[ilds] Bitter Lemons as a novel

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Sat Jul 14 22:32:34 PDT 2007

RP has a very interesting question, albeit entirely hypothetical, but still provocative.  Is Bitter Lemons fact or fiction?  As RP poses the question, I think, we are being nudged, for the sake of argument, understood, to assume that we live in our own imaginative universes and that everything we do is unreal.  He can correct me, if I'm wrong in this assumption.  My response -- no.  Unless President Reagan was completely delusional (and he wasn't, of course, he wasn't -- give some credit to the man, whom I dislike immensely), I assume that what President Reagan wrote in his personal diaries had some resemblance to reality, insofar as we all distort what we see.  Who doesn't see himself/herself, to some extent, as the hero/heroine of his/her own story, B-movie or otherwise?  I do.  And we all should admit that.  (By the way, I like B-movies -- that's the domain of film noir, probably the most lasting contribution of the 1940 and 50s.)

Now, how does this apply to Bitter Lemons?  I don't see Bitter Lemons as a novel, rather as a highly imaginative travelogue of some experiences on Cyprus.  Genre?  Problems of "genre," i.e., what kind of literature are we dealing with (poetry, drama, fiction, non-fiction, etc.) -- those are academic concerns.  Let the academics worry about "genre" on their way to getting their Ph.D.'s or tenure in some college or university.  Their concerns needn't concern us, the readers of Lawrence Durrell, those of us who will keep Lawrence Durrell alive through the ages -- yes, us -- not the academics.  I think we all know what a novel is and isn't.  We don't need a Ph.D. to tell us that.  That business is for the Ph.D.'s to write articles about.  That makes them feel good.  It also, don't forget, secures their status in the academy.

Bitter Lemons is clearly non-fiction, as I see it, well within the range of fact, although with a lot of embellishments (why? -- because that's the way LD liked to do things -- more forcefully, he HAD to do things).  BL is, however, a big bit above the class of a potboiler.  First of all, Durrell is out to make money, and, foremost, he follows the formula that's been successful for him in the past:  good location, good poetry, good characters, good action.  He absolutely excels at all of these -- he certainly knows it -- his sales and income tell him that -- even his editors, who obviously want to make a living, urge him on -- so he has all of these elements pushing him to publish.  He even provides, as Michael has abundantly shown, evidence for that fact -- the fact that he's telling a real story:  photographs of real people.  Imagine that!  Real people!  Flesh and blood!  Are there photos of real people in Justine?  No, of course not.  That's because it's fiction, and LD wasn't going to have his imaginary world distorted by the real one.  He was going to give you, the reader, words, words, words.

Bitter Lemons can absolutely be read on the first level, as a good read -- and enjoyed fully, as LD intended, and as I did unforgettably in 1961 -- but what interest me now is the secondary level, the backstory:  what isn't said but hinted at, i.e., the deletions.  That is, what he doesn't say, because it was either too painful or too personal, but which, he nonetheless felt compelled to suggest.  David Green has sensed these in his commentary and said it well.  Why did Durrell do this?  Because writers tell stories in order to tell something else.  That in my opinion is what is most interesting about Bitter Lemons -- how it ultimately provides an entryway to the novel Justine.


