[ilds] ILDS Digest, Vol 29, Issue 11_Daniel Williams_Message 2 Sumantra_Message 5 Charles_Message 8 Bruce

Sumantra Nag sumantranag at gmail.com
Sat Aug 15 11:05:18 PDT 2009

Charles: "That sort of objection springs from the sense that literature must
accurately reflect some locatable, fixed reality--or that literaturemust "reform" and "correct" misguided views of a stable reality."

Bruce: "How is Durrell's viewpoint to be taken?  How is it to be  
judged?  Is its portrayal of Alexandria fair?  Need it be?  To be  
honest, I've never satisfactorily answered these questions for myself,  
but that has not stopped me from continuing to enjoy reading the  
novels.  There's something in the Quartet that is magical and  
transcends conventional analysis,"
Charles, Bruce, thank you both very much for your thoughtful responses. As points of reference, I am reproducing above, only a small part of your respective comments. 

Bruce, it is some time since I read Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness". I think it is Lawrence Durrell's reflective comments about Alexandria, scattered all over the Quartet, and reading like a travelogue, that tend to portray the image of a colonial traveller or expatriate. I don't recall the same impression in "Heart of Darkness" where description is direct - but I may well be missing out on something. (The intensity of prose in Conrad's "Lord Jim" is held up by George Steiner as an example of baroque writing for comparison with the prose of the AQ - I posted an extract from George Steiner on ILDS some time ago.) I also think it is valid to point out that Durrell's characters are seen as limited to foreigners in Alexandria, and not to the Egyptian population - but then Alexandria apparently had a strong European character, different from the rest of Egypt. Again, Durrell's tendency in the AQ to write subjective commentaries about the "City" and its people, when he is actually writing about a very small section of the city's population (even its European population), accentuates the neglect of large portions of the city's people - even the cosmopolitan non-Egyptian polpulation. This may not have happened if he gave a less pervasive presence to "the City" in his novels. But then, the AQ has a magnetic quality - a quality which you have described as magical and transcending traditional analysis!     

Charles, I wonder whether Terry Eagleton's views are relevant in the context of our discussions:

"Durrell once described himself as a "supreme trickster", and this is surely one reason why his celebrity proved so shortlived. The glittering surface of his prose conceals an emotional anaesthesia, for which the portentously "profound" reflections of the Quartet are meant to compensate. Like many poets, his verbal sensitivity is in inverse proportion to real human sympathy, a sublimated selfishness evident in his life as much as his work. What was real was what he could exoticise, convert to mythological archetype or high-sounding platitude. His Alexandria is a country of the mind, attractive precisely because its cultural and ethnic mix makes it at once nowhere and everywhere. If he plundered Egypt for its symbolic capital, he also groused about its "stinking inhabitants". His combination of elitism and aestheticism was finally outstripped by Nabokov, another rootless emigre who happened to possess a finer literary talent." (From "SUPREME TRICKSTER" By Terry Eagleton, a review of Ian McNiven's biography of LAWRENCE DURRELL.) 

George Steiner upheld the rich prose of Durrell as a relief from the flat prose of English fiction which had set in by the 1950s. But it seems to me that some critics (including perhaps Eagleton) see this quality of Durrell as filling the need of a particular period. What happens if you judge the novels in critical terms other than those of the quality of prose?

Best wishes


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Sent: Saturday, August 15, 2009 12:30 AM
Subject: ILDS Digest, Vol 29, Issue 11

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