[ilds] RG Justine 2.21 -- the French sailor and the child prostitutes

slighcl slighcl at wfu.edu
Wed May 30 13:52:22 PDT 2007

On 5/30/2007 3:32 PM, James Gifford wrote:

>The moral frame develops, and in order for it to do so, we need to start a
>goodly distance below the acceptable.  I think the lack of care for those
>children is meant to catch us, or at least it catches me.  By not passing
>judgement, Durrell starts us off in the Sadean end of things, but the Darley
>who ends the book seems to at least be pointing us in a different direction.

I like this reading, Jamie.  I was writing my earlier email on the 
"moral economy" of /Justine /from the perspective of someone who over 
the years has drifted backward through literary periods and now teaches 
Victorian Poetry and Novels.  For the Victorian Novels of Charlotte 
Brontë, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, &c. the (perhaps) dated terms of 
"moral economy" and "moral framework" &c. tend to be right there on view 
for the reader's education, which most often is meant to follow the 
education of the character whose pilgrimage gets rehearsed. 

I find that it is very helpful--very restorative--for me to assume the 
"character" of a Victorian reader who has through some /temporal 
anomaly/ just picked up /Justine: A Novel/ by Lawrence Durrell.   (Think 
of someone training on a 'holodeck', and you will be following me.)  
Without a doubt, the "real" Charles in 2007 is an over-practiced reader 
who at one time hungrily devoured Conrad, Joyce, Woolf, Ford, Hemingway, 
Faulkner, &c. &c.  If I only read in that character--as the Charles who 
has read /Justine /over and over again all of these years and who 
already knows the "turn ons" and "turn offs" of modernism and 
postmoderism backwards and forwards--then I find that I am only jaded 
old me. 

    I am tired of tears and laughter,
    And men that laugh and weep;
    Of what may come hereafter
    For men that sow to reap:
    I am weary of days and hours,
    Blown buds of barren flowers,
    Desires and dreams and powers
    And everything but sleep.

I can't hear my book anymore.  Instead, in order to see again, I often 
start by pretending to be more naive, an imagined "Victorian" Charles in 
a highly stereotyped sense, stepping from the classroom in which I teach 
Victorian morals and manners over to Durrell's hothouse, Alexandria.   

Other times I can put a much different sort of Victorian 
character--imagine, say, Algernon Charles Swinburne or Walter Pater or 
Aubrey Beardsley sitting down to read Lawrence Durrell.  That game of 
reading brings along much different returns.

        "'We are human beings not Brontë cartoons'" (3.1)

Most of all these days I want to read like Sade's "Lovely Thérèse."  
Like a naive first-timer.  A bit masochistic, really.  But I have 
learned to be very voyeuristic in designing my syllabi--jealous of first 
encounters with the books I select for my students to read--jealous of 
the surprise and tussle and (sometimes) the flash of first 
recognition--and I cannot shake the practice.  Some of my best classroom 
discussions in Victorian Poetry courses come when the younger 
undergraduates from conservative or evangelical backgrounds walk in the 
room and ready themselves to deal with Arnold's "Dover Beach," or with 
Browning's "Bishop Blougram," or (especially) with Swinburne's 
"Anactoria," /Atalanta in Calydon/, or "Hertha."  /There /is real 
readerly struggle and contest--call it "earnestness," if you 
must--/there /I get a sampling (in facsimile) of the original, 
distressing, challenging impact that those diverse Victorian poems had 
on their audiences, the real encounter with doubt and the diminishment 
of the old safe assurances. 

I want to remember, as Bruce has said, that Durrell is a surprising and 
sometimes "dangerous" author.


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

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