[ilds] Summae litterarum

Denise Tart & David Green dtart at bigpond.net.au
Thu Sep 9 13:33:48 PDT 2010

Bruce, I quite agree. Shakespeare's style and language do not move much beyond the time of his death and the young of his day were already speaking with a new voice. the court too had changed under the Stuart kings to a sparer and more recognizably modern style (possibly a Scottish influence). Shakespeare was the last of the medieval's. He was Catholic too and at odds with the rising protestantism of his time, so yes I think his work is a literary summa of a vanishing world in the same way that Durrell's island book tend to absorb the silver age prose he admired rather than anticipate a new style. And indeed I would argue that there have been no 'travel' books like his in recent times - that blend of fact, fiction, personal experience, history and spirit of place. but it would hard to classify these books as Prospero's Cell is significantly different from Bitter Lemons. Sicilian Carousel I have not read yet. AS to plagiarism, well to my mind, all writers are guilty of this. their word hoard comes from many sources, often unacknowledged. Get something up on the list about this literary summa concept in relation to the island books. it may draw some keen responses.



From: Bruce Redwine 
Sent: Friday, September 10, 2010 5:45 AM
To: Denise Tart & David Green ; ilds at lists.uvic.ca 
Cc: Bruce Redwine 
Subject: Summae litterarum


Thanks for picking up on this topic and pointing out Shakespeare's use of proverbial language.  Re Prospero's Cell, I'd like to elaborate on Lawrence Durrell's place in the literary history of the Greek isles.  In an article, "Beowulf in Literary History," Joseph Harris defines a category of literary works he calls, summae literrarum.  His examples are Beowulf and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, of which he says, "Such works are generically synthetic and punctuate or terminate a period, summarizing the literary past and seemingly either to generate no direct progeny or to devour their own by overshadowing them in the course of subsequent literary history" (Pacific Coast Philology, vol. 17 [1982], no. 1-2, p. 16).

I'll throw out that a selection of Durrell's Mediterranean island books fits Harris's category of a "literary summa."  I'd include in Durrell's summa the following:  Prospero's Cell, Reflections on a Marine Venus, Bitter Lemons, and Sicilian Carousel.  Yes, another "quartet," and I include Sicily because in Durrell's "mind's eye" it's really Greek, which the history bears out.  One of Harris's interesting points is that such works subsume a long tradition.  So the fact that we have echoes of other writers (e.g., C. Morley's "where the blue begins") shouldn't bother us.  Great works "absorb" their predecessors and come to define the genre by dint of their breadth and excellence.  Of course, this opens up the whole issue of plagiarism, but that's another matter.


On Sep 8, 2010, at 11:31 PM, Denise Tart & David Green wrote:


  I have seen references to the beast with two backs in other texts - older than Shakespeare's. it appears to be a late medieval English term but may have translations in other languages. I am sure the French have something equally descriptive?

  Re Durrell and Douglas I like the idea posted recently regarding 'where the blue really begins' which suggests that Durrell was acknowledging Douglas but moving beyond Italy to Greece. It may have been unconscious, but it is a nice idea anyway. Durrell owed a fair bit to Norman Douglas. Old Calabria and South Wind are great reads. But I have to say that the blue really begins in the Aegean around Rhodes and Crete.


  From: Bruce Redwine 
  Sent: Thursday, September 09, 2010 3:22 AM
  To: ilds at lists.uvic.ca 
  Cc: Bruce Redwine 
  Subject: Re: [ilds] Somewhere between Calabria and Corfu theblue reallybegins

  Gotta say no to the C. Morley allusion and go with a reference to N. Douglas, as Grove notes below.  Along this line, I always thought Iago's slur, "making the beast with two backs," was original with Shakespeare, but it wasn't — a note in the Arden Othello says the phrase was proverbial.  Still, Shakespeare gets the credit, and Durrell will too.


