[ilds] Durrell's prose in The Alexandria Quartet_A reference to Sacheverell Sitwell's writing

Sumantra Nag sumantranag at gmail.com
Sun Jun 21 07:41:56 PDT 2015

Sumantra Nag


I have reproduced an extract, further compressed through the pauses denoted
by dots, from Sacheverell Sitwell's travel book Splendours and Miseries. The
location in this case is a town called Mohilev in "White Russia". 


"Could it be music that we hear? Ah! it must be ancient music of the
dulcimer, and a thrilling and strange excitement seizes us because of the
sunset and the fever in the air. . . . It sounds like a little band of
instruments that accompany peculiar and special tones. Ah! it is nothing. Do
not listen so intently! But we have known a hurdygurdy bring magic into a
London slum. We cannot help but listen who are the slaves of music. . . . It
steals upon  the senses. . . . For we heard it in the distance. We must come
nearer in order to be entranced. To the next street corner, hurrying
reluctant, for the dread of disappointment. . . . Listen! listen! the like
of it will be heard no more. . . . "


(Splendours and Miseries, by Sacheverell Sitwell, Faber, London, 1943)

This is prose which resonates in the way that Durrell's prose often
resonates not only in his descriptive passages on Alexandria, but also in
his reflective expressions while analyzing or speculating upon the world,
the landscape, the people around him, and the drama and psychology in their


Recent discussions in the ILDS Forum, leading to Oscar Wilde and the
aesthetes, prompted me to display this prose written by Sacheverell Sitwell,
who with his brother, the essayist and travel writer Osbert Sitwell and his
sister, the poet Edith Sitwell represented a world of aesthetics in their


Or writing of Toledo in Splendours and Miseries: 


"There is a curious silence and a slanting light, which is golden, of the
late afternoon. What time of year is it? Do they have the seasons here? It
is April, the month of the visions. The natural and supernatural meet and
pass each other by upon these hills. Indeed, the whole scene is an
hallucination given reality by this unreal light which excites and tires. It
is as though we are tired, and feverish, from too much walking. There are
phosphorescent light in the sky, low down, where the sun will set, and a
cold wind, and snow, still, upon the mountains. The night will be chill. And
then, of a sudden, it is burningly hot in the slanting light." 


On the basis of his expansive knowledge of Durrell's library, Richard Pine
might be able to say if Durrell's reading included the work of the Sitwells.




Sumantra Nag


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