[ilds] Wordspinners

james Esposito giacomoesposito72 at gmail.com
Thu Mar 24 03:06:45 PDT 2016

I do not have access to "Deus Loci" - I first became aware of Durrell's
"Minor Mythologies" in Pine's book "Lawrence Durrell: the Mindscape" where
he says:

A further characteristic of Durrell’s understanding of the nineteenth
century was his refusal to build his house exclusively on the plane of
‘high’ literature, and his insistence instead on pursuing it through major
and minor modes. Thus his own adventure novel *White Eagles over Serbia*,
written in the Buchanesque style of so much of his early reading, combines
elements of the detective story and the grail quest. (In the *Quartet*
Darley criticises the writing of the much-envied Pursewarden: ‘what is
missing in his work - but this is a criticism of all works which do not
reach the front rank - is a sense of play’ - *Quartet* 670.) It is a genre
he much admired, for example relishing the Quixote-Panza relationship of
Wodehouse’s Wooster and Jeeves (we have already seen him imagining himself
as a new Wodehouse). He saw Wooster in descent from ‘the great Knights of
the Romance pattern’, saying ‘he is a knight in the sense that he is a
gentleman absolute. He can do no evil. It is the terrific responsibility of
wasting time amusingly that exhausts him so’ <#_ftn1>– a remarkable insight
into the preoccupations of the one-time dandy faced with all the burdens of
decadence. (In the same frame of mind he might have held the image of
Scobie as ‘Popeye the Sailor Man’ and Nessim as the ‘chevalier sans
peur’ – *Quartet
*549.) In the same essay, ‘The Minor Mythologies’, Durrell made the case
for considering the characters of minor fiction in the same critical

The myth-making faculty is busy at many different levels; a critic
interested in the creative process may find more food for thought in a
Stephen Daedelus [*sic*] than in a Jeeves.Yet he should be prepared to
acknowledge them both as part of the broad flood of a nation’s literature
flowing out towards the future, to the sea. Many readers might think it a
waste of time but how delightful a book on the minor mythologies of the age
could be made if one could persuade a serious critic to consider its
figures... Holmes, Jeeves, Dr Fu Manchu, Captain Blood, Bulldog Drummond,
Raffles, Bones, Captain Nemo, Frankenstein, Dracula. <#_ftn2>

Durrell himself displayed this ability to give due attention to major and
minor, firstly in the creation of his own ‘minor’ canon in works like *White
Eagles* (which he regarded as ‘makeweights’) or in some of the apparently
inconsequential characters of the island books. Secondly, in his ‘major’
works, Durrell, like Kipling, brought the great and the insignificant into
close and urgent contact (he called the *Quartet *‘such a strange mixture
of sex and the secret service!’ *SP* 120), so much so as to make us enquire
at what point a character gains or loses cardinal significance: for
example, the nameless loader who appears and disappears within one
paragraph of the *Quartet* after the supposed death of Capodistria (*Quartet
*76- 7), or Krov, the ‘slave-prisoner’ of General von Esslin (*Quintet*
877-83), take on a vital role illustrative of some mythological level far
out of proportion to their social or narrative function, precisely because
that function is not part of the cultural values Durrell shared with the
nineteenth century. Durrell employed this kind of simplicity as a means of
communication – one he particularly valued in the ‘minor mythologies’ –
because it made the reader an accomplice at the deepest level of
story-telling at which the primitive, as opposed to the sophisticated,
method of narrative is revealed as the more effective bonding mechanism of
society: <#_ftn3> think of Pater’s Marius: ‘his life had been so like the
reading of a romance to him’, <#_ftn4>or, as Groddeck put it in *The Book
of the It*, ‘read [my letters] as though they were travel books or
detective stories’. <#_ftn5> It was thus possible to engage not only in
narration but also in analysis without the reader becoming aware of the
ulterior project.

Writing of Wells’s *The Time Machine* and Rider Haggard’s *She* which,
Durrell said, embodied for the Victorians ‘the great popular myths of the
age’, he made a case (in the latter instance by tracing that myth through
the Prester John legends to de Mandeville) for these and other ‘great
folk-metaphors’ (Frankenstein, Dracula and Jekyll/Hyde), that ‘their
literary ancestry stretches far back into the age of the magicians and
miracles’. <#_ftn6> This resort to the *merveilleux* and the miraculous is
one of the trademarks of the baroque novelist, and was an integral part not
only of Durrell’s technique but also of his faith in the novel. He made a
critical connection between gothic narrative and the myths of magic,
showing us that the modern juxtaposition and interaction of science and art
is merely another form of an all-embracing philosophy told, like so much of
Buddhism, through the visions and spectacles of everyday life. Quotidian
activity, rather than the characters who enact it, has its own characters.

