[ilds] ILDS Digest, Vol 60, Issue 4

Sumantra Nag sumantranag at gmail.com
Fri Mar 9 22:27:55 PST 2012


I have seen no posts on the ILDS over the last few days!

The wide discussion and posts from a variety of participants which was a 
mark of this forum seems to be conspicuously absent for some time!

I look forward to a revival of those discussions!

Regards

Sumantra

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Sent: Tuesday, March 06, 2012 1:30 AM
Subject: ILDS Digest, Vol 60, Issue 4


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> Today's Topics:
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>   1. Michael Haag's "Alexandria: City of Memory" and its
>      reflections on The Alexandria Quartet (Sumantra Nag)
>
>
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
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> Message: 1
> Date: Mon, 5 Mar 2012 16:55:05 +0530
> From: "Sumantra Nag" <sumantranag at airtelmail.in>
> To: <ilds at lists.uvic.ca>
> Subject: [ilds] Michael Haag's "Alexandria: City of Memory" and its
> reflections on The Alexandria Quartet
> Message-ID: <46621750791042D888C134B493F8D8C1 at abc>
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> A few months ago I finally acquired Michael Haag's "Alexandria: City of 
> Memory". Needless to say I read the book with much anticipation and 
> interest. I shall try to put my current points as briefly as possible. My 
> present observations relate to Durrell's representation of Alexandria and 
> implicitly, the city's multicultural but indigenous population, in The 
> Alexandria Quartet, and the reflections which emerge from Michael Haag's 
> own text in his book "Alexandria: City of Memory".
>
> Michael Haag writes in Alexandria:City of Memory:
>
> "There was an innocence about Alexandria then, in those early days of the 
> war, an innocence that some would say the city never really lost. 'It was 
> unthought of for an unmarried girl, or even an unmarried boy', recalled 
> Bernard de Zogheb, 'to leave the family house and have a flat of their 
> own...Certainly most girls in Alexandria went to their weddings as 
> virgins - girls of all communities. We were brought up to think that sex 
> was a mortal sin.'..." (p.184)
>
> It seems to me that only in Eve did Durrell find an Alexandrian who had 
> been 'battered', but this was exaggerated because her 'battering' was 
> basically the stifling control of a conservative Jewish family. Eve had 
> later said, 'I had a father who was very possessive and for very good 
> reasons. He was also, I think infatuated with me... It was the closest he 
> had been to any human being...And Larry understood this to mean, when I 
> told him, that my father had interfered with me sexually, but he never 
> did... he was an honest-to-God man;..." (p.231).
>
> Eve's affairs with two other men (Shock and Rugge) were passing if 
> somewhat complicated but could they have any relevance to "all who have 
> been "deeply wounded in their sex.." as suggested by Durrell in his novel 
> Justine?)
>
> And Eve appears to have provided him for psychological models not only for 
> Justine but for Melissa as well. Somewhere in Haag's book Durrell refers 
> to a nurse as a figure for Melissa, but not as a person with the emotional 
> dimensions he represents in Melissa.
>
> How does this fit with Lawrence Durrell's broad claims about the 
> Alexandrian people? For instance:
>
> 1. "The Orient cannot rejoice in the sweet anarchy of the body - for it 
> has outstripped the body...Alexandria was the great winepress of love; 
> those who emerged from it were the sick men, the solitaries, the 
> prophets - I mean all who have been deeply wounded in their sex." (The 
> Alexandria Quartet, Justine, Faber paperback, 1974, p.18).
>
> 2. "It is as if the preoccupations of this landscape were centred 
> somewhere out of the reach of the average inhabitant - in a region where 
> the flesh, stripped by over-indulgence of its final reticences, must yield 
> to a preocccupation vastly more comprehensive..." (The Alexandria Quartet, 
> Justine, Faber paperback, 1974, p.38).
>
> On the other hand these are Michael Haag's accounts about the British in 
> Alexandria (Alexandria:City of Memory):
>
> 1. "Who were Durrell's original Alexandrians? In fact their names read 
> like the cast of characters in a Noel Coward play: charles, Damien, 
> Claudia, John, Hogarth, Baroness Irma, Tessa, Melissa, Corege. Almost all 
> his characters are British; they turn out to be like Durrell and his 
> friends, not true denizens of the cosmopolitan city but exiled in 
> Alexandria by the war."(p.299).
>
> [But Gwyn Willams ('Durrell in Egypt') is also quoted by Haag as referring 
> to 'Zananiri, Sachs, Baddaro, Menasce, Zogueb, Suarez...'. and 'It was out 
> of this varied and dying ferment that Larry invented his Alexandria 
> Quartet'.]
>
> 2. "Gwyn Williams would watch 'for as long as one caredto look' at British 
> servicemen and women in 'a motionless clinch'...pressed against walls..." 
> and "For Mario Colucci, ..he remembers seeing 'a Wren standing on the 
> pavement...her skirt hitched up, one foot on the wall, having sex with a 
> soldier.' " (pp.213-14)
>
> [This scene appears as follows in the novel Clea: 'The city was always 
> perverse but it took its pleasures with style...never up aginst a wall or 
> a tree or a truck!' (p.732, The Alexandria quartet)]
>
> 3.  Haag writes of the temporarily resident Englishwoman in Alexandria, 
> Elizabeth Gwynne - not a native citizen of Alexandria - who had the 
> history of having been raped by a close relative, the history which 
> Durrell gives to Justine in his novel. ['But it is not clear if eventually 
> she herself or Cowan or a mutual friend told Durrell that at the age of 
> fourteen she had been raped by a member of her family...' (Haag, p.274)].
>
> 4. "...for a time the navy itself operated a brothel...with a medical 
> officer permanently on duty. 'It created a big scandal that the British 
> should participate in such activity...' " (p.213)
>
> 5. In his novels, Durrell also underplays or ignores the the life of 
> cultivation among the elite of Alexandria, mentioned in Michael Haag's 
> book:
>
> "..Nuovo Teatro Alhambra on the Rue Missalla and the Mohammed Ali Theatre 
> on the Rue Fuad, where Pavlova danced and Toscanini conducted, where the 
> opera season was brightened by the stars of La Scala...' (Haag, p.136)
>
> Instead Durrell says about Alexandria, "You would never mistake it for a 
> happy place." (Durrell, The Alexandria Quartet, Faber paperback, Justine, 
> p.1-2.)
>
> My questions:
>
> Has Durrell underplayed the preoccupation with British people when he tars 
> Alexandria with broad brushes of his concern with sexual activity?
>
> And why has he ignored the culture and the considerable involvement with 
> artistic activities displayed at leat by the cosmopolitan elite as they 
> are represented in Haag' book.
>
> Sumantra
>
>
>
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