[ilds] TSE & BB

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Fri Feb 4 17:14:35 PST 2011


Yes.  The Black Book is definitely a young man's book (i.e., reader as youth), and Graham Greene is absolutely right that "a writer's childhood is his capital."  My young man's book, however, is the Quartet, and I have very little affinity for Durrell's novel about his coming of age, except as a curiosity reflecting his early development.  (In 1960, I couldn't get beyond Lobo "catapulting" his penis [p. 23] and only completed the novel a couple of years ago, with very great difficulty.)  I just finished Roderick Child's essay, "Hollow Responses:  An Exploration of Lawrence Durrell's London" (Deus Loci, NS 11, 2008-2009).  Child is particularly good at showing young Durrell's indebtedness to Eliot's Waste Land, "The Hollow Men," and "Prufrock," especially in the context of London's cold and dreariness as symbol of "the English Death."  Surely the elder maven of English poetry picked up on the influence, along with that direct reference to WL, and all that predisposed him to say such nice things about the young writer.


On Feb 4, 2011, at 12:38 PM, gkoger at mindspring.com wrote:

> Bruce,
> I take your point. It's a young man's book, and although I wasn't quite a young man when I first read it, I found all those inchoate emotions perfectly reasonable just the same. Fact is, I think that former self of mine is still close at hand. I can turn my more mature self loose on science and politics and other such subjects, but when I read literature for pleasure, it's usually that former self who's doing it. Graham Greene said, as I remember it, that a writer's childhood is his capital. That seems to be the case for some readers too. I'm going to have to think about whether I'd want it any other way.
> Grove
> -----Original Message----- 
> From: Bruce Redwine 
> Sent: Feb 3, 2011 2:21 PM 
> To: Charles-Sligh at utc.edu, ilds at lists.uvic.ca 
> Cc: Bruce Redwine 
> Subject: Re: [ilds] TSE & BB 
> Charles,
> Thanks for contextualizing T. S. Eliot's fulsome remarks on The Black Book as the great "hope" of English fiction.  That's helpful.  Eliot was mentor to the young Durrell, and as such he was being "generous," as you say, to a writer of great promise.  How generous Eliot was is indicated by the fact he doesn't apply his own critical standards, such as the "objective correlative" to Durrell's work.  Green and Gifford have recently explained "the English death," a key theme in BB, but they have done so by providing a context, "literary myth making," which exists outside of the book itself.  Eliot's point about the "objective correlative" is that a literary work has to justify itself in terms of its own conditions.  Shakespeare's Hamlet fails because, in Eliot's mind, Hamlet's emotions are not justified by the conditions of the play, or as he says, "Hamlet (the man) is dominated by an emotion which is inexpressible, because it is in excess of the facts as they appear."  This is exactly my problem with Durrell's Black Book.  The great Angst of the novel doesn't have, for me anyway, an "objective correlative."  It's just too nebulous in the way that the inchoate emotions of youth usually are.  Undoubtedly what appealed to Eliot was Durrell's poetry and a fragmentary narrative which is in some ways similar to his own monumental Waste Land.
> Bruce
> On Feb 3, 2011, at 9:56 AM, Charles Sligh wrote:
>> On 2/3/11 10:44 AM, gkoger at mindspring.com wrote:
>>> I think that Eliot's opinion has certainly been borne out by time, but as I mentioned in my last post, I really would like to hear from others. Am I the only one on the list to think that The Black Book is an exciting and remarkable achievement?
>> I would make an observation about how much context and chronology matter for our appreciation of The Black Book and TSE's evaluation.
>> That is, TSE read The Black Book in a particular way and time and place -- in May/June 1937, in a bound typescript delivered to his Russell Square office, where day-in, day out he read through reams of hum-drum submissions.   
>> I also note that TSE comments on LD's literary influences as fully "digested."  No matter how well-digested or under-cooked 21st century gourmands find the dish, TSE, no less than HM, is in some sense fashioning a literary lineage as he attends The Black Book.  
>> TSE was also genuinely generous in many ways, a good mentor who encouraged LD to follow his own instincts and artistic commitments in publishing The Back Book.  Faber could not publish the book uncut.  TSE advised LD to follow his own way for his own best ends.  That is fair.  
>> TSE also asked LD to consider whether he was a poet or a novelist.  Those two vocations may not necessarily be exclusive, but as an observation TSE's question is incisive, reminding us about something important regarding LD's style.  Seen within that frame, The Black Book would be something striking and new and very much worth boosting.
>> On the other hand, I think that most everyone here on the list must consider The Black Book with LD's achievement in The Alexandria Quartet and the island books already in some way intervening.  This point is true, I think, even if the reader somehow read The Black Book first, then the Quartet.  The publication of the Quartet, or a reader's knowledge of the Quartet, cannot but influence the conversation and process of evaluation.
>> My preference is for the Quartet, which has given me most pleasure.  But I try to honor each work on its own peculiar aesthetic merits.  And humility is necessary.  The problems I find with The Black Book may in fact highlight much more about my own readerly limitations than anything about the shortcomings of The Black Book or young LD.
>> CLS
>> -- 
>> ********************************************
>> Charles L. Sligh
>> Assistant Professor
>> Department of English
>> University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
>> charles-sligh at utc.edu
>> ********************************************\

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