-----Original Message-----
>From: Richard Pine <richardpin at eircom.net>
>Sent: Jul 14, 2007 1:22 AM
>To: ilds at lists.uvic.ca
>Subject: Re: [ilds] Bitter Lemons as a novel
>If the late Ronald Reagan was under the impression, for at least some of the 
>time, that as President he was acting in a film, there is a possibility that 
>his diaries read like a filmscript - does that mean the script is fiction or 
>non-fiction? Documentary, biopic or just another of the B-movies he excelled 
>----- Original Message ----- 
>From: "James Gifford" <odos.fanourios at gmail.com>
>To: <ilds at lists.uvic.ca>
>Sent: Saturday, July 14, 2007 4:21 AM
>Subject: Re: [ilds] Bitter Lemons as a novel
>>I think this is where biography and 'theory' comfortably meet in a
>> productive way.  I'm admittedly not comfortable calling _Bitter Lemons_
>> non-fiction, though the fashionable label "creative non-fiction" might
>> suit it better.  I can have a reasonable expectation that the recently
>> released Ronald Reagan diaries will be genuine non-fiction, while a
>> novelist & poet's travel memoirs (admittedly stocked with "characters")
>> obviously don't have quite the same series of expectations.  How we sort
>> out those differences isn't something I claim to know in detail, but I
>> would suggest our discussion of the topic (apart from specific
>> instances) would qualify as a theory...
>> Michael is quite right (and I suspect he's suggesting something a little
>> broader) when he notes that the main players are oddly absent for a
>> non-fiction narrative.  Those omissions are as much a 'fictionalization'
>> of the materials as factual changes would be.  After all, without Claude
>> or Eve, Durrell's time on Cyprus becomes something quite different from
>> the biographical 'truth.'
>> Yet, my thoughts have been wandering for a while around a question posed
>> by a short while ago by Charles.  This has since been elaborated by
>> others: how do we read _Justine_ beside _Bitter Lemons_?  We've already
>> had some good suggestions for the richness in such a reading, for which
>> Michael has led the charge.  I think this is a rich vein to strike.
>> Also, Durrell acknowledges _BL_ as part of an island trilogy, so to
>> speak, and this description encourages the reader to pursue other
>> comparisons.
>> Similarly, since Michael first pointed out that _Justine_ was written
>> without an intention of a full Quartet, I've been pondering how I would
>> have read it in that first year, fifty years ago.  Durrell openly poses
>> _BL_ in relation to _Reflections_ and _Prospero's Cell_, though we as
>> readers see an advantage in placing it in conjunction with _Justine_.
>> That's our move as readers, and I think it's a good one.
>> How, then, do we read _Justine_ as a stand alone novel appearing
>> concomitantly with _Bitter Lemons_, but as overt fiction?  Personally, I
>> think we read it beside _The Black Book_, and that has been troubling me
>> ever since Michael's talk last summer.  We have a pretentious narrator
>> on a Greek island enjoying the landscape recalling an urban environment
>> of his past, which is surrounded by sexual innuendo and a host of
>> sexually peculiar characters, all the while with that narrator reading
>> the textual evidence left behind by those characters of the abandoned
>> city (diaries and letters).
>> I know this strays from _Bitter Lemons_, but it has been nagging at me.
>>  If we're going to look at _BL_ as tied to the travel books, which I
>> think is just as viable as tying it to _Justine_, then what do we do
>> with _Justine_ in that anna mirabilis of 1957, before _Balthazar_?  I
>> suggest we pretend to be readers who have some rare copies of those
>> earlier books sitting on our bookshelves.  If my collection only ran to
>> 1957, I think the comparison between the various volumes would leap out
>> readily enough...
>> To what degree do we see Durrell repeating and improving on the pattern
>> he established in _The Black Book_?  Does _Bitter Lemons_ do a similar
>> 'thickening' of the text in comparison to _Prospero's Cell_, as Clifford
>> Geertz might phrase it?  If that's the case, what does it mean for
>> _Bitter Lemons_ if we read it as a development out of the same spirit of
>> inquiry that drove Durrell's search for the spirit of place on Corfu and
>> Rhodes?
>> Best,
>> James
>> Michael Haag wrote:
>>> The first edition of Bitter Lemons has photographs of Grivas, Field
>>> Marshal Sir John Harding, the Hodja, Clito, Frangos, Andreas
>>> Thalassinos, Andreas Menas, Kollis, Sabri Tahir, the Muktar, Loizus and
>>> Lalou. But there is no photograph of Marie, who was Marie
>>> Millington-Drake; she was real. Nor of the person under observation, nor
>>> the daughter, nor of Durrell's mother, but they were real too, as were
>>> various others. Then there are the people who were real and who were
>>> there but are not mentioned, the most glaring example being Claude,
>>> without whom ...

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