[ilds] genius

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Thu Oct 15 12:56:49 PDT 2009

I think Charles sums up this little debate on Durrell's "Cambridge  
education" about as neatly as it can be, with his usual good humor,  
acumen, and learning.  I accept his characterization of me on this  
issue, although the issue itself remains unresolved.  Dr. D.'s point —  
a Cambridge tutor would have staunched Durrell's creative juices, his  
childlike wonder and exuberance, that "My heart leaps up" enthusiasm.   
Well, William Wordsworth was one of the founders of the English  
Romantic movement, and he wrote, "The Child is father of the Man," and  
made famous the whole notion of childlike spontaneity as a wellspring  
of poetry.  Wordsworth, as you know, attended St. John's College,  
Cambridge.  He didn't like it, but he "did his time," as the saying  
goes.  His story is similar to Coleridge's, Shelley's, and Byron's  
(who got what might be called a "gentleman's degree" at Cambridge,  
perhaps shared with his pet bear).  These writers certainly chafed  
while at the university, but they knew their stuff and had the benefit  
of a solid classical education.  Keats is the very big exception, of  
course, and probably the biggest genius of the lot.  I find it  
interesting that Durrell doesn't like him or appears not to like him,  
as references in The Black Book and the Quartet would seem to  
indicate.  Why?  They're rivals?  Too similar?  Two outsiders with  
huge poetic gifts?

Anyway, we're dealing in hypotheticals, so here's mine.  A thought  
experiment, as Durrell might have said, imitating Einstein.  So,  
Lawrence G. Durrell, age eighteen, passes his entrance exams on a  
first try and is admitted to King's College, Cambridge.  He comes to  
King's knowing Latin and French.  He's assigned a tutor, Elyot  
Poundsworthy, who specializes in Roman poetry and early French  
literature.  Poundsworthy has published articles on Catullus, Horace,   
Bernart de Ventadorn, and Montaigne.  Tutor and student have their  
first meeting.  Tutor asks pupil what his areas of interests are, and  
pupil says he likes the classics but he especially likes modern  
poetry, beginning with G. M. Hopkins.  Tutors nods and assigns student  
a selection of poems, all in the original Latin and French, and  
includes Montaigne's essay, "On Vanity," also in French.  Then he  
tells him to write an essay on vanity, to integrate all the authors in  
the assignment into a coherent argument, and to come back in a week.   
Five pages will do.  Student returns.  He has written an essay in over  
one thousand lines of free verse, with occasional rhymes.  Tutor  
slowly reads the essay, nods, and compliments student on his spelling,  
particularly in the original languages.  No mistakes.  He smiles and  
remarks that Pope also wrote essays in verse, although in heroic  
couplets and with considerably more concision.  Then he says, "All  
very interesting.  I like the images, in particular how you compare  
Catullus's 'fuck face' with Montaigne's 'chamber pots.'  But what's  
your point?  I can't find a point."  Student waves his arms and says,  
"How can an essay have a point when the subject matter has no point?   
Montaigne goes all over the place and never settles on anything.  He  
just rambles, so you never know what he means.  If he can get away  
with that, so can I.  Montaigne's mind skips and hops like a stone  
skimming over a pond, never getting below glittering surfaces."  Tutor  
nods again and says, "That's very good.  I like that.  I don't agree  
with it, but I like it.  Now, why didn't you say that or even suggest  
that in your essay?  Or are you just interested in trying to be as  
clever as the authors you write about?"

Three years later, L. G. Durrell gets his degree from King's, second  
class, and soon leaves for Corfu.  He now knows about brevity and  
concision and clear thinking, but he decides to use these tools  
sparingly and to rely on his instincts, except when talking about  
French thought and Einstein's Relativity.


On Oct 15, 2009, at 8:04 AM, Charles Sligh wrote:

> -----Original Message-----
> From: BIGPOND ACCOUNT <durrell at telstra.com>
> "A tutor Bruce spreading stifling effluvia
> throughout the recesses of his expansive bubbles is akin to   
> smoothering the laughter and playfulness at a preschoolers  
> playground."
> I had just finished reading Wemmick on Jaggers in _Great  
> Expectations_--"He's as deep as Australia"--when lo!  there was a  
> bit of Australia in my mailbox.  Uncanny.
> Bruce's points are legitimate--Durrell's style is distinctive and  
> peculiar and should be attended.
> I appreciate Bruce's points because they test my own different  
> understanding of Durrell's style, helping me to walk around, see  
> things differently for a moment, and not take my own view for a  
> default position.
> When Dr. Durrell and Bruce disagree, I think that they are showing  
> us two different notions of education, character, and authors.
> The Good Doctor invokes the metaphor of childhood innocence and  
> naivete--cf. Rousseau and Wordsworth, "the poet-child is the father  
> of the poet-man"--a sort of romanticized view of the bard as more  
> successful if he can cast off "civilization" and reconnect with his  
> natural roots.
> By contrast, Bruce, if I read him correctly, is holding up a  
> classical ideal of education and character.  The purpose of  
> education in that view is to take the unformed mind and shape,  
> discipline, and measure it against the best examples from the past.   
> Working within this model, the individual achieves distinction by  
> his or her mastery of our cultural inheritance.
> Again, I have probably over-simplified these views.  I am sorry if I  
> have.
> Again, I am less interested in what we say about Durrell's  
> education.  Instead, how do Durrell's characters learn and what  
> "education" do the characters have in the _Quartet_?
> I am thinking of Darley as a school teacher, and of young Justine #I  
> on the streets of Alex and young Justine #2 playing in happy  
> innocence by the hearth in the island cell. . . .
> Durrell was a lecturer--a kind of teacher--and Durrell knew the  
> "terror" of shepherding young minds. . . .
> Charles

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