[ilds] Alcoholism

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Wed Nov 25 09:18:34 PST 2015

In his latter years, alcoholism became a big problem for Durrell.  Read his memoir A Smile in the Mind’s Eye (1980) and you’ll see his own account of much alcohol he was consuming on a daily basis.  I seem to recall it was in excess of 2 1/2 bottles of wine a day.  Living "on the edge of madness” is Sappho Jane Durrell’s expression.  She also calls her father  a “demonic and aggressive drunkard” (Granta 37 [1991]) and says he used his liver “like a punching bag.”  I don’t recall alcohol becoming a fixture of Durrell’s writings until Bitter Lemons (1957), where I first learned the British term toper.  A critic at the time pointed out its prominent use.  Durrell and alcohol make me think of Lytton Strachey’s End of General Gordon (1918).  The general had two obsessions:  the Old Testament and the whiskey bottle.  He would periodically go off on his binges.  Strachey comments that “the true drunkenness lay elsewhere.”  “Elsewhere” was not a matter of religiosity, rather some undefined personal “demon.”  Same with Durrell, in my opinion.


> On Nov 25, 2015, at 7:48 AM, James Gifford <james.d.gifford at gmail.com> wrote:
> Welcome to the listserv Rick!
> The alcoholic writer can be a cliche mainly because there are so many ready examples (Hemingway, Faulkner, Joyce, Djuna Barnes, Lowry, &c.). Often there can be a tendency to diagnose from a distance (self-medicating for depression & such), but I'm dubious of those kinds of conversations with dead people.  I've never been sure how to read the matter in the fiction for Durrell -- for Hemingway, "drunk" or "tight" carry broader meanings, almost allegorical, and certainly a conscious part of the construction of the text.  I don't really see the same in Durrell, although it could be interesting to be convinced otherwise.
> There is a bit of shift in alcohol across the works as well.  In /Pied Piper of Lovers/ (1935) there isn't much alcohol at all, apart from a peculiar cocktail at a party (bunny hug) and a first juvenile indulgence.  By /Panic Spring/ (1937), there's an empty bottle of gin, but not for Durrell's alter ego Walsh.  From around the same time biographically, Theodore Stephanides recounts Durrell and Miller discovering a Corfiot cafe with much English gin, to their great satisfaction (in Stephanides' memoirs from James Brigham's papers).
> After that, all bets are off...  Biographically, MacNiven presents the mid-1950s as particularly liquid and the 1980s as especially so, for different reasons.
> All best,
> James
> On 2015-11-25 5:40 AM, Rick Schoff wrote:
>> As new to the list, I find these discussions fascinating. As I've
>> mentioned, I am simply an avid reader of Durrell, and have reread the
>> fiction in particular many times. I've read one informative but not
>> particularly interesting bigraphy, as well as numerous articles about
>> Durrell over the years. I recently found a copy of Richard Pine's
>> "Mindscape" and look forward to reading that.
>> In reading comments by scholars, some of whom spent ime with Durrell,
>> and seeing issues raised such as professed unhappiness, boredom,
>> violence in fiction and real life, and self-loathing - I couldn't help
>> but recall numerous references over the years to Durrell's use of
>> alcohol. I often hesitate to read biographical material about artists
>> whose work I greatly admire, but having delved a little into Durrell's
>> life, I couldn't help wondering what effect Durrell's alleged steady
>> drinking might have had on his life and work. I understand he was a
>> ferociously intelligent man with boundless energy, who led a
>> fascinatingly exotic life. I saw one comment by someone who knew him (I
>> don't recall who) that relayed that when writing Durrell lived on the
>> 'edge of madness'. I couldn't help but wonder about the psycholgocal
>> aspects.
>> For many reasons, I proffer this issue very tentatively, but my interest
>> and curiosity have gotten the better of me. 'Alcohol and the writer' is
>> almost a cliche, but I don't find anything of Durrell's cliched. He was
>> an original.
>> - Rick Schoff

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