[ilds] The Dark Labyrinth

Richard Pine rpinecorfu at yahoo.com
Thu May 5 09:17:38 PDT 2011

I think we should educate ourselves out of the literary snobbism in which most 
of us have been trained - I mean the Leavisite idea of a 'canon' or 'tradition' 
into which a writer either does or does not 'fit'. (Leavis is said to have 
remarked of LD 'not one of us'. Both Leavises suffered, in my opinion, from an 
appalling - in the strict Adlerian sense - inferiority complex. Reading QD 
Leavis's 'Fiction and the Reading Public' one could be forgiven for wondering 
how she could have possibly expressed such banal, untenable opinions about major 
authors of whom she did not approve.)
We have to remember that LD very early on tried to become 2 writers - LD and 
'Charles Norden' and that H Miller put the lid on that idea. But he did go 
forward writing one 'real' (as he called it) book followed by one lighter book. 
He himself described 'Sicilian Carousel' to me as 'a makeweight' while waiting 
for the successor to Monsieur. 

Eliot didn't dismiss DL: he said there was too much Durrell for a Norden, and 
not enough Durrell for a Durrell. If you elide Norden, the problem goes away.
Look at the chronology: heavy/light/heavy/light all the way through. BUT THAT 
et al who have conditioned us to think that way. What is it? It's what LD 
himself described as 'British critics suffering from penis envy'. i.e. we spend 
so much energy lauding the 'real' books that we think it inferior of us as lit 
crits to also acknowledge the in-between stuff, and yet we secretly want to 
admire it. Somehow, we feel guilty at admitting that 'DL' or 'White Eagles' 
excites us, because we have been trained to act as snobs. LD himself said that 
one would seldom meet a reader who admits to enjoying Proust AND Wodehouse. But 
HE DID and so do I and I HAVE NO PATIENCE with the school of thought which 
pretends that we have to make a special case for DL or White Eagles or Antrobus. 
We DON'T. Just ENJOY! Or is that impossible for a po-faced critic? I'm afraid it 
is, in most cases. And then there are those toilet-trained in 'theory' who can't 
make up their minds about anything they've read until they have decided what 
Derrida might have thought. They don't deserve to be critics at all, because 
they haven't got a mind of their own, not even a Leavisite one. Urrrgh
So could we please stop agonising about whether DL is a great book or even an 
important book, and just read the damn thing for what it is worth - free of 
jargon, free of extra-textual considerations, free of critical prejudice?

From: Meta Cerar <meta.cerar at guest.arnes.si>
To: ilds at lists.uvic.ca
Sent: Wed, May 4, 2011 2:45:00 PM
Subject: Re: [ilds] The Dark Labyrinth

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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