[ilds] Durrell Damned and Done for

Denise Tart & David Green dtart at bigpond.net.au
Fri Oct 26 12:58:52 PDT 2007

Dear Durrellians,

    As we say here in the antipodes "cop this!"

"While the four parts of the novel were coming out, Durrell published Bitter Lemons, Esprit de Corps, Stiff Upper Lip. These are all concerned with his own life as a diplomatic representative of Great Britain. They all have the same fault, a blissfully unconscious, but none the less absolute ethnocentrism. In Bitter Lemons the Cypriots are happy childlike innocents, misled by “demagogues” and the “envenomed insinuations of the Athens Radio.” It never occurs to Durrell that they might just want to be free of the British. Only the most unworthy motives are ever ascribed to either the Turkish or Greek leaders, who are always portrayed as “outside agitators,” interested only in advancing themselves at the expense of naïve and friendly schoolchildren. The English, on the other hand, are seen as silly, bumbling, out of date, but oh so sane and wholesome and always concerned only with the good of the charges that God has entrusted to them. We’ve heard all this before; in fact, we can hear it almost any day when a Southern Congressman is sounding off, and what day is one not? Stiff Upper Lip and Esprit de Corps are unforgivable. They are written in the most dreadful imitation of P.G. Wodehouse, a favorite author of Durrell, by his own admission. (He reads him in Bitter Lemons during negotiations with the Cypriots over their freedom.) It is a bad imitation and so vulgar it makes your flesh crawl. These two books of purported humor explain much about what happened to the splendid plan announced in Justine. Possibly, carefully read, they explain everything. British diplomats are noble and silly, Indians, Negroes, Egyptians are sly and rascally children, uniformly portrayed in terms of a Soho pickpocket — the only “native,” you feel, reading these disgraceful books, Durrell has ever known personally. This, of course, is not true; he has lived most of his life in the Levant. What is wrong with him? What is wrong with Englishmen?"

                    - Kenneth Rexroth (whoever he may be?)

perhaps I misread Bitter Lemons. Durrell clearly has an affection for greeks, but 'happy childlike innocents' I don't think so. Durrell's Cypriots were often quite scary and unpredictable. While he writes it for humour, Voices at the Tavern Door has menace in it. I would not want to have been a 5 feet 4 inch tall Englishman alone in a bar with Frangos and co in bad mood.


Denise Tart & David Green
16 William Street, Marrickville NSW 2204

+61 2 9564 6165
0412 707 625
dtart at bigpond.net.au
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