[ilds] "Why not, my dear man?"

slighcl slighcl at wfu.edu
Thu Jan 17 06:56:54 PST 2008

Dear Durrellians:

I have a few recommendations for anyone setting out to read more Norman 
Douglas.  For my money, spent well and often at the bookshops of 
Charlottesville, I do not think there are better samplings of Norman 
Douglas's "silver age" prose than the following books.  (In one of the 
interviews collected by Earl IngersollDurrell terms Strachey, Douglas, 
&c. as silver age stylists.  I recall from memory.)  And I can report no 
corrupting influence (so far) from Douglas, whose books always sit right 
here, within easy reach of my reading chair. . . .

    * Douglas, /Late Harvest /(1946) -- Douglas was an arch critic, with
      poise and precision and the best sort of prejudice--that is, what
      Pater used to call "discrimination."  Here the Old Man of Capri
      turns to ruminating over and selecting passages from half a
      century of his own writings. 

    * Douglas, /Looking Back: An Autobiographical Excursion /(1933) --
      In which Douglas, with the same poise and precision and prejudice,
      sorts through old calling cards, left behind over the years by old
      friends, old enemies, and obscurities. . . .

    * /Norman Douglas: A Selection from his Works/, With an Introduction
      by D.M. Low (1955) -- Good selections, often in the form of entire
      chapters, from all of Douglas's best works--/Fountains in the Sand
      /(1912), /Old Calabria /(1915), /Alone /(1921), /Together /(1923), &c.

    * Raffaele La Capria, /Capri and No Longer Capri /(English trans.,
      2001) -- some extended meditation on the Old Man;  quoting the
      publisher's press release:

>         Long a cult travel guide/memoir for Italians, Capri and No
>         Longer Capri is now translated for a wider audience.  Raffaele
>         La Capria creates a portrait of Capri that begins in the time
>         of Ulysses and moves forward to the present day. He broods
>         upon the mythology of Capri: Homer's sirens, the Roman
>         emperors in their villas, the foreign explorers of the Blue
>         Grotto, and the northerners who were bewitched by
>         Capri.Americans have now been visiting Capri for many years,
>         and La Capria's book will offer much to newcomers that they
>         would not otherwise have at their disposal. Reading both like
>         a novel and a local Italian guide, this is a unique guidebook
>         that vividly describes the universal appeal of this mystical
>         island.La Capria imparts the sensation of having peered
>         beneath each stone and lends an appreciation for why those
>         under Capri's spell gave their lives over to their dreams. Far
>         removed from the piazetta, with its teeming crowd of
>         sightseers and cafes, stand the silent, secret, and sacred
>         places not usually reached by day-trippers -- all of them
>         splendid reasons for reading this book.

I especially recall La Capria's imagining of Douglas decline, his 
painful disfiguration by /erysipelas/, and his suicide.  I think La 
Capria catches the tone of the thing--Douglas's decision to die as an 
act of ultimate discrimination:

>         When /[erysipelas/] attacks the face, as in Douglas's case, it
>         is even more intolerable, being so unaesthetic and repugnant
>         to other people.  It could not have been easy to live alone in
>         the winter on Capri, with the rain, with the /transmontana
>         /blowing, in a house one reached after something of a climb.  
>         And the winter of 1952 was an exceptionally cold one.
>         There is nothing terribly surprising about Douglas's
>         decision.  He did say that when confronted by a temptation,
>         his response was always, "Why not, my dear man?" And so before
>         this last temptation he would have said to himself, "Why
>         not?"  And then downed his luminal with the stoicism of an
>         ancient.


Charles L. Sligh
Department of English
Wake Forest University
slighcl at wfu.edu

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