, English, 
> Belgian, Greek or whatever.  In fact the newcomers were the Egyptians; 
> they moved in after the modern city was up and running.  The 
> Alexandrians, indeed, were rather like Edward Said; he would fit the 
> Alexandrian mould perfectly, except that his father ran a business in 
> Cairo, not Alexandria, and sent his son to school in Cairo and America, 
> not Alexandria and Paris.
> Alexandria was not a British colonial city.  The British between 1882 
> and 1922 ran things from Cairo; after that the Egyptians ran almost 
> everything for themselves, and indeed everything after 1936 -- except 
> during the war, when the choice was between the British being in Egypt 
> or the Nazis.  There were some Egyptians who wanted the Nazis, but I do 
> not weep for the failure of their hopes.  In any case, Alexandria was a 
> very different city to Cairo.  Cairo was founded by the Arabs and was 
> the seat of the imperialist powers who ruled over Egypt, whether the 
> Arabs themselves or the Turks in their many varieties, then the French, 
> the Alids, the British, and now an Egyptian military dictatorship 
> dressed up as a democratic government.  But Alexandria, refounded in 
> about 1820 by Mohammed Ali (an Ottoman from northern Greece), was 
> settled by Europeans who were invited there and whose communities were 
> even given land on which to build.  They established their own elected 
> municipal government -- the first municipal government anywhere in the 
> Middle East -- and they largely ran their own affairs.  This was well 
> established by the time the British came along.
> Having said all that, it is worth noting that in the very earliest 
> drafts for Justine Durrell's characters were not Alexandrians, they 
> were for the most part British, but they were not ex-pats nor were they 
> transients, instead they were marooned in Alexandria by the war.  They 
> wanted to get out, but they were trapped.  Rather like the gnostics 
> felt trapped in a world not of their choosing nor even of God's 
> choosing.
> The matter is complex.
> I should also add that the Alexandria Quartet is in fact two works.  
> One is Justine.  The other is Balthazar-Mountolive-Clea.  The two works 
> were written at very different times.  Moreover Justine was not written 
> with any notion that there would be further volumes.  Reading Justine 
> as though Balthazar-Mountolive-Clea already existed, or was conceived 
> of, is a mistake.
> :Michael
> On Friday, April 27, 2007, at 06:56  pm, Sumantra Nag wrote:
>>to what extent is the AQ mainly about British and
>>European expats?
>>I believe the AQ has been referred to as "post-colonial" literature - 
>>should it be "colonial" literature? I remember reading that Lawrence 
>>referred to himself once as a "literary blimp", suggesting, it seems, 
>>he looked upon himself as a colonial in attitude. In fact, if one were 
>>look at the subject matter of the AQ, a lot of it deals with womanising
>>expatriate Englishmen (Darley, Pursewarden) or Frenchmen (Pombal for 
>>whose presence in Alexandria was transitory.
>>I think Edward Said referred to the subject matter of the AQ as 
>>and one can see why! Is Darley's relationship with Melissa anything 
>>than "...what we wanted of each other..." [Justine (1.4)]? And what was
>>that? It is not clear, but can a complex relationship be contained in 
>>such a
>>phrase? At first reading, there is an innocence and an element of 
>>poetry in
>>the lines of this section - but how does it appear on reflection about 
>>social situation - an Englishman having a fling with a deprived Greek 
>>And the Englishman (however indigent) is a member of the ruling 
>>power in Alexandria.
>>And what do you make of the following passage [Justine (1.12)]:
>>"Some of these encounters with poor exhausted creatures driven to 
>>by want are interesting, even touching,..."
>>"...encounters...are interesting.."???!!! It is as if Durrell had
>>unthinkingly let slip a crass and cynical comment, but it is a comment 
>>is revealing, and what it reveals is not very nice!
>>Sumantra Nag
> _______________________________________________
> ILDS mailing list
> ILDS at lists.uvic.ca
> https://lists.uvic.ca/mailman/listinfo/ilds

More information about the ILDS mailing list