[ilds] Pre-war Corfu stories relieve winter blues

slighcl slighcl at wfu.edu
Sat Feb 2 05:10:03 PST 2008

  Dear Listserv:

A dispatch on the Brothers Durrell from one of those "storied" 
newspapers from the North.

Thank you, Canada.  You recall us to our better selves.



Toronto Star <http://www.thestar.com/default>
Pre-war Corfu stories relieve winter blues TheStar.com - living - 
Pre-war Corfu stories relieve winter blues
February 02, 2008
Brent Ledger

Every year at this time -- this cold, gloomy, Toronto-at-its-worst time 
of year -- I think of my Grade 6 teacher, Miss Ritter. She was young, 
blond, outgoing and she drove the coolest car imaginable at the time, a 
Volkswagen Bug. She let us keep a bunny in the classroom and she invited 
the entire class to her home for a Christmas party. (Try to imagine that 
happening these days. The liability issues! Every parent would have to 
sign in triplicate.)

But of all the things she did for me (aside from driving me to the edge 
of a child-sized nervous breakdown, so eager was I to please her), the 
greatest was introducing me to Gerald Durrell and /My Family and Other 

I mention this now because Durrell's memoir of his early years in Corfu 
is absolutely, indubitably, the best book to read at This Time of the 
Year. The adult Durrell was a great naturalist and zookeeper and his 
love of animals shines through every page of this now-classic comedy, 
but that's the least of its charms.

Set in Corfu during the late 1930s, it's charming, funny and filled with 
wonder. Fleeing rainy England for sunny Corfu, Gerald, his widowed 
mother and three siblings find a kind of comic paradise in one magical 
home after another. First the Strawberry-Pink Villa, then the 
Daffodil-Yellow Villa, "a tall, square Venetian mansion ... (that) stood 
on a hill overlooking the sea, surrounded by unkempt olive groves and 
silent orchards of lemon and orange trees."

Get the picture? Forget Tuscany and Provence. Durrell's childhood Corfu 
is my dream scene.

Durrell went on to write more than 30 other books, mostly about his life 
with animals, and all of them were lovable and funny, but none of them 
had quite the same charm, perhaps because they lacked /My Family/'s 
stellar supporting cast.

While young Gerald spent his time gambolling about the Greek 
countryside, poking under rocks for new bugs, slugs and other critters, 
his family devoted themselves to their own highly individual passions; 
his mother to cooking, teenage Margo to boys, 19-year-old Lesley to 
guns, and 23-year-old Larry to writing.

Wildly different, they quickly get on each other's nerves and the clash 
of character makes for some great comedy, particularly when Larry enters 
the scene. Affectionately portrayed as a self-involved twit, the budding 
writer comes across as one of those annoying people who talks more than 
he writes, but in this case the joke is on the reader, for Larry did go 
on to become a writer and a rather famous one at that.

Lawrence Durrell's writing is slightly out of fashion just now, his 
style too beautiful for contemporary tastes. But 20-odd years after his 
experience on Corfu he went on to write another account of 
Brits-on-the-Mediterranean that to my mind is one the most entrancing 
books ever written.

Set mostly in pre-war Alexandria, the four novels of the /Alexandria 
Quartet /are not only a sensual depiction of several intense love 
affairs, they are also, for their time (the late 1950s), amazingly open 
to gay experience. A gay Jewish doctor named Balthazar narrates the 
second -- and, in some ways, most entertaining -- book in the quartet 
and there are several other minor gay characters, both comic and serious.

Lawrence's work is very different from Gerald's, achingly voluptuous 
where /My Family /is light and loving. But both books share openness to 
sensual pleasure and sunnier climes that we in parka-bound Toronto can 
only envy. Thank you, Miss Ritter.

/Brent Ledger appears every second /

/Saturday. You can reach him at/

/ living at thestar.ca <mailto:living at thestar.ca>./

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

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