[ilds] ILDS Digest, Vol 1, Issue 88

James Gifford odos.fanourios at gmail.com
Sat Apr 28 09:49:23 PDT 2007

Michael writes to Sumantra

> Complex, as I said, and not to be reduced to
> the silly modern fashions of colonial and
> post-colonial 'theory'.

I like this reading, but I would add that Durrell seems to have been quite
aware (who couldn't be?) of the trauma that Smyrna represented (or rather,
not represented, but was).  Melissa whispers (murmurs?) "Smyrna," and it is
a date that no Greek would confuse with anna mirabilis of Modernism, 1922.
1922 was a slightly different date for the Irish as well... This is one
element of Durrell that I think gets overlooked, though Michael has voiced
it in his book on Alexandria, and I've mentioned it for Durrell's Corfu
works.  Durrell was keenly cognizant of histories lying under his
landscapes: more than we give him credit for, I believe, though perhaps that
leads in the fallacy of trying to read the authors mind through his art.
Reading Nabakov through Lolita?

Michael might comment more on Alexandria (I haven't the background to do
so), but when Durrell writes of Corfu in the 1960s, he takes the reader
through every major colonial site without mentioning that history, except
through innuendo and allusion.  If you know it, it's powerfully present, and
if you do not, it remains slumbering beneath the surface of the text.
Smyrna and the Greek world slumbers in Alexandria in a similar manner, or at
least I see flashes of it from my thin background on the subject.  It is
also difficult to discuss 'postcoloniality' when referring to the Hellenic
world would make one seem 'pro-colonial.'  As postcolonial scholars might
say, these are hybrid places, though one of those very long histories has
been erased.

Moreover, to mention Smyrna in a text set in the 1930s (Michael and Don can
quibble over the dating) in a decidedly Hellenic city in a Muslim country
with Coptic and Jewish characters interacting with an Irishman would strike
me as a profoundly political move...  Really, an Irish school teacher living
with a Greek woman from Smyrna, having an affair with a Jewish woman with
strong ties to Palestine, who's husband is a Coptic banker involved in gun
running to Palestine, chasing Greek references around Alexandria, a city for
which Cavafy is the 'Old Poet.'  That's not a pro-British colonialism, but I
think the political import is fairly overt.  As the whole series inches
toward WWII, it's easy for the 21st century reader to forget what an
Irishman's alignment would be.

Although it was after he wrote the Quartet, let's not forget that Durrell
was denied British citizenship during a move to prohibit immigration from
India & Pakistan...  That's in neither of the biographies currently
available, though Ezard wrote a news article on the matter.  Michael?

Sumantra?  What's your take on this?  Does Durrell's 'troubling' of
'received notions' of the colonial world show through in your reader?  Does
it make us retrospectively revise our (it did mine) previous elision or
division of narrator and author?  Personally, I think Durrell is still ripe
for a thorough postcolonial reading, except with the proviso that bringing
the theory to Durrell may reshape our reading, but neither the novels not
the theory will be exactly the same afterwards.  For my money, postcolonial
readings of Durrell haven't fulfilled their potential yet because they don't
adequately account for irony and the epistemological problems in the books
-- in general, I've often thought that seems to be a limitation of the

But, back to my own ransacked books and papers...


On 4/28/07 8:29 AM, "Michael Haag" <michaelhaag at btinternet.com> wrote:

> Sumantra:
> Yes, I forgot about Smyrna.  But that does not really change anything.
> Smyrna was something like Alexandria, also a place where so-called
> foreigners had been living for generations.  In fact Smyrna was a Greek
> city taken over by the Turks; for that matter Asia Minor was Greek and
> the whole thing had been taken over by the Turks.  The point is that
> Melissa was not a foreigner in Alexandria in the tedious narrow
> parochial modern 21st century sense of being born and having come from
> what is currently recognised as being Greece; she belonged to that
> great Greek world whose origins go back to Alexander the Great, even to
> the Trojan War, and of which Alexandria was once part.  Certainly in
> speaking of the modern cosmopolitan city, the one that began dying in
> 1936, it was 'home' to Greeks who had been invited to settle there by
> Mohammed Ali, himself born and raised in what is now Greece.
> Complex, as I said, and not to be reduced to the silly modern fashions
> of colonial and post-colonial 'theory'.
> :Michael
> On Saturday, April 28, 2007, at 10:16  am, Sumantra Nag wrote:
>> RE_Message: 2
>>> Date: Fri, 27 Apr 2007 21:36:21 +0100
>>> From: Michael Haag
>> ...........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;............
>> ----------------------------------------------------------
>> Michael,
>> I found your spirited response very informative. I did of course note
>> your
>> major
>> publication on Alexandria (Capital of Memory) some time ago, and look
>> forward very much to reading it
>> one day, along with Ian McNiven's biography on Lawrence Durrell. My
>> observations:
>> Your view that "...Melissa is a Greek of Alexandria; there is nothing
>> to say
>> that she has
>> not lived there all her life."
>> In Justine, when Darley meets her for the first time, when she is very
>> ill
>> after a party in the flat lent by Pombal to Pursewarden, the Greek
>> doctor
>> '...asked her where she came from and a haunted expression came into
>> her
>> face as she replied "Smyrna";...and then, '...The doctor took up her
>> hand
>> and examined the wedding-finger. "You see," he said.... pointing out
>> the
>> absence of a ring. "That is why. Her family has disowned her...." '
>> Melissa is a refugee: much earlier in Justine, the narrator writes,
>> "I found Melissa, washed up like a half-drowned bird, on the dreary
>> littorals of Alexandria, with her sex broken...."
>> Early in the pages of Justine, [1.2] Durrell makes much of Alexandria
>> as
>> "...the great wine-press of love;...." and its inhabitants as people
>> "...who
>> have been deeply wounded in their sex."  What is one to make of this
>> somewhat genral comment?
>> Sumantra
>> --------------------------------------------
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James Gifford
Department of English
University of Victoria
Victoria, B.C., Canada

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