[ilds] Corfu memoirs & N.

slighcl slighcl at wfu.edu
Wed Jul 4 09:14:51 PDT 2007

        On 7/4/2007 11:34 AM, Michael Haag wrote:

>No big theory.  
>A further but  
>possibly not very important point is that by the time My Family was  
>written Nancy herself was long gone from being one of the fauna and  
>Gerry did not want to bring up delicate memories.  But principally the  
>guy had a story to write, and the idea was to put a madhouse under one  
>roof, no distractions allowed.
>Nancy in Prospero' Cell is N, just as Eve in Marine Venus is E -- a  
>mysterious letter of the alphabet.  Nancy is a presence; Durrell is not  
>writing about her or his relationship with her, he is writing about a  
>lightness of youthful being with presences in attendance, and N does  
>that nicely.  Like Gerry he has his story to write, and it would get in  
>the way if he mentioned how often they left the White House at Kalami  
>for calmer weather to the south and mother's home cooking.  No this is  
>the writer on his bare rock, and no time for sentiment, much less  
>cluttering elements like family.

A note that went missing copied and pasted here below. 

I will follow Michael's account of N. as "presence" with my account of 
N. as someone or something "numinous"--that is, a thing of mystery, 
brimful of divine presence, as the Victorian Graal poets or perhaps 
Santayana would have seen her. 

My last question about "N. contrasted with Justine" still interests me.  
Note how Justine is incredibly present as a name in the /Quartet/.   She 
goes from enigma to petty reality (as a peasant in a commune; then again 
as a Machiavellian player at the close of /Clea/) and then to a new 
enigma, as if she is able to arrive anew, reborn in her mystery.

>         On 7/4/2007 11:19 AM, slighcl wrote: 

>         Happy 4 July, Bruce. 
>         I wonder if our different readings of Durrell's "N." mark out
>         different ways of reading that wonderful book?  After all, how
>         do we define its mix of history, landscape, "men & manners,"
>         the personal, and the poetic?
>         I am guessing that I am reading /Prospero's Cell/ as a series
>         of poetic impressions of place and moment.  In that way, those
>         numerous but brief "heraldic" glimpses of "N." hold power and
>         presence via their striking sound of phrase and image. 
>         (Admittedly I am thinking of /Prospero's Cell /cut by
>         half--only the autobiographical parts, leaving out the
>         histories, which I enjoy too when thinking about the total
>         book.)   As in poetry, a keen, grave economy can magnify what
>         it withholds.
>         Your analogy to Kafka and abbreviated character names seems to
>         weigh N. in a different scale, perhaps as a "character," a
>         term from fiction and also a term Durrell sometime uses for
>         "real" figures in his island books.  (Cf. the "Preface" to
>         /Bitter Lemons/.)  Weighed in that balance, N. is of course
>         diminished. 
>         But here is my finesse:  the diminishment of N. is protective
>         in strategy.  Protective of the egoist writer: I don't think
>         anyone can miss that Durrell is publishing after his marriage
>         to Nancy has collapsed.   But also protective of the numinous
>         power of N.'s place in the memory.  The old notion of the
>         sacred and the profane.  Speaking too often about something
>         special expends its special power.
>         Some on the listserv will recall Margo's response to a
>         question about Nancy: "I loved Nancy.  We all loved Nancy so
>         much. . . ."  That ellipses was Margo Durrell's own as she
>         nearly said more but did not say it or could not share it. 
>         As for Gerry, is his treatment of his brother's long-past
>         marriage also protective?  Or is it good story-telling sense? 
>         After all, "Larry" in /My Family/ is a certain sort of
>         "character."  As in /Peter Pan,/ the intrusion of too much
>         adult reality (marriages and their foundering) would upset the
>         special terms of a childhood romance recollecting Neverland.
>         Perhaps we could compare the naming of Justine to the naming
>         of N.?
>         Charles

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

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