[ilds] Dewford Mallows

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Wed Mar 2 14:04:53 PST 2011

The vignette about Mountolive, Sr. occurs on pp. 93-99 of the novel Mountolive (New York 1959).  The small piece is a gem-like intrusion in the story.  It's not essential to the main narrative, somewhat like the poem "Bitter Lemons" at the end of Bitter Lemons itself.  The son, David Mountolive, Jr., returns to England and visits his mother at "Dewford Mallows," two hours "down" from London.  The village is apparently fictional, for when I Googled it I turned up a citation to an article on the Quartet (John C. Kelly, "Lawrence Durrell's Style," Studies:  An Irish Quarterly Review, v. 52 [1963]).  The fictive name sounds pastoral, idyllic — an aquatic and floral hybrid.

Story time is winter, before Christmas.  The weather is overcast and cold.  Mother and son have a good relationship; the father-son relationship is ambiguous.  The son left both India and his father at age eleven, never to see either again (mentioned twice), the same age as when LDG left India forever.  A nice combination of fiction and autobiography.  The son calls the father's departure for monastic life a "defection."  He also, rather strangely, calls it their "closest bond."  (Bonds are usually described as positive, a defection isn't.)  The passage relies heavily on memory, which completely transports the scene elsewhere, to Kipling's India.  In his father's study, the son picks up "the old Tibetan prayer-wheel" and recalls "vanished India," the "brazen sun," the "tawny river-mouth," the "burning ghats," the "dead bodies of men," and other vivid details.  That night Mountolive suffers "a crushing ear-ache," always recurring on his return home.  His mother nurses him with an old remedy of warm "salad oil," undoubtedly olive.  Then "the tide of agony receded to leave him, washed up so to speak, on the shores of sleep."  That balm is not unlike the invocation at the end of "Bitter Lemons," where the speaker entreats, "Let the old sea-nurses keep / Their memorials of sleep."

The Dewford Mallows passage is Lawrence Durrell at the peak of his narrative powers.  The writing is quiet, in a way that Joyce's Dubliners is quiet.  It's not unduly showy or sententious.  It also suppresses deep emotions, somewhat like Wordsworth's "Michael," another pastoral story.  Just what is the psychic cause of Mountolive's ear-aches?  We can guess at the obvious, but it's not confirmed.  Durrell prefers mystery.  The narrative elements are similar to those in "Bitter Lemons," with its repetitions and its tension of opposites.  Antinomies Durrell might have called them ("the antinomian nature of irony").  Here we have contrasting pairs:  pastoral name/wintry place, frozen exteriors/snug interiors, England/India, snow/heat, mother/father, life/death, devotion/defection, involvement/withdrawal, fame/anonymity, and so on.

I imagine Durrell wrote the Dewford Mallows episode quickly, without much forethought, and that may have something to do with its success.  He felt the story in his bones.  I also like the novel Mountolive for much the same reason.


On Mar 1, 2011, at 12:26 PM, William Godshalk wrote:

> It is not readily apparent that Mountolive's missing father is modeled, at least in part, on Francis J. Mott. But one might argue that Durrell's meeting with Mott was much like the reunion with a missing father. And Mott was the inspiration for some of Durrell's most interesting passages. Otto Rank is also part of this soup mix.
> Bill 
> -- 
> W. L. Godshalk                 *
> Department of English *           *      *
> University of Cincinnati    *     stellar disorder *
> OH 45221-0069     *               *          *
> godshawl at ucmail.uc.edu  

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