[ilds] ugly women

Michael Haag michaelhaag at btinternet.com
Fri Jul 6 10:40:50 PDT 2007

Durrell certainly had his politics, as for example one can see from 
Bitter Lemons, but they are not the politics suggested by James' 
interpretation of Oil for the Saint.

And of course Durrell's interest in hermaphrodites relates to his 
hermaphroditic Justine, and the hermaphroditic Nessim, those creatures 
with both male and female characteristics, and who form a common beast 
as described in Plato's Symposium.  Durrell was writing Justine on 
Cyprus, and so the issue of hermaphroditism is germane.  His letters at 
the time were full of this matter too.


On Friday, July 6, 2007, at 04:29  pm, James Gifford wrote:

> 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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