  On Sep 8, 2010, at 2:27 AM, Wilson, Fraser wrote:

    Douglas certainly knew how to describe a boat trip - as in South Wind,
    below - which can be grabbed online from Project Gutenburg at no cost.

    His companion, meanwhile, beheld the panorama in all its nightmarish
    splendour, as it drifted past him. He saw the bluffs of feathery
    pumice, the lava precipices--frozen cataracts of white, black, blood
    red, pale grey and sombre brown, smeared over with a vitreous enamel of
    obsidian or pierced by oily, writhing dykes that blazed with metallic
    scintillations. Anon came some yawning cleft or an assemblage of dizzy
    rock-needles, fused into whimsical tints and attitudes, spiky,
    distorted, over-toppling; then a bold tufa rampart, immaculate in its
    beauty, stainless as a curtain of silk. And as the boat moved on he
    looked into horrid dells which the rains had torn out of the loose
    scoriae. Gaping wounds, they wore the bright hues of corruption. Their
    flanks were blotched with a livid nitrous efflorescence, with flaring
    sulphur, unhealthy verdure of pitchstone, streaks of arsenical
    vermilion; their beds--a frantic maze of boulders.

    He beheld this crazy stratification, this chaos of incandescent nature,
    sent in a flame of deep blue sky and sea. It lay there calmly, like
    some phantasmagoric flower, some monstrous rose that swoons away, with
    upturned face, in a solar caress.

    -----Original Message-----
    From: ilds-bounces at lists.uvic.ca [mailto:ilds-bounces at lists.uvic.ca] On
    Behalf Of gkoger at mindspring.com
    Sent: 08 September 2010 03:44
    To: ilds at lists.uvic.ca
    Subject: Re: [ilds] Somewhere between Calabria and Corfu theblue really

    Gissing? As in George Gissing, who wrote /By the Ionian Sea/? 

    I've always assumed that Durrell's line is a reference to Norman Douglas
    and his /Old Calabria/, in which Douglas devotes several pages to
    Gissing, by the way. In doing so Durrell acknowledges a debt to Douglas
    AND announces that he is moving beyond him, geographically and
    otherwise. Douglas devoted one short book to Greece but his interests
    lay primarily in Italy.


    -----Original Message-----

      From: "Godshalk, William (godshawl)" <godshawl at ucmail.uc.edu>

      Sent: Sep 7, 2010 7:23 PM

      To: "ilds at lists.uvic.ca" <ilds at lists.uvic.ca>

      Subject: Re: [ilds] Somewhere between Calabria and Corfu the blue

    really begins

      Well, there are plenty of references to ships, islands, etc. No Corfu


      The book ends with: "clear immortal blue." 

      Did Larry read it? I leave it to you. 

      O, yes, the chief character is a man called Gissing. 

      W. L. Godshalk *

      Department of English    *           *

      University of Cincinnati*   * Stellar Disorder  *

      OH 45221-0069 *  *


      From: ilds-bounces at lists.uvic.ca [ilds-bounces at lists.uvic.ca] On Behalf

    Of Bruce Redwine [bredwine1968 at earthlink.net]

      Sent: Tuesday, September 07, 2010 8:25 PM

      To: ilds at lists.uvic.ca

      Cc: Bruce Redwine

      Subject: Re: [ilds] Somewhere between Calabria and Corfu the blue

    really        begins

      Does Morely's book have related subject matter, i.e., the Ionian or the

    Aegean?  The next question:  any evidence that LD knew of this title?
    I'm inclined to think it's a coincidence.


      On Sep 7, 2010, at 5:01 PM, Godshalk, William (godshawl) wrote:

        "Where the Blue Begins" is a book by Christopher Morley published in


        "Somewhere between Calabria and Corfu the blue really begins."

        Is Durrell's "really" a reply and a correction?

        W. L. Godshalk *

        Department of English    *           *

        University of Cincinnati*   * Stellar Disorder  *

        OH 45221-0069 *  *

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