[ilds] hyphens and posts...

Michael Haag michaelhaag at btinternet.com
Wed Jul 11 07:26:54 PDT 2007

An important theme of Bitter Lemons is imperialism and Britain's 
imperial relationship with Cyprus.  Imperialism, whether practised by 
the British, the Ottomans, the Romans, the French, the Arabs, the 
Americans, etc, is more than an economic matter, and Durrell does not 
deal with the economics of the subject.  Imperialism is also a matter 
of inclusion, and this is the importance it has for Durrell.  He makes 
that plain throughout Bitter Lemons, with his epigraphs for example, 
and the episode at the end when he empties his daughter's basket of its 
collection of found objects which amount to a catalogue of empires.  
Cyprus has always been part of one empire or another, and Durrell's 
argument is that the Cypriots have done far better by the British than 
by anyone else, but that they have not been included enough -- not 
given first-rate educational opportunities, for example.  The effect of 
better educational opportunities would have been to increase the sense 
of inclusion.  Durrell regrets that the Greek Cypriots do not see 
things this way.

Durrell does concede that the British could have done more and earlier 
to recognise the Greek nature of Cyprus, but he also warns of the 
dangers of nationalism, which is exclusive.  Historically the Greeks 
and Turks have been able to live together only under an imperial 
system.  Just as the Greeks of Asia Minor could not survive within a 
post-Ottoman nationalist Turkey, hence Smyrna, etc, so the Turks of 
Cyprus would not be able to survive comfortably within a Greek 
nation-state.  That is what Durrell warned, and that is what turned out 
to be the case.  In this sense Durrell laments the passing of empire, 
and he makes that entirely clear throughout the book.

For that matter in Oil for the Saint (the article Durrell wrote for 
Holiday magazine, reprinted in Spirit of Place) Durrell is not being 
ironic about the layers of foreign influence in Corfu, far less is he 
being critical of imperialism; instead he celebrates the Venetian, 
French and British presences and goes on to say that 'all these motifs 
blend perfectly and become in some subtle fashion neither Venetian, 
British, French nor even Greek.  They become Corfiote.'  Nor it would 
it make any sense for Durrell to criticise the French or British as 
imperialists opposed to Greek interests; for Greeks the power than 
endangered their identity were the Ottomans, while the French and 
British saved them from that danger.  The Venetians are another matter 
for what they did in 1204, though later the Venetians too fought 
against the Ottoman enemy and can in some way be seen as preservers of 
Greece.  The very fact that the modern Greek renaissance, political, 
cultural, etc, began in Corfu is precisely because of the Italian, 
French and British influence there.  In Oil for the Saint Durrell 
mentions a woman called Kerkira; the name of course is Greek for Corfu; 
she is married to Athenaios, the owner of the White House at Kalami to 
which Durrell is making a return, a pilgrimage bearing oil from 
Provence to the local saint.  One can find symbolism in this if one 
likes, claiming that Durrell is returning to the heart of Greekness, or 
the heart of Corfiotness, pushing aside all those Venetian, French and 
British influences.  But this is contradicted by Durrell himself who 
sees the essence of Corfiotness as this mixture, this inclusion, this 
layering of empires.  Nor did Durrell make up the name Kerkira for this 
woman in order to make a pointed point.  Instead Athenaios' second wife 
really was called Kerkira.  There is no symbolism about it.


On Wednesday, July 11, 2007, at 12:29  am, James Gifford wrote:

> I personally don't hear Durrell lamenting the demise of Imperialism, 
> but
> I'm ready to be proven wrong.  Typically, when I read his works my
> impression is of an author (autobiographical subject, manipulator of
> scenes, selector of words, etc.) who is keenly aware of the details of
> imperialism yet also deeply ambivalent.  That's one of the reasons I
> enjoy "Oil for the Saint" -- that and it's short enough to fit into a
> first year course as a story...  Durrell knew full well that Empire 
> gave
> the circumstances in which a Jane Austen could write (all that tea,
> sugar, those gardens, and characters made wealthy by foreign
> investments); yet, he was not in that luxury and did not live in the
> bosom of empire.

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