[ilds] ILDS Digest, Vol 48, Issue 3_ Dewford Mallows

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Fri Mar 4 11:35:47 PST 2011


All excellent points about the enjoyment of reading Mountolive.  The "Proustian effect" is particularly apt.  And yes, I was expanding on Justine's question about "the antinomian nature of irony," which I would also call one of Durrell's working points or principles of composition.

I'll gamble that most people would agree with you and choose Justine as their favorite novel in the Quartet.  Mine is Mountolive — for some of the reasons you state.  Being a traditionalist, I also like a third-person narrative, which is what we also see in The Dark Labyrinth.  I have no problems with an invisible narrator playing God.  Durrell most always excels at his "set pieces," and the opening to Mountolive I find quite enjoyable — indeed the whole section at the Hosnani lands in the Delta (another withdrawal situation with pastoral implications).  For me and some others, the most memorable scene in the novel is the one in Trafalgar Square, where an incestuous brother and sister perform their slow waltz in the snow.  Does Mountolive require knowledge of Justine and Balthazar to be fully enjoyed?  Yes.

Part of the greatness of the Dewford Mallows episode, I think, is that it can stand alone.  It can be excised from the novel and enjoyed in its own right with little reference to the Quartet as a whole, although knowing something about LGD's background is helpful.  The section also resonates because of its reworking of English pastoral poetry and the way that tradition handles grief.  I mentioned Wordsworth's "Michael" but failed to mention that poem also has a theme of "defection," the reverse of Durrell's treatment.  In "Michael," a son abandons his father.  Milton's "Lycidas" also comes to mind.

Something could be written on Durrell's use of the pastoral tradition, if it hasn't been done already.  He wrote Prospero's Cell in Alexandria, the home of Theocritus and the beginning of pastoral poetry.  Surely that's no coincidence, for Durrell's island books seem some new version of pastoralism.  Island pastoral?  Paul Alpers does not mention Durrell in his definitive What Is Pastoral? (1996).


On Mar 3, 2011, at 11:01 PM, Sumantra Nag wrote:

> Bruce,
> I liked this reference and assessment of Durrell's evocation of Mountolive's parents.
> "the antinomian nature of irony". 
> Wasn't this the phrase which first brought Justine face to face with Darley as he sat eating olives at a shop in Alexandria after delivering a talk on Cavafy where Justine was in the audience?
> "...She came into the shop with swift  and resolute suddenness and said, with the air of authority that Lesbians, or women with money, assume with the obviously indigent: "What did you mean by your remark about the antinomian nature of irony?" - or some such sally which I have forgotten." (Justine)
> Of course Mountolive contains a quiet flow of narrative while it is also suffused with Durrell's brilliant descriptions and depiction of romantic love amidst the pools of grandeur and underlying lust and seediness of Alexandria.
> I must say for myself that it is "Justine" which still holds the imagination with its spontaneous intensity, a quality captured for instance in the extract from the review of The Times at that time"...Justine is no ordinary novel...It holds great richness and beauty."    
> How many novels immediately strike the reader for their beauty? Of course beauty in a novel may come from different sources for different readers.
> Does Mountolive gain substantially in its appeal if it is read after Justine (and perhaps Balthazar) because it deals with the rich background which has already been created? (That is a Proustian effect I might say...you are reading about the same people in the same intricately described setting but you want to know more about both because your interest and your curiosity have been stirred and stimulated through the imagination!)
> Best wishes
> Sumantra 
> ---------------------------------------------------
> > Message: 1
> > Date: Wed, 2 Mar 2011 14:04:53 -0800
> > From: Bruce Redwine <bredwine1968 at earthlink.net>
> > Subject: [ilds] Dewford Mallows
> > To: ilds at lists.uvic.ca
> > Cc: Bruce Redwine <bredwine1968 at earthlink.net>
> > Message-ID: <6C90D9A6-4101-4C13-BBBE-320E5C3FD428 at earthlink.net>
> > Content-Type: text/plain; charset="windows-1252"
> > 
> > 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 wit!
> > h 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.
> > 
> > 
> > Bruce
> > ***********************************
> _
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