[ilds] ugly women

James Gifford gifford at uvic.ca
Fri Jul 6 08:29:45 PDT 2007


I've been counting the days for how long it would take for _Bitter
Lemons_ to take us back to Darley on his Greek island with the
child...  The combination of Durrell's "study of bisexuality" for
_Justine_ and the hermaphroditism in _Bitter Lemons_ is also striking.
 While we would consider the association a misnomber by our
contemporary standards, let's not forget that with his psychoanalytic
materials (some good and some just plain silly, but usually adopted to
good effect for the plot), Durrell would have seen hermaphrodites and
bisexuals as plausibly related, at least notionally.

I'm curious, though, if anyone has been itching to go back to those
epigrams?  How do we reconcile:

"This is not a political book..."
"A race advancing on the east must begin with Cyprus..."
  and
"Towards an Eastern Landfall"

Has Durrell not, in effect, placed himself as the invader through this
juxtaposition when he quotes Hepworth Dixon?  Moreover, that epigram
ends with a mention of the Suez Canal, which again brought Cyprus back
to the fore as a site of strategic military control.  I'm sure that
the Suez Crisis of 1956 would not have been noticed by Durrell or any
contemporary readers...  (yes, that's ironic).

I know Michael disagrees with my reading of "Oil for the Saint," but
I've always been drawn to Durrell political sensibilities, which he
often denied but seems to have always had -- on the surface, Durrell
may be keen to suggest Bitter Lemons "is not a political book," but
running through every stage of the narrative, those politics are poked
and prodded in odd word choices, epigrams, juxtapositions, and
unlikely word repetitions.  I see that happening quite a bit in the
unlikely places, such as cute little short stories for tourist
magazines.

Next to those things, I think the gender issues in _Bitter Lemons_
start to adopt a broader and more figurative context.  That comment
isn't meant to dismiss the problems with gender in Durrell's works (or
in his letters, and our Aussie friends have pointed out), but just to
note that within a carefully reworked piece the descriptions are more
likely to take on literary qualities than the likely quickly written
comments in a letter, which might also reflect frustrations of the
moment for a specific situation but expressed in more general terms.
I suspect that tension is behind many of the unsavoury comments in
Durrell's letters -- it's likely not the case in his comments to
Miller about women, but I've also often seen a letter's meaning change
radically once I read the text that sat parallel to it on Old D's
desk.

At any rate, the new Faber edition has restored the title to _Bitter
Lemons of Cyprus_, so the namesake is again emphasized.  I know the
lemons are indigenous, but there are some odd transplantations in this
text as well...  I think we'll have much to talk about for that a
little later on.

But, back to work...

Best,
James


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