[ilds] Artistic Freedom

James Gifford james.d.gifford at gmail.com
Wed Aug 19 12:51:10 PDT 2009

I've tried to read the epigrams differently, but I agree that Durrell 
had more than fleeting flirtations with the idea of suicide -- at least, 
his notebooks suggest more than fleeting thoughts.  I'd classify that 
distinctly from Sappho's suicide, but that's another complicated topic.

Still, Durrell was clearly interested in Byron, and I'd certainly read 
the burning of the letters as an allusion (along with the sibling 
incest...), but let's not forget that Durrell really didn't live up to 
Byron's reputation.  Pursewarden is associated with the author of the 
Quartet, but so is Darley, and Darley's prudish and throwing in sex to 
show he's not a prude (perhaps the best indication that he is).  I'm 
personally very hesitant about associating Durrell with any character in 
a reasonably clear way after /Pied Piper of Lovers/.

As for what Durrell was hiding, I think he hid it well, and it probably 
has a great deal more to do with his childhood and self-doubts than it 
does his sex life, but that's just a personal guess.


Bruce Redwine wrote:
> Provocative as ever, Charles.  Thanks for recalling the De Sade 
> epigraph.  Very relevant.  I suspect Durrell had strong suicidal 
> tendencies, and the reference to De Sade's "noose" is much more than a 
> bit of cleverness.  It's an obsession — perhaps finally fulfilled in 
> Sappho Jane's suicide.  Re Keat's "negative capability," I don't think 
> even he would want to go into some territories of depravity.  Hard to 
> imagine any nightingales in Dracula's castle, although I'm sure LD 
> could.  But why some areas are off-limits and others not is a real big 
> question.  I'm not upset by Cormac McCarthy's novels, /Blood 
> Meridian,/ in particular.  In fact, I'm strongly attracted to Cormac's 
> depictions of violence.  Sexual depravity, however, touches another 
> cord, a prudish one.  When writing about sex, Durrell would go only so 
> far and got into a big argument with Miller over the latter's 
> explicitness.  Too bad we don't have Byron's /Memoirs,/ then we'd see 
> how far things could go.  "Only fit for a brothel," they were called. 
>  Hobhouse burned them, and Durrell has Pursewarden's letters burned, 
> which may be a good deal more than a touch of authorial indebtedness 
> to an honored predecessor.  Maybe Durrell was also hiding something.
> Bruce
> On Aug 18, 2009, at 6:48 PM, Charles Sligh wrote:
>> My appreciation goes out to Sumantra and Bruce for their detailed,
>> thoughtful conversation.
>>>    My reaction to /Lolita/ is based on the subject matter.  An
>>>    American locale has absolutely nothing to do with it.  I'm queasy
>>>    about the topic, uncomfortable, as I am with De Sade's
>>>    /Justine./  Pedophilia and sadism — I have problems with those
>>>    two.  Being queasy is not a rejection of the novel; it's an
>>>    admission of my own limitations.
>> That is a brave admission of the limits of your "negative capability,"
>> Bruce.  I can respect this choice.
>> Lawrence Durrell and Algernon Charles Swinburne were provocative writers
>> who self-consciously aligned themselves with De Sade, so I have spent
>> some time pondering these limits.
>> Durrell said that "it was necessary" for de Sade to "go as far as he
>> did" (/Conversations/ 87).   And I have always been fascinated by the
>> precise targeting implied by the epigraph to /Justine/:
>>>        There are two positions available to us -
>>>        either crime which renders us happy, or
>>>        the noose, which prevents us from being
>>>        unhappy.  I ask whether there can be any
>>>        hesitation, lovely Thérèse, and where will
>>>        your little mind find an argument able to
>>>        combat that one?
>>>        D.A.F. DE SADE: /Justine/
>> We readers are "lovely Thérèse," right?  Literature is not really
>> working if our "little minds" do not hesitate at the limits--some would
>> say. . . .
>> You can guess where I would turn in order to test the point.
>> For the advocacy of the devil--no hope for me, after all!--why mark out
>> some artistic "crimes" as /outré/ (say, predation in Nabokov's /Lolita/,
>> rape in Cendrars' /Moravagine/, or anti-Semitism in Celine) and pass
>> more readily over other heinous acts (the murder of infants and children
>> and political cleansing in, say, /Macbeth, Richard III/, /King Lear/,
>> and /Hamlet/)?
>> Again, I can respect your uneasiness because I know how rigorously you
>> distinguish between the "virtual world" of your imagination while you
>> read Conrad and the so-called "real world."
>> Finding a work of literature that tests our ability to make that
>> distinction promises interesting results.  I often find myself weeping
>> while reading to my students David Copperfield's account of being beaten
>> as a child or lost on the roads.  That is the strangeness--David and his
>> world are fiction, a tissue of lies, not real--words words words--but
>> man they can make me hurt.
>> Again, no hope for me--but my best to you--
>> Charles
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