[ilds] Durrell and the Academy

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Thu Jul 19 11:05:02 PDT 2007

-----Original Message-----
>From: Pamela Francis <albigensian at hotmail.com>
>Sent: Jul 18, 2007 12:19 PM

>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.

A comment on Pamela's comment of Joseph Conrad and how his lack of a degree proved no impediment to his reception in the Academy.  Conrad is indisputably a very great writer.  He had, however, attributes and credentials which readily appealed to British sensibilities, F. R. Leavis's, in particular.

Conrad, a Polish expat via France, whose third language was English, became a British sea captain, a master mariner, which is no mean feat, in my opinion, at least equal to a BA, Camb.  So he could claim qualifications, or, more importantly, people could see him as possessing them.  Conrad also exemplified the values of British seamanship, good strong Victorian and Edwardian values:  duty, courage, fellowship of the craft, rectitude in adversity, those kinds of things.  Read Typhoon, Lord Jim, and The Rescue for a sense of all that.  Beyond that, Conrad had political and philosophical depth which also readily appealed to the early Modernists and later scholars such as Edward Said, whose Harvard diss. was on Conrad.  Hence, the high regard of Heart of Darkness, Nostromo, and The Secret Agent.

So, when Leavis, Cambridge don, says Lawrence Durrell is "not one of us," the negation of a major theme in Lord Jim, he's indirectly referring to Durrell's values and sensibilities and saying, in effect, they are not ours.  And "ours" must refer to the mainstream moral and literary values that Dr. Leavis took it upon himself to defend.

Durrell's problem, as I see it, was that he bucked an Academic trend, hence its persistent opposition to him, and neither his ideas nor his style ever appealed to the great majority of academics.  I hear Durrell's lifelong frustration in the Quinx epigraph:  ". . . must itself create the taste by which it is to be judged."  Durrell is saying he has to create his own audience.  The quotation is, I believe, from Wordsworth's letters.  What is the context?  If we look at the famous Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, we see that Wordsworth was out to turn things around, to break away from popular 18th century poetry and to speak "the real language of men," both in terms of style and content.  There is great irony here in Durrell's choice of an epigraph, for his objective is neither of those advocated by Wordsworth.


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