[ilds] RG Bitter Lemons -- Voices at the Tavern Door

slighcl slighcl at wfu.edu
Sun Jul 8 04:16:50 PDT 2007

O, poor old eccentric old me.  Am I really so myopic?  Has the circle of 
my enthusiasm shrunk so small these days?   Here I am, dragging us back 
to Durrell's pages and Durrell's words after all of yesterday's 

[And yesterday showed us that some of us are expert tail-chasers (!), 
with years of practice.]

But I really would prefer practical demonstrations of strong readers 
reading strongly.  Give me their striking enjoyments and their 
provocative hunches, intuitions, theories, or freedom from theory.   Let 
us start afresh, shall we?


So we have this little book sitting before us, /Bitter Lemons/. 

Here is a specific sentence to consider, a sentence that I have been 
concentrating upon while making yet another summer trip, this time into 
the wilds of the Cumberland Plateau:

        The truth is that both the British and the Cypriot world offered
        one a gallery of humours which could only be fully enjoyed by
        one who, like myself, had a stake in neither.  ("Voices at the
        Tavern Door")

Readers, whatever your affiliation, affection, or affectation, go to 
work on that sentence. 

"/The truth is/."  "/A gallery of humours/."  "/Fully enjoyed/."  
Durrell the chronicler of impressions, who "/had a stake in neither/."

I suggest reading the sentence

        1) within the context of this chapter, "Voices at the Tavern
        Door," which finds Durrell sitting in one corner and Frangos
        holding forth in another.  This really is an interesting little
        drama.  And a very old one, I suspect.  Frangos plays a funny
        sort of Polyphemus to Durrell's Nemo/Odysseus.  Here I am
        emphasizing Durrell the trickster telling his lies about his
        lost hero-brother, dead with the Greeks at Thermopylae.  That is
        the Odyssean stratagem /par excellence/.  And note that we are
        venturing into and nearly badly trapped "in the innermost
        recesses of Clito's cave").  All of this is at once real and

        2) within the context of the chapters read so far, with a
        consideration of the ways in which Lawrence Durrell the
        chronicler has tried to define and depict himself as "one who .
        . . had a stake in neither";

        3) within the context of biographical and historical fact.

To paraphrase the beleaguered Governor of Judea, "'/the truth is/' . . . 
what is the truth here"?   Is Durrell free from "a stake"--either in his 
book ( a re-telling) or in life (sack-cloth reality)? 

I like Michael's notes on Durrell's suburban meditations in /Bitter 
Lemons/.  Durrell's glances at Brixton &c. had already made me recall 
Miller's observations about the encroachment of Coca-Cola and the 
motor-car in /The Colossus of Maroussi/.

I like Jamie's calling us to attention, reminding us that narrators of 
novels and of memoirs are masks, assumed voices.  That realization is 
very old, I think.  Anyone asking Odysseus to rehearse his travels 
should understand it.

I also enjoyed the overturning of my expectations in this chapter.  
"Voices at the Tavern Door":  That mysterious heading puts us in mind of 
intrigue and danger, does it not?  And we do get to overhear "a series 
of shattering disconnected observations in a roaring bass voice of such 
power that one could feel the sympathetic vibrations from a set of 
copper cauldrons."   Durrell has just finished confessing his 
dissatisfaction with the wearying middle-class Cypriots.  He has just 
been longing to meet the "real" people, the people connected to their 
soil.  That desire summons up Frangos.

But then we get the voice of Clito's wife, the voice of his daughter, 
and the dread aspect of his mother-in-law "voiced" at the Tavern Door, 
and we know the human truth in this "gallery of humours."

These words.  These voices at the door.  Humour me.



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

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