[ilds] Bitter Lemons - throwaways and epigraphs

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Tue Jul 10 10:08:10 PDT 2007

Michael's descripion of "Durrell's personal situation on Cyprus" may be viewed as the underlying structure of the narrative, or the "subtext" in today's critical jargon.  It's interesting how Durrell distracts the reader from that subject matter.  Epigraphs aid in that deception, in my view.  They set the tone, a deceptive one.  His sources are mainly local proverbs, historical accounts, travel literature, and even a "colonial report."  They introduce the chapters, but they do not end the book, rather a controlled and yet highly personal poem concludes.  The epigraphs give authority to the author.  You credit him for coming up with all that divergent material, especially the proverbs, which you assume are his own translations of the Greek.  He must have worked hard to collect all that material (unless he had a compendium of Greek sayings alongside his copy of Mrs. Lewis).  But he doesn't describe his field techniques, so he gives the appearance of an anthropologist diligently putting together a book on "the true Mediterranean moeurs" (p. 34).  That makes him seem objective and detached.  It also adds to the book's humor -- the staid observer, cigarette smoking, if not pipe smoking, studying the foibles of his subjects.  All the while other things about his personal life are rampaging below the surface -- and those result in Justine.  


-----Original Message-----
>From: Michael Haag <michaelhaag at btinternet.com>
>Sent: Jul 10, 2007 3:49 AM
>To: ilds at lists.uvic.ca
>Subject: [ilds] Bitter Lemons - a black patch,	a watch key and a couple of dispossessed wedding rings
>Leaving the external situation to one side, there is also Durrell's 
>personal situation on Cyprus that he alludes to very strongly 
>throughout, though alludes to more by silences framed by incomplete 
>statements.  The book begins and ends with mention of 'my daughter'.  
>We know how he manages to look after his daughter because he mentions 
>'my mother'.  But there is no mention of the daughter's mother, though 
>there is an unexplained reference to a lunatic asylum at the beginning 
>of the book.  Then there is Marie, but nothing ever happens with Marie. 
>  There are ruminative moments when Durrell considers his future, but he 
>excludes any references to women from these scenes; nevertheless one 
>suspects that a woman is involved, and her name is not Marie.  Together 
>with the heavy drinking, this might strike a reader as odd; it might 
>strike a reader as significant.  This island of bitter lemons, as 
>Durrell writes in his poem, 'Tortures memory and revises / Habits half 
>a lifetime dead'.  As Durrell packs to leave the island he finds the 
>old wicker basket 'full of fragments collected by my daughter' (not 
>mentioning that his daughter has already been taken from him by the 
>woman previously associated with the lunatic asylum).  'Roman glass, 
>blue and vitreous as the summer sea in deep places; handles of amphorae 
>from Salamis with the hallmark thumb printed in the soft clay; tiles 
>from the floor of the villa near Paphos; verde antico fragments; Venus' 
>ear seashells; a Victorian penny; fragments of yellow mosaic from some 
>Byzantine church; purple murex; desiccated sea urchins and white chalk 
>squid bones; a tibia; fragments of a bird's egg; a green stone against 
>the evil eye.  All in all a sort of record of our stay in Cyprus' -- 
>the lonely objects that are the falling empires of a man's life.  
>'"Throw all this away", I said.'

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