[ilds] The Index to Prospero's Cell

James Gifford james.d.gifford at gmail.com
Tue Jul 22 09:48:32 PDT 2014

I am remembering with much fondness a visit to Freddie's in Louisville, 
which is an experience I recommend to all on the list for a companion 
piece to the 2015 Durrell Society panels in the February conference on 
20th Century Literature and Culture...  It's conveniently adjacent to 
the voluptuous Brown Hotel and provides its own voluptuaries.

Charles Sligh and I had a very generous gin & tonic while chatting 
through the archival traces of memory Old D uses so much.  In fact, we 
chatted about this very book and matter, though I think it was a bit 
mixed up with other travel writers of the Fermour, Byron, & Douglas 
types.  Charles was a bit pointed in his remarks, which is unlike the 
man, so I kept it in mind and think I can represent his views faithfully.

Prospero's Cell would make much more sense if one reads the book from 
within the context of High Travel writing; Durrell is making his own 
innovations upon the styles of Douglas, Byron, &c., and readers of those 
authors always understood that gentleman travelers do not tell 
everything and change names and events and make minimal mention of 
companions; yes, a certain literacy matters in this elite sort of writing.

I also remember him saying, and I'm pretty sure I've got this near word 
for word, one should also look at the front matter for the 1945 printing 
of PC -- if I recall correctly, LD mentions that Miss Yvette Cohen 
helped with the typing -- the reduction of Nancy to N. and a smaller 
role is partly understandable when we keep that production reality at 
the fore.

I shared with him years ago my transcripts from the Gennadius Library as 
well, which includes some risque limericks, which Seferis had been 
writing and Durrell had been expanding.  He also had five unpublished 
mss. by Stephanides to sort through, perhaps verbatim.

Personally, I've always taken Durrell's oft-repeated phrase, 
"Pursewarden wrote somewhere..." or "I remember Stephanides once 
saying..." as really meaning "I'm pinching this bit."  If not pinching, 
I'm inclined to read those phrases as meaning "I'm completely 
fabricating something impossible here, so I'll give it a quick brush up 
of the ol' Victorian 'oops, I found a tablet with evidence on it' trick 
to lend just the hint of reality to fiction..."

And let's not forget that Gerald's /My Family and Other Animals/ erases 
Nancy entirely.  At least Durrell was open about the fictional nature of 
the "diary" dating of /PC/.


On 2014-07-22, 9:01 AM, Bruce Redwine wrote:
> I agree with Ken's thorough explanation.  As he says, this raises other
> issues, one of those is the facticity of /Prospero's Cell,/ a subject
> discussed years ago on the List but worthy of further comment.  When I
> first read/ Prospero's Cell,/ I naively took it to be an accurate
> account of Durrell's experiences on Corfu, 1935-1939.  It's not.  It's a
> deliberate deception, part fact, much fiction, and much poetry (which
> beautifully disguises the fiction).  Michael Haag convinced me of this.
>   (I also believe that what's true of /PC/ is also true of Durrell's
> other travel books.  This could lead to a long discussion of the
> "truthiness" of travel literature in general!)  Durrell is obviously the
> author of his own book and is obviously and ultimately responsible for
> everything that goes in it.  He makes the selections of what goes into
> the story.  But what about the Index, a device which makes the narrative
> seem factual?  Did Durrell make the Index or did some editor at Faber?
>   If the Index is Durrell's, then it shows what he considers important.
>   Not all proper nouns are in the Index.  For example, "N." (Nancy) is
> not, but the Van Norden (the sailboat) is.  Nancy bought the sailboat
> but does not get a place in the Index.  I find this interesting.
> Bruce

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