[ilds] the origins of Cunegonde

James Gifford james.d.gifford at gmail.com
Mon Jan 31 13:17:35 PST 2011

Bruce notes suggests, rightly, that Charles and I might take up the 
plural interpretations of Durrell's word plays, but for the naughty 
Cunegonde's three potential origins, he notes:

> I would say that the only definition that
> really counts, as far as LGD is concerned,
> is the last one [the purely prurient]. So,
> I don't see much ambiguity here.

Would Cunegonde be funny without the antithetical nature of her literary 
predecessor in Voltaire's /Candide/?  If one possessed such a doll, 
naming it "Nancy" wouldn't seem terribly peculiar even though it's open 
to the sexual innuendo of a "nancy boy" (or at least no more peculiar 
than owning such a thing is already), but if "Reagan" were added as a 
surname, it would take on a much broader humour.  I'd say the same for 
"Fanny" becoming "Fanny Burney" rather than "Fanny Hill."  But just 
plain old "Fanny" is clearly just plain old prurient, and it's a rather 
lame joke if the literary predecessor isn't there -- Durrell did make 
lame jokes, but most have that added dimension of ambiguity or plurality.

I think Bruce's peculiar interest {winks heavily at audience} in this 
rather silly joke in what was perhaps Durrell's most careless (and 
final) book would be much more peculiar were it not for Voltaire's 
penning of his own Cunegonde...


On 31/01/11 10:44 AM, Bruce Redwine wrote:
> Charles,
> Glad to have your company once again, and thanks for the elaboration,
> esp. the Nabokov quotation. I think this discussion of alternative
> glosses leads to an important aspect of Durrell's method (if you can
> call it that) of writing. Namely, ambiguity, deliberate or not. You note
> the various readings/spellings of "draught," which is the English
> spelling, the American is "draft." In this instance, I don't think any
> ambiguity exists (unless you're obsessed by Kinbote's "texture").
> Durrell is making a cute comparison between drafty English architecture
> and the drafty English soul, if you will. But what about Cunégonde,
> recently discussed? What's the meaning or source of that personal name?
> We came up with three definitions/sources:
> 1. Voltaire's /Candide,/
> 2. Marc's etymology based on German /kühn/ and /Gund /(sic), and
> 3. Richard's "cunt on which the sexual business of the world hinged."
> Now, which of these meanings did Durrell intend? Or does he want, as
> Charles and James probably think, all three to be held simultaneously in
> the reader's mind? Does Durrell want "texture?" Quite possibly. But I
> think only nos. 1 and 3 applied at the time of composition. Durrell's
> source is most likely Voltaire, but what really appealed to him was the
> sexual innuendo seen in the French, which is what Richard and Marc point
> out and acknowledge. I would say that the only definition that really
> counts, as far as LGD is concerned, is the last one. So, I don't see
> much ambiguity here.
> On the other hand, ambiguity, if that's the right word, has its place.
> Something to do with what the reader makes of words and images. Charles
> lists Durrell's various usages of /draught,/ and taken together these
> contribute powerfully to the "world" of his fiction and poetry, an
> ambience that readers find so bewitching. I don't know how to integrate
> this into a theory of composition, but it is definitely something that
> has to be reckoned with.
> Bruce
> On Jan 31, 2011, at 8:52 AM, Charles Sligh wrote:
>> On 1/31/11 11:13 AM, James Gifford wrote:
>>>         It's a typical Durrell wordplay
>>>         though, generating confusion whenever possible...
>> Thanks to our posters for these various glosses on "draught."
>> What a translator makes of these words does matter, opening up or
>> shutting down meanings depending upon choices. Translation is one of
>> the highest interpretive arts, if not the highest. Good luck.
>> Across the works, I find Durrell using "draught" to signify something
>> atmospheric (climacteric), or something imbibed, with a few odd
>> meanings here and there.
>> He often seems to signify a breeze -- e.g., the numerous "cool
>> draughts" wafting throughout his descriptions of place, and the smell
>> of the sea, Arab bread, cognac, Chianti, the sound of music and
>> beautiful language, and the perfume of a lover's head from the pillow
>> can all be perceived by means of draught.
>> But drinking scenes also take "draught," and both meanings occur in
>> /Justine/. Synesthesia.
>> He does use the word at least once in the sense of "play draughts."
>> And the nautical usage appears in /Balthazar/, /Clea/, &c.
>> The second occasion of "draught" in /The Dark Labyrinth/ is
>> climacteric. I do not know if that would shape your reading of this
>> initial incident.
>> I will also gloss James' note on the OED & spellings ("draft" versus
>> "draught" or "drought") by noting that in notebooks and typescripts
>> Durrell was sometimes an indifferent speller.
>> I think that, as with many writers, some of Durrell's most memorable
>> felicities spring from this trait, and it only was compounded by his
>> typists or typesetters who in turn made mortal slips.
>> How the reader will react to these /felix culpas/ tells us more about
>> the reader than anything else -- revealing whether the reader is more
>> generally Darley or Pursewarden, more Dr. Charles Kinbote or John Shade.
>> I also called on Coates.
>> He was afraid he had mislaid his notes.
>> He took his article from a steel file:
>> 800 “It’s accurate. I have not changed her style.
>> There’s one misprint—not that it matters much:
>> /Mountain/, not /fountain/. The majestic touch.”
>> Life Everlasting—based on a misprint!
>> I mused as I drove homeward: take the hint,
>> And stop investigating my abyss?
>> But all at once it dawned on me that this
>> Was the real point, the contrapuntal theme;
>> Just this: not text, but texture; not the dream
>> But topsy-turvical coincidence,
>> 810 Not flimsy nonsense, but a web of sense.
>> Yes! It sufficed that I in life could find
>> Some kind of link-and-bobolink, some kind
>> Of correlated pattern in the game,
>> Plexed artistry, and something of the same
>> Pleasure in it as they who played it found.
>>         -- VN, /Pale Fire/ (1962)
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