[ilds] madness on Cyprus

Michael Haag michaelhaag at btinternet.com
Fri Jul 13 06:48:38 PDT 2007

David's observations about what is happening in Bitter Lemons are 
interesting and useful.  He has reminded us of Bruce's earlier comments 
that Durrell's emphasis on drinking is significant and points to things 
hinted at but not said.  There is the underlying story of this book, 
the one Durrell keeps telling us, but only in very incomplete snatches. 
  It begins with the unidentified person under observation in the 
hospital at Trieste.  It ends with the daughter who has gone away.  
There is a sense of meditation on things falling apart.  'It is as if 
the whole city had crashed about my ears' -- for at this time he is 
also writing Justine.

But Durrell is also participating in the world of events.  In 
particular there is David's remark that unlike Corfu and Rhodes, in 
Cyprus Durrell is in the driving seat.  He bears some responsibility 
for what is going on.  And he is telling us about the nature of the 
problems, the possible solutions, and what is like to have some sense 
of humane standards and to bear responsibility for them.  Durrell calls 
for the reforms that David has outlined.  He chastises the British for 
not having implemented them in time.  But he also points up the 
failures of the Greek mind ('Who could discern in the thought-processes 
of a modern Greek the exercise of a logic which was Socratic?  They 
thought like Persian women.' p228), he condemns terrorism and murder, 
and he defends the British response: '"If you kill you must die", I 
said' (p248).

Richard has told us to look at Rodney Beaton's biography of Seferis in 
which we find the Greek poet and diplomat calling his old friend 
Durrell a 'gauleiter'.  Seferis made this remark long before any open 
violence on the island and any tough response, instead immediately 
after Durrell took up the information post with the Cyprus government.  
So the the man who became Greek nobel laureate says Durrell is a Nazi, 
and as Beaton goes on to say it soon became commonplace in Athens for 
the British on Cyprus to be compared with the Nazi occupation of Greece 
during the war, which was a horrific occupation involving murder, 
terror and starvation on a massive scale.

Bitter Lemons is not Durrell's apologia for his time on Cyprus.  
Instead it gives an account of madness on every level.  There is 
nothing puny or defensive about this book from which Durrell emerges as 
an exceptionally generous and humane figure.


On Friday, July 13, 2007, at 04:43  am, David Green wrote:
> 1) Drink. In Bitter Lemons LD comes clean about his vinous nature, 
> almost from the outset we see him pleased at the prospect that 
> Cypriots 'drink to excess'. In Prospero and Reflections Durrell's 
> enjoyment of wine is told through 'civilized' gatherings such as at 
> the Count D's house or through such characters as Zarian 'making an 
> exhaustive study of the island's wines' and Gideon whose arm conveys 
> wine to his lips with 'the regularity of a varsity oarsman'. In Bitter 
> Lemons we encounter blatanty Durrell's own enthusiasm for the fruit of 
> the vine. Was he drinking more at this time? or is it a sign of his 
> emerging confidence as a writer that his own nature can be more truly 
> told. I think both. Bowker's biography (sorry RP) suggests that 
> Durrell, sans two wives, and in a tense environment, hit the booze and 
> cigarettes in a big way. But he is also inviting us to share more of 
> himself. In Prospero and Reflections he is more an observer. In Bitter 
> Lemons, we live much more through the character of the writer himself. 
> If this makes Bitter Lemons perhaps less enchanting than the earlier 
> island books, we are compensated by a driven, vigorous prose. Durrell 
> is not a passenger watching the passing scenery, he is in the driving 
> seat, can of wine open and all.
> 2) How to buy a House. here we meet the three races; Greeks, Turks and 
> English. though this is a humorous chapter, I am drawn to make two 
> observations
> Firstly, the point made by, I think Michael Haag, about cartoon 
> characters. The Greek familiy selling the house are alsmost a send up 
> of a Greek family selling a house. The scene borders on farce with 
> wailing mothers, stick waving grandpas, car chases and flat tyres; 
> it's almost keystone cops.
> Sabri is the cartoon Turk, almost out of some medieval story. I see a 
> satin gowned turbaned Sabri, clapping hands for instant servants who 
> appear and vanish as if by magic. Sabri, the calm reptillian, cunning 
> and yet, ultimately, honest Turk.
> Secondly, as regards the interaction between Turk, Greek and 
> perfidious Albion which ultimately works out well for all parties, is 
> Durrell not showing us an outcome that may have resulted for the 
> island for all parties with a little more cultural sensetivity?  Could 
> I suggest that LD is saying that, if the British administration had 
> been more Durrell like, the crisis may have been averted?
> Durrell suggests that all the Brits had to do was give the Cypriots a 
> parliament in which to express themselves and a university or two to 
> provide a sense of achievement on their own terms.
> In Australia, Canada, the USA and elsewhere schools, universities and 
> parliaments were granted to the colonials. This was not done in Cyprus 
> and Durrell says this was a major problem.
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