Denise Tart & David Green dtart at bigpond.net.au
Thu Dec 2 15:46:03 PST 2010

William Cole and George Plimpton interviewed Lawrence Durrell at the height of his fame and creative powers on April 23rd, 1959 at his home in the Midi. With reference to recent postings about how much reality enters Durrell's fiction, the following is worth noting.

Interviewers: you seem to use the same kind of material, and often the same characters again and again, in your novels, in your poems and in the travel books. One of your critics has said, "Durrell has never made any proper distinction in his writing between real and imaginary persons."  Would you agree with that?

Durrell: Yes, certainly.

Interviewers: are these characters that reappear personae or real people?

Durrell: No, they are personae, I think. They are not real people. There is hardly a snatch of autobiography. Most of the autobiography is in places and scenes and ambiances. I think it is not understood to what a limited extent artists have any experience at all, you know. People imagine them to have absolutely boundless experience. In fact they are as near sighted as moles, and if you limit your field to your own proper capabilities it is astonishing how little you know about life...I think the magnification of gifts magnifies the defects as well. One of the things I have strongly is the defect of vision. For example I can't remember any of the wild flowers that I write about so ecstatically in The Greek Islands, I have to look them up.

Apparently he had to look up the streets of Alexandria too when writing the quartet. Clearly literature, art, street maps, paintings botanical guides and so on have as much or more to do with Durrell's writings than actual experience. This, to me, puts his travel, or island books into an interesting and not easily classified category, making perhaps all travel writers a little suspect. Did that dog chase scene really happen to Bill Bryson when he was in Sydney? Never let the truth get in the way of good story. Here is Durrell again:

...my unkinder critics always seize on something like sleight of hand or illusionist... But fortunately I'm not to blame. I gather it is something to do with the Fishes, to which I belong...Pisceans are a bunch of liars, and when you add to that an Irish background, you have got some pretty hefty liar.

If Durrell is being honest here, then his honesty is admirable. If not then more smoke and mirrors.

The large Irish component of the traditional Australian working class (now almost non existent) made them magnificent bullartists, a fact Mark Twain commented upon with admiration when he visited Sydney late in the 19th century claiming "the people are all liars."





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