[ilds] RG Justine -- book reviewing for fun and profit

Michael Haag michaelhaag at btinternet.com
Tue May 29 07:11:56 PDT 2007

In his review of MacNiven's biography of Lawrence Durrell, Eagleton 
makes a number of broad remarks about Durrell's work, expressions of 
his views on the literary worth of Durrell's poetry and novels.  
Whatever one thinks of Eagleton's points of view, these remarks offer 
no indication that he read the biography.

I have picked out from the review the statements of fact made by 
Eagleton.  These offer the only indication that he may or may not have 
read the biography.  In every case his statements are false and can 
readily be falsified by reference to the biography.  If this is what 
people like Eagleton and Richard Pine practice in the name of book 
reviewing, it would be better if they grew turnips.


>>> Born in India in 1912, the child of
>>> an affluent engineer, he spent the rest of his life drifting like a
>>> literary playboy from one fancy European hotel to another.

-- Durrell was indeed born in India in 1912 to a successful self-made 
father.  But it is untrue that Durrell spent the rest of his life 
drifting from one fancy European hotel to another.  He lived in no 
hotels at all, except as a boy when his mother briefly lived at a 
residential hotel (which she did for economy) in south London, or 
during his first period in Corfu when looking for a home, or briefly 
when a refugee in Egypt.  He worked the whole of his life, from before 
his majority until his dying day, entirely supporting himself through 
jobs and his writing -- the exceptions being the year 1934 when he 
lived in a cottage in Sussex and the years 1936-39 when he lived in 
Corfu, and of course during these exact years he wrote three novels and 
any number of poems.  Not exactly drifting, not exactly a literary 
playboy; more like hard work.  

>>> Part of the
>>> fag-end of cosmopolitan modernism, he shacked up in Corfu, Athens,
>>> Egypt, Rhodes, Buenos Aires, Cyprus and France, changing wives almost
>>> as often as he changed countries. Some of this placeshifting was an
>>> attempt to keep one step ahead of the second world war. ... While 
>>> Hitler was on the rampage,
>>> Durrell was in search of a spot more sunshine.

-- As MacNiven's biography makes clear, this place-shifting was 
dictated by his work; furthermore Durrell attempted to join the armed 
forces while in Greece.  His positions, which were valuable ones, in 
Greece and in Egypt put him directly in the path of the invading 
Germans.  His position in Yugoslavia, not mentioned above, again put 
him in an extremely exposed position.  Not the behaviour of a shirker.  
As for the wives, well, bad luck; one had a long history of 
instability, another died.  

>>> As a textbook bohemian, Durrell knocked around Paris with Henry 
>>> Miller
>>> and Anais Nin, and loafed about London with Dylan Thomas and a few
>>> stray surrealists.

-- Durrell did not knock about Paris, nor did he loaf about London.  In 
each case his visits had purpose and were directly linked to having his 
work published.  Durrell specifically rejected bohemianism and 

>>> Loftily contemptuous at first oft S Eliot, he changed
>>> his
>>> opinion of him overnight when Eliot, then editor at Faber, published
>>> one of his novels.

-- Durrell was not loftily contemptuous of Eliot; he did increasingly 
admire him as their acquaintance developed, most specifically when 
Eliot rejected the Black Book.  

>>> He ended up as a bored, taxevading semi-recluse,
>>> dying in London in 1990.

-- Durrell was not a tax evader.  He did not live in France for any tax 
purpose.  He paid all taxes that were due.  He did not die in London.

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