[ilds] The Dark Labyrinth

Meta Cerar meta.cerar at guest.arnes.si
Fri May 6 04:54:01 PDT 2011

Dear all,


I am glad that by triggering off the posts on DL I helped improve the
»quantifiable evidence« of the interest in the book. And I do hope this
vivid discussion won't just die away. 

Thank so much to all – Bruce, Charles, Richard, Laura, Marc. You have
provided ample material for my article. And Laura, I would very much like to
know more about your thesis on DL. My thesis, written years ago, by the way,
was on the transcendental aspect of the Alexandria Quartet.


I have to say that the intention of my post was not to act as an advocate of
the DL (much as I like the book), but rather to clarify a few questions that
have been puzzling me while translating the book. I was happy to find that
your replies mostly confirmed my feelings. I have always wondered why I like
this particular book so much, as I always felt a bit guilty that I found the
highbrows like Avignon Quintet (and some other things like Tunc) very hard
to struggle through. ( Alex. Quartet which I keep rereading, is of course
still a source of immense pleasure and inspiration!).  So I often wondered
abot this classification of Durrell's work.  »Highbrows« versus
»makeweights«? Although DL is, I agree, not exactly a highbrow«, I would
certainly not put it into the same league as White Eagles, Antrobus, Stiff
upper lip, etc. I'd rather say it occupies a very special place somewhere in
between, as T.S. Eliot observed /neither a Norden nor a Durrell, but
certainly more Durrell/. But then again, maybe I'm partial here – I find
Durrell a fascinating man and this book throws so much light on his complex
personality. And the themes that prevail in the book are very close to me –
the islomania, especially, and the retreat into the pastoral, quest of
spiritual fulfillment …

While I agree that Durrell's reluctance to discuss the book must at least
partly be related to the fact that it was too close a reflection of himself,
I still feel it's a pity DL's biographical significance was not explored
more thoroughly by those who knew Durrell well. And while it seems rather
certain that the male cast – Campion, Baird, Truman and even Fearmax (was
Durrell really quite knowleadgeable about astrology?) are all reflections of
a »troubled Durrell«, I wonder if the women in the DL, and especially
Boecklin, are really aspects of Nancy? Unfortunately I know very little
about her from what I've read in the biographies, so I cannot say, but maybe
one of you can contribute a more elaborate opinion here?

Looking forward to further discussion,

Best regards,




From: ilds-bounces at lists.uvic.ca [mailto:ilds-bounces at lists.uvic.ca] On
Behalf Of Bruce Redwine
Sent: Friday, May 06, 2011 4:24 AM
To: marc at marcpiel.fr; ilds at lists.uvic.ca
Cc: Bruce Redwine
Subject: Re: [ilds] The Dark Labyrinth


What evidence?  Check out the postings over the last five years.






On May 5, 2011, at 4:56 PM, Marc Piel wrote:

And do you call it critical when you announce "..... nor do many
participants on the ILDS list-serve".
What  quantifiable evidence do you have of this????

... or should we all sit around and say "bravo" Bruce ( BB) , non of us
could have critically thought that out!

I have been at loggerheads with you in the past for just this sort of
unsupported affirmations, that you try to foist on the list.


Le 05/05/11 19:23, Bruce Redwine a écrit : 

"Free of jargon, free of extra-textual considerations, free of critical
prejudice" — now what does all that sound and fury mean?  I guess it means
that all discussion should end, and we should all sit around the campfire
and sing the praises of LGD and say how much we enjoy everything he writes.
Not much of a critical discussion, in my opinion. 







On May 5, 2011, at 9:17 AM, Richard Pine wrote:

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

Look at the chronology: heavy/light/heavy/light all the way through. BUT
Leavises 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

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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