[ilds] an assassin of polish

slighcl slighcl at wfu.edu
Sun Feb 3 14:32:38 PST 2008

            On 2/3/2008 4:40 PM, Smithchamberlin at aol.com wrote:

>             Durrell's style is definitely not a contemporary one, alas.

>                 Date: Sun, 3 Feb 2008 07:57:28 +1100
>                 From: "Denise Tart & David Green" <dtart at bigpond.net.au>
>                 Lawrence Durrell's writing is slightly out of fashion
>                 just now, his style too beautiful for contemporary tastes.
So here is the Old Stylist himself, surely at this moment thinking over 
the difficult midwifery of the "Justine" manuscript:

>                     Durrell, Lawrence :  STYLE [from Collected Poems:
>                     1931-1974 (1985) , Faber and Faber ]
>             Something like the sea,
>             Unlaboured momentum of water
>             But going somewhere,
>             Building and subsiding,
>             The busy one, the loveless.
>             Or the wind that slits
>             Forests from end to end,
>             Inspiriting vast audiences,
>             Ovations of leafy hands
>             Accepting, accepting.
>             But neither is yet
>             Fine enough for the line I hunt.
>             The dry bony blade of the
>             Sword-grass might suit me
>             Better: an assassin of polish.
>             Such a bite of perfect temper
>             As unwary fingers provoke,
>             Not to be felt till later,
>             Turning away, to notice the thread
>             Of blood from its unfelt stroke.
>             1955/ /1955/
I like the points of contrast that Durrell observes--supposing that this 
is even about writing, not living or lovemaking.  Moving back and forth 
between the tide-like, "unlaboured momentum of water" and writing as "an 
assassin of polish"--I would hang Durrell's style on those two horns.  
(I am thinking of /Justine/, of course, which I admit is not Durrell's 
only prose style.)

I am also thinking about the strong early pronouncements upon Durrell's 
"style"--especially Burgess in 1967
>         If is a prose-poetry whose rhythms tend to flaccidity and
>         which sometimes
>         melts info a romantic wash a little too close to the old
>         lending-library sadistic-sentimental
>         exotic escapism beloved of the dreaming shop-girl. For all that,
>         there are passages which are powerful and masterly-sharply and
>         exactly observant.
>         But the final impression is of something shimmering in a
>         rather old-fashioned
>         fin de siècle way, suggesting languor and satiety after
>         elaborate self-indulgence.
>         The decadence smells of stale incense.
>         (/The Novel Now: A Guide to Contemporary Fiction/ 97)
and George Steiner, who declared that "style is, in fact, the vital 
center of Durrell's art" (/Language and Silence/ 280).  Steiner goes to 
some length to break down and analyze specific moments in Durrell's 
prose, which he finds "precise and luminous," filled with "a complex 
aural music" (281).  He especially single out the memorable descriptive 
jotting, "The clicking of violet trams," which I am guessing other 
Durrellians will instantly recall. 

Perhaps we should undertake that sort of particularizing investigation here?

Distinctively Durrellian paragraphs, sentences, phrases, fragements, or 
words, anyone? 


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

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