[ilds] Women in Durrell's writing

Michael Haag michaelhaag at btinternet.com
Wed Jul 4 10:32:28 PDT 2007

Durrell was still married to Nancy when he wrote Prospero's Cell and 
even then had not given up hope that she would come back to him; indeed 
they were still married when the book was published in 1945; they were 
not divorced until 1947.

Eve could serve no possible purpose in Bitter Lemons; Claude could have 
played a role, but that would have required a distracting explanation, 
and she was not brought in.  I know that James makes much of Oil for 
the Saint, which I do not, but in any case when writing a travel 
article for Holiday magazine I do not think one wants to bring in one's 
third wife and the daughter of one's second wife when revisiting the 
love nest one shared with one's first wife.  And so 'the whole 
catastrophe', as Zorba called it, was left out.

I am not sure what more Durrell could have said about Eve in 
Reflections on a Marine Venus; he already reveals more than is 
necessary; yet more would be distracting or demand a memoir.

I do think that discretion is a very strong motive with Durrell, 
discretion and privacy about personal life, to a remarkable degree, and 
to a degree which has allowed unfortunate rumour to surround him which 
otherwise could have been dispelled.  Durrell is always aiming at the 
timeless, an important reason for the distancing.

Durrell did have very different relations with men and with women; they 
were very different types.  The men were more men's men and simpler, 
less compromising and revealing, to write about.

The women of Durrell's fiction are, the more successful of them, those 
numinous presences, those animas, which truly stirred him.  Maybe they 
were not women at all, but something inside himself.


On Wednesday, July 4, 2007, at 05:54  pm, James Gifford wrote:

> I've always been troubled by how Nancy was 'silenced' in _Prospero's
> Cell_, and I can see a gender bias potentially running through
> Durrell's works (think of Hilda in -The Black Book_, contemporary to
> the Corfu years, but then what about Constance?).  Yet, I'm also
> partly aware of Durrell preference for keeping his home life private.
> Written years later and after a divorce, he chose to subltly minimize
> her presence and Gerald chose not to refer to her at all.  It may
> simply be tactful.  Better leave the rest unsaid...
> Moreover, this isn't a single instance for Durrell.  Where is Eve in
> _Bitter Lemons_, Claude and Sappho in "Oil for the Saint," or the less
> prominant presence in  _Reflections on a Marine Venus_?  Rather than
> censoring or weakening female voices, I suspect Durrell may have
> simply preferred not to intrude on their private lives or not make
> them public -- nonetheless, it is intriguing that while he included
> several male friends by name, he lists virtually no females (wives,
> lovers, or friends) in his travel books as participating in the
> significant discussions.  Leaving his private life aside, that seems
> like a discontinuity between the fiction and the pseudo-non-fiction.
> In the fiction the role of women is confused but hardly 'weak' -- I'm
> never sure where to place those text along a spectrum from feminist to
> misogynist, but I don't think it slots into just one place very
> comfortably, skipping back & forth from one end to the other at
> different moments, even within the same text.  But, isn't that true of
> so many authors?
> Best,
> James

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