[ilds] the occasional angel & the ladder of alcohol

slighcl slighcl at wfu.edu
Fri May 2 07:13:47 PDT 2008

On 4/30/2008 10:47 PM, Vittorio Celentano wrote:
> Charles,
> Barry Blye can also be considered a posthumous actor or person In Top 
> Billing from Tales from the Crypt.
> "Barry Blye is a frustrated actor who will do anything to get a part. 
> He's been rejected by every acting company because he doesn't have the 
> right look. Bad luck follows him all over. First his girlfriend breaks 
> up with him. Then he's kicked out of his apartment. Then his old rival 
> Winton Robins, who has the look, gets a part in a weird theater's 
> production of Hamlet. Barry goes into a frustrated rage and strangles 
> him to death to take the part. He is shocked when he learns that the 
> theater is really a home for the criminally insane. Barry thought he 
> was auditioning for Hamlet whereas his part was that of Yorick. The 
> insane stage director wanted to produce a Hamlet so real that he 
> needed a real skull for the part of Yorick."
That is an interesting example of acting posthumously, Vittorrio.  
Pursewarden's difference rests with his acceptance of his mortality and 
his acceptance of the vagaries of literary fame and fashion.  
Pursewarden walks knowingly towards his death.  You might even say that 
he scripts the plot, directs, designs the set, and acts the player's 
part.  And Pursewarden leaves behind his enigmas for the "survivors" in 
his audience to puzzle out.  Oh, what a wounded name.  (Staged deaths 
abound in the fiction, really.)

And so with Durrell, I think.  His works and the record of witness to 
his life are not easy to take with confidence.  Some readers seems to 
find sunny Mediterranean Larry.  Others seem to find something greyer, 
something more gnostic.  And others still insist that his life was 
rather sad, for himself or for those whom he may or may not have damaged. 

I only mistrust a reading that insists on any of these as the singular, 
final diagnosis.  Durrell has left us writings and a biography which 
have an uncanny kinship with Pursewarden's asterisk, that typographical 
will o' the wisp which misleads the reader to a blank page, throwing the 
reader "back upon his own resources--which is where every reader 
ultimately belongs."   I have said it before here.  We are all Durrell's 
Brother Ass.  (The second person address of that posthumous document 
pulls us in.)

In the end, I am most curious about Durrell's creation of Pursewarden in 
the 1950s, during a moment in which he was somewhat known but nowhere 
nearly as celebrated as Pursewarden is within the imagined world of the 
/Quartet /or as Durrell would be after /Justine/'s appearance.  I think 
that there is much to mull over in that act of imagination.  In a way, 
Pursewarden is Durrell's /memento mori/, a voice of mortality set to 
check romantic ambitions and hopes for a lasting fame just as the Romans 
set a slave behind their triumphant generals to check their delusions of 
godhood, whispering "look behind you and recollect that you are only a 

Maybe Antony's demise is coloring my reading, making me read like an 
'antique Roman.' 


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

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