[ilds] Remembering Lawrence Durrell, Predictor of our Postmodern World_By Peter Pomerantsev 6/25/2012

James Gifford james.d.gifford at gmail.com
Sun Dec 6 19:58:39 PST 2015

Hello all,

Thank-you Gulshan for these thoughtful & careful comments.  The 
pervasive nature of the East India Company and its systematic divisions 
has become an annual ranting point for my wife while teaching her year 
long World History course...  Your phrasing is too gentle.

Am I correct in guessing that the "anecdotal evidence of Indians and the 
English socialising" refers to Durrell's father?

In any case, to my thinking, two things call out.  The first is 
something I raised in the introduction to /Pied Piper/.  The racist 
caricatures in the novel invariably come from the adults, such as the 
"sons and daughters of sows" and "raised black paws" from Brenda who is 
herself a caricature of the belligerent Brit in the scene (I can't help 
but see her as ridiculous and callous in the scene, though obviously 
contemporary readers may have seen her as a role model) -- immediately 
following this, Walsh leaves the family home to meet with "The small 
native boy" who is clearly brighter than him and who introduces him to 
secrets he would never learn from the British characters.  This might be 
part of what Bruce is gesturing to: Durrell's insistence on India's 
importance (whether genuine as a part of his youth or irreverently later 
in life, such as in his interviews).  I was suspicious in that scene 
over whether Durrell was offering this up as a serious vision of India 
(racist, and as you note, a cliché) or if he was mocking that cliché by 
juxtaposing it against the more naïve meeting between children that 
follows.  Children matter in Durrell.  An open critique wouldn't do well 
for the novel's publication or intended readership, but the 
juxtaposition might give such a critique an open door.  The young boy's 
naturalness and argument against "shame" contrast against the English 
reserve Brenda reasserts in the close of the chapter, and the "no shame" 
phrasing tied to the boy (paired with the recognition of mortality he 
learns from Indians and learns to represses from the English) comes back 
later as Walsh's most important lesson in the novel.

I might be reading too much into that, however.  An old habit in 
Canadian news media is to tell a story through juxtaposition rather than 
statement, such as never accusing a politician of lying while instead 
setting two things side by side that reveal it.  I'm inclined to see 
that kind of thing in Durrell quite a lot, especially for political 
matters (commentary by juxtaposition) but in some respects also for 
race, racism, and representation.  I know many other readers disagree 
with me for equally sound reasons (as I suspect you do, which I respect).

The second thing is Durrell's Indian identity for his alter-ego in the 
novel, Walsh.  Durrell, of course, wasn't Indian.  Even calling himself 
Anglo-Indian was a telling stretch, but like his insistence on being 
Irish, I wonder if the matter really has little to do with any "real" 
DNA-basis or legal status for nationality.  Rather than caring about how 
much Durrell was shaped by *real* India, is the point that he clung to 
India as a way of marking himself as *not* English?  Does Irishness 
function in the same way?  I think that's how Walsh's bi-racial status 
works in /Pied Piper/, marking out his alienation from England and his 
refutation of what he would later term the English Death.  That is, 
India as metonym.

As for Durrell's understanding of India, in a late interview with Lyn 
Goldman, he used the fairly "pat" (for him) gesture to spiritual 
vitality in India, much like some Julia Roberts film or more recently 
the equally problematic Marigold phenomenon...  Lyn's response was 
probably the right one: "Surely you're joking" and then she laughed at 
him.  He laughed along.  I mean, the comments in interviews about India 
are much like your sense of how "Pomerantsev’s Newsweek write-up does 
everything that journalism is expected to" -- it's a glib gesture to 
stereotypes that might rack up a few sales from readers seeking a guru, 
which is what an interview is expected to do...  The books themselves, 
in contrast, keep putting readers back on their own resources and 
confound the easy gestures that earn media gurus their millions.

That's all to say, I don't know how much Durrell was clinging to his 
Indian childhood out of a sense of belonging to the place and the trauma 
of leaving it (he says as much several times, but he also lies a lot). 
Perhaps it's also or instead a way of commenting on his alienation from 
Britain, and just maybe critiquing British attitudes to India.  It's 
worth noting that when Durrell returned to India as a topic much later 
in life in "From the Elephant's Back," he again retreats from the adults 
to consider himself and an elephant, both as children.  There are still 
the gestures to grab the seekers into buying a copy, but I don't see the 
retreat to child subjects as part & parcel of that.  I can't help but 
see it as a piece grown out from Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant" (which 
I've often understood to show the elephant as the British Empire, 
destroyed by it own) -- rather than the conflict, Durrell presents a 
partnership between children who may obviously be unequal in privilege 
and opportunity but yet look for something outside of the relations they 

Our readings of the book have disagreed on this, so I'm curious about 
your thoughts, especially since I respect your article very much.

All best,

On 2015-12-06 10:43 AM, G. R. Taneja wrote:
> Bruce:
> To your commnet that
> “It’s probably hard for us in the 21st century to appreciate, but the
> Brits in India—the “Anglo-Indians” or the “Anglo-Irish” (if
> correct)—were _often_ big racists”––
> ––the only thing I can say is that the Brits in Indiawere invariably
> racists, and nothing but racists and this fact did not emerge out of
> scholarship that emerged in 2002.This is a cliché of British Indian
> history books by both English and Indian historans. The anecdotal
> evidence of Indians and the English socialising in India are grand
> exception to the narrative. Let’s not forget the fact constantly
> underlined in British Indian history books (at all levels and throughout
> this period and since) that the English from 1857 onwards lived in
> constant terror of the native mobs attacking the English “sections” of
> the towns. 1857 attack on the civilians and ruthless butchering of the
> English civilians during the early months of the confrontation was never
> ever forgotten for full hundred years.
> Also, I am not able to see how “it’s quite remarkable that Lawrence
> Durrell identified with and honored the land of his birth.” I am sure I
> am missing the point you are making.Perhaps I shall be forgiven if I
> quote from my Durrell article that has been referred to several of my
> friends on the list:
> “In /Pied Piper of Lovers/ Durrell praised the hill servants, but he
> caricatured the ordinary natives in terms that would have amused the
> most pukka sahib—‘they were thieving groveling, “sons and daughters of
> sows” with . . . “raised black paws”, and they beat their wives.’ The
> book, as McNiven remarks, was to be a memorial to the Kim aspect of
> Larry’s past (1998, 91). What I regret about this remark is not that it
> is not complimentary or even incorrect but that this is a cliché that
> one could have found in any Englishman writing about India during the Raj.”
> Gulshan
> Warmly,
> G R Taneja
> In-between Website: <http://sites.google.com/site/inbetweeneslc>
> G. R. Taneja  /  Editor
> In-between: Essays & Studies in Literary Criticism
> Department of English, R. L. A. College, University of Delhi
> Anand Niketan Colony, Benito Juarez Marg,
> New Delhi-110 021,  India

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