[ilds] Et in Arcadia ego

Michael Haag michaelhaag at btinternet.com
Mon Jul 9 16:11:16 PDT 2007

I was thinking the same myself as I took my evening constitutional up 
the hill past Keats' house and back down by Constable's grave.  I was 
thinking of the attempt to keep this discussion to literary allusions 
when in fact that is the least of this book, for the reader and for 
Durrell himself.  Walking back and forth across this same place, across 
these same islands, one encounters lives in succession, underlying 
stories, suggestions of deep troubles.  Here is a man on an island with 
a child, and before he gets there he visits the observation ward of a 
hospital.  Somewhere that registers in the reader's mind, I would have 
thought.  The caricature English in the Dome and the caricature Greeks 
in the tavern, and Durrell saying he is part of neither caricature.  
But it is almost as though he would like those caricatures to live, be 
real, be the true state of affairs.  These absurd English are the ones 
he traditionally reviles in his attacks on Pudding Island, but the 
truth is that only very few are like that; that for Durrell to distance 
himself from England he needs to turn them into cartoons, just as to 
join the Greeks he needs -- not just in this book but in all his books 
-- to turn them into cartoons.  The awful truth for Durrell is that he 
likes living among Greeks; he likes their ways; but he is an Englishman 
-- he is certainly not a Greek, as Seferis reminded him.  And what we 
are being set up for by this banter, this fooling around, this making 
us laugh at the English (ie laugh at ourselves, as the original readers 
of this book were the English) and laugh at the Greeks (who were 
blowing us up), is something very hard and unpleasant, something bitter 
-- that you can sit around on islands under trees of idleness and drink 
the local potion, but comes the day that somebody wants to know are you 
with us or them and holds a gun to your head.  It was a catastrophic 
moment.  And that is when Durrell leaves.


On Monday, July 9, 2007, at 08:37  pm, Bruce Redwine wrote:

> That's what I think needs to be discussed -- what else is going on.  
> All fine and well to point out the allusions, a pleasurable literary 
> pursuit indeed, but what interest me, and perhaps few others, are the 
> chinks in the armor, as Durrell says in a letter about Hamlet.  Being 
> "gorgeously drunk" is one of those chinks.  Durrell presents this as a 
> positive virtue, a manly virtue in the Latin sense, but it strikes me 
> as symptomatic of a big problem.  Little hints like this are being 
> dropped throughout the story -- the bombing and hospital episode, when 
> Mrs. Lewis turns up, is another example, which Michael has already 
> pointed out.  Another is Clito's Cavern.  Why are women being kept out 
> of this male domain?  Indeed, they're largely and apparently 
> deliberately being kept out of the entire story.  The story up to now 
> has a fine veneer of jovial and convivial pastoralism.  But I see 
> something sinister in the cavern.  Charles points out Polyphemos's 
> cave.  I'd like to add Plato's!
>   allegory of the cave in the Republic, where we mistake shadows for 
> the real.  I find Durrell's manipulation of the Greeks a little 
> sinister and self-promoting.  It's all very pastoral, but et in 
> Arcadia ego, "death is even in Arcadia," as George III explained when 
> he saw a Reynolds painting.
> Bruce

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