[ilds] Ankles

James Gifford odos.fanourios at gmail.com
Wed May 5 14:02:15 PDT 2010

Hey Bruce,

I'm glad to oblige!  I commented on this briefly in the introduction
to /Pied Piper/:

"Durrell’s difficulty with this tension between race and nationality,
marking as they do the frail fabric of identity, is made palpable, yet its
resolution is elusive. This difficulty drives Durrell’s later work just as
readily as it directs our interpretive ventures. He brings the reader to
only one conclusion, although it is hardly presented as a consummation
devoutly to be wished. With Walsh’s lover gravely ill and his own future
prospects uncertain, and with all this disrupted by the traumas of his
past, Durrell turns us back to the problem he first encountered through
an ankle-bone jutting out of an Indian funeral pyre. It tells him “I know
something…very startling – absolute mental dynamite. That is: ‘I am,
and quite soon I will not be.’ Isn’t that enough?” Attempting to answer
that problem required the rest of his career." (xvi)

The relevant passages in /Pied/ are pp. 10

As a case in point, the ankles come to reflect mortality.  As Walsh's
father awaits his lover's death, the water "broke in little waves
about his ankles" (10) and he could "hear the tapping of anklets about
her ankles" as she becomes a sinister presence (10).  Then, "Her
anklets chattered in the semi-darkness outside" (11) as he realizes
she had died.  This series of images (ankles, anklets, and sharp
teeth) repeat on p. 17 & 33, and they form a more perfect image on p.
55 when:

"[Walsh] was going nowhere in particular, merely walking
to try and rid himself of the disturbing knowledge that his freedom was
threatened; .... the thought oppressed him; he knew,
with that intuitive conviction of boyhood, that this was but the beginning.
Perhaps, even now, if he did not take this threat seriously, did not
allow himself to accept the intrusion, the danger would pass, leaving
him untouched; yet the hope was built on such slender things; things
inexpressible since they were not even defined to himself: the sight of a
dusty territory of tea bushes; the long wet grass under the spray of the
waterfall, with its thrilling promise of snakes; the flat untidy little plot of
ground on Victoria Hill, with its untidy pyres, and the ashes deep and
heavy about the ground…he had once seen a white ankle-bone sticking
out of a jumble of ash, new and clean, untouched by fire, and he had
been suddenly brought face to face with the meaning of death, expressed
in terms he had never before understood. The monstrous sight of this
ankle-bone jutting surprisingly from the layers of ash that the rain had
moistened, gave the idea of death a defined and unforgettable identity;
for a few weeks after that he had been worried by all manner of morbid
speculations and doubts; mortality, and the frailty of mortality, had
weighed very heavily upon him. Then the phase had passed, leaving him
nothing but that comforting preoccupation with nearer things." (55)

The same preoccupation with catching butterflies that distracts young
Walsh from thinking of death comes back at this point as well when he
sees Mr. Sowerby:

"The preoccupation of those slender, womanish
hands in the methodical taking of life, and the preservation of the body.
Something that was as high and vital as the sight of that clean white
ankle-bone projecting from the ashes of a pyre on Victoria Hill. His
mind wriggled with disaster." (56)

The image then goes underground with "ankle-deep ash" (59) that
reminds the reader of mortality, "the ankles of the flowers" (66) that
are sinister, coffins white as ankle bones (92), the wind that tugs at
young Walsh's tiny ankles (98), his chant of "ankle bone" (100), and
then a whole series of ankle images across the remainder of the novel
that blur, disturbingly, sexual desire and the ankle (136, 138, 141, &

There are even amputated ankles (114), and only one scene suggests a
reconciliation when a farmer with a scythe stands ankle-deep in the
freshly turned soil yet gives a friendly gesture of kind greeting

This kind of image recurs in /Panic Spring/ (51, 67, 99 [foreshadowing
Rumanades' death], 123, 133, 166, 203, and perhaps 213).

We get it in /The Black Book/ as well (in the first edition, pp. 37,
55, 60, 74, 172 [in particular], 183, and 213).  It comes up again in
/The Alexandria Quartet/ and again in the /Quintet/.

But, the students are knocking at my door for advising...  Must run!!


ps: there's a lot to discuss here...  What do you all think?

On 5 May 2010 13:28, Bruce Redwine <bredwine1968 at earthlink.net> wrote:
> James,
> The recurrent "ankle" image, which you've noted before, could you elaborate and give references?  I missed that in my readings.  When you mentioned it, I immediately though of Thomas Wyatt's famous "They flee from me":  "They flee from me, that sometime did me seek, / With naked foot stalking in my chamber."
> Bruce
> On May 4, 2010, at 8:27 AM, James Gifford wrote:
>>> Yes, but that begs the question why certain terms stick in one's mind
>>> rather than others.  Now it may be that LD was so saturated in the
>>> literature of the English Renaissance that he began to think like an
>>> Elizabethan or a Jacobean.  Or he may have latched onto a vocabulary
>>> that had a special significance for him, conscious or unconscious.
>>> Or, obviously, some combination of both.  I lean towards the second
>>> of the first two possibilities, which I find more interesting as a
>>> critical exercise.
>> I agree with Charles that I'd very much like to see you pursue this
>> problem.  That said, after spending so much time on LD's early fiction,
>> I wouldn't dismiss the saturation hypothesis so quickly either.  I'd
>> suggest that he really was immersed in that language, and his claim to
>> have read across the Elizabethans before moving to Corfu has merit -- I
>> could have taken another year just to attempt to hunt down likely echoes
>> or allusions on /Pied Piper/ and /Panic Spring/, and many I found were
>> well off the beaten path.
>> Another very likely factor is Durrell's notebook method.  He jotted down
>> bits and pieces, words, phrases, or images that he liked in a series of
>> expostulations or free associations -- these are later 'quaried' into
>> the fiction (I believe Pine has traced this process more thoroughly than
>> anyone else, cf Mindscape [really, just dip in anywhere -- it's
>> recurrent]).  It's not so far from a cut-up method in some respects.
>> My own hunch would be a combination of all 3 of these in tandem: special
>> significance of vocabulary (just look at the image of the ankle across
>> his oeuvre), immersion (Elizabethans in particular), and method (notebooks).
>> Cheers,
>> James
> _______________________________________________
> ILDS mailing list
> ILDS at lists.uvic.ca
> https://lists.uvic.ca/mailman/listinfo/ilds

James Gifford, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of English and University Core Director
School of English, Philosophy and Humanities
University College: Arts, Sciences, Professional Studies
Fairleigh Dickinson University, Vancouver Campus
Voice: 604-648-4476
Fax: 604-648-4489
E-mail: gifford at fdu.edu

842 Cambie Street
Vancouver, BC
V6B 2P6 Canada

More information about the ILDS mailing list