[ilds] Elizas

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Sun Jun 28 12:50:10 PDT 2015

Richard, I look forward to reading your next book on the “Minor Mythologies.”

You ask a good question.  A theory is a set of ideas that account for a set of data or events.  No surprise here.  A theory of English literature during the Renaissance would attempt to explain why it occurred, why it took the form it did, and why it was “great.”  Others can think of other whys to consider.  A popular field of literary theory nowadays centers around the “new historicists,” whose founder is Stephen Greenblatt, a specialist in the English Renaissance (Renaissance Self-Fashioning [1980], among others), Shakespeare in particular.  This school owes much to the French philosopher Michel Foucault and his theories of culture, language, social interaction, and personal identity (Les Mots et les choses [1966], among others).  Basically, very very simply, the new historicists argue that culture (social and political) shapes the individual.  Free will is an illusion.  The “self” forms through the exertion of cultural/political “power.”

Let me state upfront that I’m highly dubious of the new historicists’ positions.  It seems to me, however, that Lawrence Durrell’s most formative and creative years (ca. 1935-1960) approximated the turmoil and creativity of the Elizabethan Era (1558-1603).  He lived “in interesting times,” as the Chinese curse supposedly goes.  His experiences reflected those disruptions and undoubtedly influenced his writings.  So we should keep in mind Durrell’s cultural and historical matrix, if not go overboard in drawing any conclusions about its importance.

I strongly doubt that Durrell would have shared the theoretical assumptions of new historicism.  He believed too much in the sovereignty of the artist.  But he and Greenblatt do have a common impulse or desire, and that is to join in fellowship with the dead.  Greenblatt begins his Shakespearean Negotiations (1988) with the famous sentence, “I began with the desire to speak with the dead.”  In Mountolive, Pursewarden says, “The artist’s work constitutes the only satisfactory relationship he can have with his fellow-man since he seeks his real friends among the dead and the unborn” (1962 ed., p. 439).

Re the Elizas, I think Durrell identified with the era and found prototypes or antecedents in its writers.  The bond was very close.  He may have even imagined, consciously or not, an incestuous relationship with them, so Pursewarden’s sister and lover is called “Liza,” as in “‘Liza, my darling?’ said the poet” (p. 438).  That address follows upon a discussion on politics and the nature of kingship:  “‘They are a biological necessity, Kings.  Perhaps they mirror the very constitution of the psyche’” (p.440).  So Durrell, as we all know, was given to theoretical musings.  But the Elizas, I think, were not theory.


> On Jun 28, 2015, at 3:19 AM, mail at durrelllibrarycorfu.org wrote:
> ELIZAS: As Bruce says, his references do not add up to an explicit "theory" but it's up to the scholar/reader to come to terms with LD's views: first, the very general refs. to the "Elizas" in the letters, then his two essays on Shakespeare, and his fairly extensive references to the Elizas in "Minor Mythologies". I'm following up the latter in the work I'm engaged on now, b ut the book won't be published until end of 2017. What, we might ask, IS a "theory"? The "rawness of life " was more than just an idea about sensuality....
> Richard Pine 

23 June 2015

In a 1937 letter to Miller, Durrell sums up nicely his attitude towards the “Elizas”:  “The virtue of the Elizabethans was this:  their exuberance was so enormous, so volatile, so pest-ridden, so aching and vile and repentant and spew-stuck, that here and there, by glorious mistakes, they transcended the cannon” (MacNiven ed. of Durrell-Miller Letters, pp. 42-43).  This is not so much a theory as a personal manifesto.  It’s remarkable how consistent Durrell was throughout his life.  The Elizabethans provided a framework for his art.  I’d say the Quintet comes closest to this manifesto.


> On Jun 23, 2015, at 6:01 AM, Bruce Redwine <bredwine1968 at earthlink.net <mailto:bredwine1968 at earthlink.net>> wrote:
> The revisions James is referring to are probably in the archives at Carbondale, Illinois.  So they're not easily accessible.
> Beyond the fact that the Renaissance is the greatest period of English literature, I'd like to know if Durrell had a theory about its greatness.  And by theory I mean something beyond statements about its rawness of life.  We can look at his own work and infer this attitude.  Poetry and horror probably have roles.  Hence his revival of plays in verse.  Too bad Bill Godshalk didn't complete his comparison of Middleton's Black Book and Durrell's.
> Bruce
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