[ilds] Fermor and Durrell

Denise Tart & David Green dtart at bigpond.net.au
Fri Jun 13 20:44:34 PDT 2014

I have been sitting for some time, looking at the browning leaves against the grey sky and it came to me that Leigh Fermor, who was a vast, life force character, wrote the way he was as a person; the outer man was the writing. Paddy stopped writing when he was too old to live that outer life (stay with me here). Durrell did not write the way he outwardly appeared - ebullient, life of the party etc, ladies man, but his writing comes from, as Bowker so truly states, from the darker self, a different Durrell; gothic, tunnels of darkness (think the bat cave story that Fermor relates) leading some times to sunlit uplands (the Dark Labyrinth) or often not (Av Q) - themes of suicide, wounded sex and so forth

the Darkness of Durrell's self hit some wives, bullied a daughter and her friends  but this does appear his fiction, carefully constructed. I see often a quiet, brooding man, at his desk at 4 am, maybe hung-over, coming to terms with the mess of life but twisting it all into a labyrinthine construct - especially in the big books, but the island ones as well in the sense that, though full of inexpressible charm, they are quiet reflective and very poetic pieces, especially Prospero's and Venus; in Cyprus of course the lemons turn bitter indeed. I understand why Lazza wanted to be remembered as a poet (well, he said this) because he is, as Shakespeare was, a poet in prose. Paddy Fermor comes across as a restless soul on good terms with himself and the world. Larry, but contrast, a boon companion but someone who never came to terms with himself (his demons if you like) and writing and Buddhism and alcohol were all ways of dealing with this.

I read in Artemis Cooper's biography that Fermor got involved in a great drunken brawl one Christmas in Ireland where even the women got involved. Fermor got knocked out, had his head cut open by a woman's ring fingered punch, went to hospital and in true upper class style, thought nothing of it. One cannot imagine this happening to Larry - the arm chair travel writer whose violence seems to have extended to people (women) weaker than himself.

None of this detracts from my view of Larry. He said he was not really a travel writer but lived in places and wrote about them. Years ago I lived in Maine USA and spent most of my time there when some thought I should be 'seeing the USA' - but I know Maine - there are streams and lakes and people and customs and ways of speaking and jokes and beers that I will never forget and also a 1968 Pontiac Catalina 6.6 litre V8 coupe convertable.

Cooper's book on Fermor is a good read and Larry crops up a few times.

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