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

James Gifford james.d.gifford at gmail.com
Sun Jun 21 10:03:49 PDT 2015


Before I'm off to the redwood forest for a solstice dad day, a v quick response. Indeed, Durrell knew the Sitwells' work well. He refers to Sacheverell directly in the 1947 "Island of the Rose."

Best to all,
James

Sent from my iPad

> On Jun 21, 2015, at 9:51 AM, Bruce Redwine <bredwine1968 at earthlink.net> wrote:
> 
> Sumantra, I’ve not read the Sitwells.  Richard Pine probably knows if Durrell read them.  The first passage you cite immediately brings to mind Cavafy’s “The God Abandons Antony” (“Ravishing music of invisible choirs”), which Durrell translates at the end of Justine.  George Steiner writes a good essay on the context of Durrell’s prose:  “Lawrence Durrell:  The Baroque Novel” in The World of Lawrence Durrell, ed. Harry T. Moore [Carbondale, 1962]).  Steiner places Durrell in the tradition of Browne, Burton, and De Quincey, the former two being Renaissance stylists of great distinction.  As you know, Durrell was saturated in the literature of the English Renaissance.
> 
> Bruce
> 
> 
> 
> 
> 
>> On Jun 21, 2015, at 7:41 AM, Sumantra Nag <sumantranag at gmail.com> wrote:
>> 
>> 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 lives.
>>  
>> 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 writing.
>>  
>> 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. 
>>  
>> Regards
>>  
>> Sumantra Nag
>>  
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