[ilds] Durrell and the Academy

Pamela Francis albigensian at hotmail.com
Wed Jul 18 12:19:29 PDT 2007

>From: Bruce Redwine <bredwine1968 at earthlink.net>
>Reply-To: Bruce Redwine <bredwine1968 at earthlink.net>, ilds at lists.uvic.ca
>To: marcpiel at interdesign.fr, ilds at lists.uvic.ca
>Subject: [ilds] Durrell and the Academy
>Date: Wed, 18 Jul 2007 10:08:50 -0700 (GMT-07:00)
Pamela comments:
Hmmmm...this is NOT an antagonistic post, Bruce--just wanted to get that up 
front!  But this issue does warrant some discussion.  LD's lack of "proper" 
schooling, at least I'm fairly certain, is not the reason for his lack of 
popularity in academic fields.  I remember John Peter's great lecture (at my 
first OMG in Ottawa) on Durrell at California--for LD to be given a position 
like that--in the sciences! no less--was quite a feather in his non-academic 

but as for universities dictating in general what is read or not--well, I 
think a look at the NYTimes bestseller list will assure us that academia has 
absolutely no bearing on the book market. Let's just say I've never seen a 
class offered on John Grisham or Danielle Steele.  And I can assure you that 
of the several hundred novels I've read in the three years, none of them 
have been on the bestseller list (and I read almost exclusively 20th c.).  
And I have not found hostility at large against LD per se--what I run up 
against more is a STRONG bias against one-author scholarship.  For instance, 
here at Rice, no one objected to my writing about LD, AS LONG as it was tied 
to contextual scholarship--thus, I will be working on the interbellum 
ex-pats in Cairo.  I'm not sure many are even aware of LD's politics, but I 
rather doubt that's a problem--Eliot and Pound have certainly not lost their 
clout with the academy.

And finally, a word about "canon".  The whole concept of the canon has come 
under attack, something that has produced hundreds and hundreds of pages 
from those who see this lack of standardization to be just one of the many 
signs of the apocalypse emanating from the American university.  Many of us 
are glad to see the canon dissolve, for a number of reasons.  But what has 
happened instead is that each of the smaller fields have developed their own 
canons.  And for twentieth century British lit, there will at least be a 
mention of LD--the Norton mentions him in the introduction to the 20th c., 
but in a most ill-informed way--relates him to Paul Scott and the other 
"nostalgic" writers who look back to Empire with fondness.  But those of the 
20th c. that don't even get a mention in the Norton include Kingsley Amis, 
Wyndham Lewis, and Ford Madox Ford (someone correct me if I'm wrong--I don't 
have a Norton with me at the moment, but I remember trying to look this up 
at an earlier time).  I just read an article last night that dealt with the 
standardization of the post-colonial canon.  The point made was that reading 
lists for the field will always include--and emphasize-- Rushdie and Achebe, 
often at the expense of many of the other writers coming out of Africa and 
South Asia.

But to return to the original issue, I really don't believe a degree from 
Oxbridge would have made LD more popular in academia.  Joseph Conrad never 
went to college.  And as far as I can tell, Maugham never took a degree, and 
in fact refused to go back to school at a very young age. Wyndham Lewis 
never went to college either (he did attend an art school though), and he's 
a hot topic in English departments, despite the Norton's effacement.  And 
though he had a good public school education, funded by scholarships, George 
Orwell was too poor to ever go to university--and so didn't.  Also, Dylan 
Thomas gave up academic pursuits at 16.

So...I don't know exactly how this plays towards the popularity/unpopularity 
of LD--my profs had heard of him, but only one had actually read him.  
However, there are a lot of writers they aren't familiar with, and they know 
a lot I don't.  I was totally shocked to find that in the world of 
scholarship, Nikos Kazantzakis is a practically unknown entity (I have every 
article written on him--in English and French at least, and it's only two 
notebooks worth! And lest you think, well, what about Greek 
scholarship--well, he's less popular there than in Anglo-American 
universities!). Yet, those who have read Christ Recrucified or The 
Fratricides would surely agree that he was one of the great talents of this 

These are just observations, of course.  But I would like others to 
comment--does LD's lack of education have bearing on his lack of academic 
coverage?  Peace to all! pamela

>It would be nice to think so, that higher education has no bearing on a 
>writer's reception.  But nowadays things may not be so simple.  The Academy 
>takes it upon itself to be the arbiter in these matters, what's good and 
>not.  It establishes the "Canon."  Lawrence Durrell did not get the keys to 
>the kingdom with a degree from Cambridge.  Indeed, he failed his entrance 
>exams to that university (maths, I think, did him in) and had to go out and 
>create his own kingdom of the imagination.  Now, LD is not, with isolated 
>exceptions, taught in English speaking colleges and universities.  And 
>Charles further tells us that for a scholar to specialize in Lawrence 
>Durrell is definitely not a good career move.  Studying him is something a 
>college professor does on the side, probably surreptitiously so his/her 
>academic colleagues won't find out and raise their eyebrows.  I detect a 
>preponderance of academic hostility to LD, and Dr. Terry Eagleton's 
>vilification of MacNiven's biography, an ad hominem attack on Durrell 
>himself, typifies that attitude.  You have to ask yourself what prompts 
>that amount of disdain.  So, I'm wondering, had Durrell gone to Cambridge 
>and conformed to its standards, would he now have a different standing in 
>British literature?  I think so, but he wouldn't be the writer we now know.
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