[ilds] The Dark Labyrinth

Denise Tart & David Green dtart at bigpond.net.au
Wed May 4 23:57:10 PDT 2011

Meta, Bruce and others.

Maybe, like Pinter, it is what is not said that is important. Neither MacNiven or Bowker say much about about Dark Labyrinth but, interestingly, Bowker gives his book that name, suggesting a biographical significance which maybe he was unable to explore due to lack of material from LD himself or from critics or friends. Thus, without sufficient quotable evidence, he felt unable to postulate. Bruce is right. We are onto something here and the Bocklin/Myers idea intrigues and inspires. Perhaps, indeed the male cast of DL are multiple parts of a troubled Durrell in search of salvation and the female cast are many Nancy's.....? yes, and the central theme of guilt, first marriage gone bad and all.....mmmm


From: Bruce Redwine 
Sent: Thursday, May 05, 2011 2:00 AM
To: Durrell list 
Cc: Bruce Redwine 
Subject: [ilds] The Dark Labyrinth


Thanks for the interest.  The essay, however, is in the research stage and far from being completed.  I consider The Dark Labyrinth ((1947) important, but Durrell himself didn't, T. S. Eliot didn't, nor do many participants on the ILDS list-serve.  The last is not a controversial statement — simply look at the lack of enthusiasm for any kind of discussion about the novel.  I doubt that many have read it, or, if they have, they categorize it as genre fiction.  Critical studies of DL are also meager.  Why?  My previous comments about Durrell's need to produce "big works" may have relevance.  Also pertinent, I think, is how one chooses to view LGD as a writer.  If you want to consider him a writer of serious postmodern fiction, then DL is not your meat.  It has a traditional form and doesn't have Durrell's distinctive poetic complexity.  On the other hand, if you're interested in Durrell's spiritual development, then the novel has much to offer.  I've already suggested that Durrell may have picked up the title from Miller's Time of the Assassins, a very spiritual book about that highly mysterious figure, Arthur Rimbaud.  DL also lends itself to psychoanalytic interpretations.  Guilt is an underlying theme in the novel, as Baird's psychoanalysis and his visit to the old abbot show.  At this point in his life, LGD was working through his divorce from Nancy Myers (finalized in 1947) and probably had some things to feel guilty about.  I am intrigued by the German soldier Böcklin, whom Baird kills and who is the source of his guilt.  Another German Bocklin (without the umlaut) appears in Prospero's Cell.  Moreover, Böcklin is also the name of a Swiss artist, Arnold Böcklin.  Nancy Myers was an artist.  I wonder if the Böcklin in DL is a screen for Nancy.


On May 4, 2011, at 4:45 AM, Meta Cerar wrote:

  I would be most grateful if you could send me this essay on Durrell you're working on as I'm preparing an article about Durrell to accompany the publication of Dark Labyrinth.
  Recently I went through both biographies (Bowker and McNiven) again and through the collection of D's most important interviews, and nowhere, really nowhere have I found anything on the DL except very brief and occassional remarks. If it may be right that Durrell was so dismissive because it reflects his own life and philosophy and there was »too much of LD in DL«, I am still curious if this attitude on the part of his biographers was due to Durrell's wish or whether they too thought the novel to be so irrelevant in relation to other works of D's as to deserve no more than a casual mention. I'd really like to clarify this, so I would appreciate your opinion as well as the opinions of other list members. I think Dark Labyrinth is one of Durrell's best pieces, introducing many of the leitmotifs that appear in the AQ, so it surely deserves more recognition. Apart from the Roof of the World chapter I especially like the chapter about Baird's visit to the monastery and the character of the old abbot.
  I can only hope that Slovenian readers will be more appreciative of the book than Durrell's biographers.
  Best regards,


  From: ilds-bounces at lists.uvic.ca [mailto:ilds-bounces at lists.uvic.ca] On Behalf Of Bruce Redwine
  Sent: Friday, April 22, 2011 8:35 PM
  To: ilds at lists.uvic.ca
  Cc: Bruce Redwine
  Subject: [ilds] The Dark Labyrinth
  I'm currently working on an essay dealing with Durrell's use of pastoral, which will include aspects of his peculiar "transcendental dimension."  David Green below encapsulates well, as you note, some of those characteristics.  I too find The Dark Labyrinth an extraordinary work of fiction.  Why did Durrell dismiss it?  I'd guess because it didn't fit in which his grandiose plans for making his mark on world literature (hence the need to produce "big works," "man-size piece[s]," i.e., novels in sets, epic fashion).  Yes, that's hard.  But, if I may expand on Frank Kermode's observations (Critical Inquiry 7 (1980), no. 1, 83-101), authors are not always in full control of their material and don't always know when they're succeeding or not.  As far as the "transcendental" goes, the escape into some mythological unknown was there at an early age.  In a letter to Henry Miller (27 January 1937), Durrell writes, "Rimbaud's solution is always in the air." The statement is problematic, but I take it to mean that young Durrell is romanticizing Arthur Rimbaud's escape into the wilds of Abyssinia, i.e., seeking out some primitive haven not unlike the Roof of the World in DL.  Of course, what Durrell was probably unaware of is that Rimbaud was bored stiff with life in remote East Africa.  Read his letters to chères mère et sœur.  No matter.  The idea of pastoral is more important than facts.
  On Apr 22, 2011, at 2:39 AM, Meta Cerar wrote:

  This is beautifully put, thank you for this post. I am so glad that other Durrell fans also find the transcendental dimension in the Dark Labyrinth (which I recently translated into Slovenian). I have always wondered why Durrell himself was so dismissive of this novel? Referred to it as a potboiler, written to pay for the divorce from Nancy. And why was it hardly ever mentioned by his biographers, and not even once in the interviews which were compiled into a book (I think the author was Ingersoll or something similar)?
  Best regards
  Meta Cerar
  Ljubljana, Slovenia


  From: ilds-bounces at lists.uvic.ca [mailto:ilds-bounces at lists.uvic.ca] On Behalf Of Denise Tart & David Green
  Sent: Thursday, April 21, 2011 5:00 AM
  To: Durrel
  Subject: [ilds] LGD and the Three Pillars of Happiness
  LGD was a highly spiritual person and sought enlightenment through a variety of faiths and beliefs: Gnosticism, the cabbala, Buddhism and of the transcendental quest for spirit of place . it pervades all his work and no finer example than that found in Dark Labyrinth and the metaphoric discovery of the Tibetan upland!  My feeling is that LGD discovered many elements of spiritual upland when, after the bitter lemons of Cyprus, he went to the Midi with Claude and lived a plain rustic life at the Mazet, in country side he liked, with the woman he loved and doing work he enjoyed - writing and pottering about his farm. The other day Denise said that she heard that the three pillars of happiness are: someone to love, something to do and something to look forward to. I only add that the second pillar is stronger when you like what you do. LGD had all those when with Claude and it was his best time as a man, lover and writer. Later, he did not have love, found writing more difficult and had only the bottle to look forward to ...and female American uni students.
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