[ilds] ILDS Digest, Vol 60, Issue 4

Merrianne Timko timlot at comcast.net
Sat Mar 10 08:03:26 PST 2012

Dear Sumantra,

Regarding your #3.  Haag writes of the temporarily resident Englishwoman in 
> Elizabeth Gwynne - not a native citizen of Alexandria

Elizabeth Gwynne is best known as the British food writer Elizabeth David. 
Two biographies have been published on David. The "official" biography is 
Writing at the Kitchen Table by Artemis Cooper. The "unofficial" biography 
was written by Lisa Chaney.

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Sumantra Nag" <sumantranag at gmail.com>
To: <ilds at lists.uvic.ca>
Sent: Saturday, March 10, 2012 12:27 AM
Subject: Re: [ilds] ILDS Digest, Vol 60, Issue 4

>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
> ----- Original Message ----- 
> From: <ilds-request at lists.uvic.ca>
> To: <ilds at lists.uvic.ca>
> Sent: Tuesday, March 06, 2012 1:30 AM
> Subject: ILDS Digest, Vol 60, Issue 4
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>> Today's Topics:
>>   1. Michael Haag's "Alexandria: City of Memory" and its
>>      reflections on The Alexandria Quartet (Sumantra Nag)
>> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
>> 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>
>> Content-Type: text/plain; charset="iso-8859-1"
>> 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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