Thus it is easier to spell out the ‘miracle’, the successful dénouement, if
it is already anticipated as part of the reader’s act of faith within the
act of reading <#_ftn7> It would only be with the *cæsura* after the
*Quartet* that this faith hit the rocks of Durrell’s despair. To the genre
of adventure in *Kim* we can add Durrell’s childhood introduction to the
works of Dickens and, on the evidence of *Pied Piper of Lovers*, Henty,
Ballantyne and Dumas (*PPL* 124, 192). Durrell’s library contained several
examples of Buchan’s work, together with volumes of Baroness Orczy and
Anthony Hope <#_ftn8> and he often referred to Wodehouse as an important
example of subversive humour – a technique he put to use not only in the
‘Antrobus’ pictures from diplomatic life but also in the structure and
texture of *The Revolt* (indeed, as I shall demonstrate in Part 4, there is
an organic connection between the two types of writing).

Milan Kundera makes the point that a novel requires four special ‘appeals’:
those of ‘play’, ‘dream’, ‘thought’ and ‘time’, <#_ftn9> and it is
important to note that it is the combination of seriousness of intent with
lightness of touch which gives Durrell’s fiction its onward drive: while he
is capable of arresting our attention with some lapidary insight into the
human condition, the dynamic in the reader’s mind is the question ‘what
happens next?’. The book must be a place of intellectual excitement which
is leavened by the idea of life-as-a-game.


Apologies for such a long quote but some on this list may not have Pine's
book, which I understand is hard to find in the second edition.

I would only add to that that I don't agree with Professor Gifford about
Durrell writing "Panic Spring" "to emulate the formal effects of the high
modernists". In my opinion, he wrote it (with a pseudonym) as an attempt to
make a Greek-island novel using the tools available to him, which did not
include any deep understanding of the modernists, high or low.

Maybe I'm ill-versed, but I don't get the rhetoric about the mud bricks.

James Esposito


On Sun, Mar 20, 2016 at 8:03 AM, James Gifford <james.d.gifford at gmail.com>

> Hello all,
> It's worth noting that thanks to Charles Sligh's excellent editorial work,
> we have Durrell's thoughts on the matter in "The Minor Mythologies" (Deus
> Loci NS 7 1999-2000). He's certainly not dismissive of "lowbrow"
> entertainments. Sligh notes it as a "multiform, anti-departmental approach
> to literary production," and I think I'd go along a long way with that. And
> after all, Old D wrote the last 3 volumes of The Quartet at top speed. And
> for money too... Even early on he wrote to emulate the formal effects of
> the high modernists in Panic Spring, and under a pseudonym, which certainly
> wasn't a good plan to make easy money fast.
> I'd note that the same Hope Mirrlees who gave the world the remarkable and
> experimental "Paris: A Poem" also wrote the fantasy novel Lud-In-The-Mist.
> I think we'd be foolish not to see a careful mind at work in both texts
> just as we'd be foolish to exclude the material exigencies of their
> production. Then again, I've written critical work on comic books...
> I'll stand by the mud brick in this case, even if I don't roll in the muck.
> All best,
> James
> Ps: great to have your contribution James (Esposito)!
> Sent from my iPad
> On Mar 19, 2016, at 2:17 PM, Denise Tart & David Green <
> dtart at bigpond.net.au> wrote:
> Having written commercially myself, I think it is easy, at least for me,
> to write with more than one head, so to speak. Writing for magazines and
> journals to a deadline for pay, sometimes good pay, requires a different
> mind cast to producing a a good poem; that comes from another place. As a
> writer Durrell was across multiple genres and wrote for diverse audiences
> but I agree with Bruce that whether dashing off a potboiler, a travel book
> or a great novel cycle, the strength and beauty of Durrell's poetry comes
> through them all, yes even Sicilian Carousel, an underrated book in my
> view. As an actor can play many parts, so can a writer but something of his
> essence flavours them all.
> David
> Sent from my iPad
> On 20 Mar 2016, at 6:05 AM, Bruce Redwine <bredwine1968 at earthlink.net>
> wrote:
> Excellent response.  This is the real issue--what's the relationship
> between Durrell as serious writer and Durrell as hack, greedy or not?  I
> see the two as directly related, with varying degrees of importance.  A
> good writer doesn't stop being a good writer simply because he or she
> writes to make money.  Durrell's Sicilian book and the one on the Greek
> islands were both written mainly to make money, and he even disparaged the
> former as something of a potboiler.  Both books, however, have many
> excellent sections and are relevant to his "serious" work and to the man
> himself.  I would add the Antrobus stories, along with the "ephemeral"
> pieces, to his body of work.
> Also, Durrell's commentary on his own habits/objectives should be taken
> with heaps and heaps of salt.  D. H. Lawrence had it right, in my opinion,
> when he said, more than less, that readers should trust the book and not
> the author.
> Bruce
> Sent from my iPhone
> On Mar 19, 2016, at 10:45 AM, james Esposito <giacomoesposito72 at gmail.com>
> wrote:
> Forgive me as a newcomer, but surely Lawrence Durrell made it clear that
> he saw his paid work as distinct from his serious novels,poetry et cetera?
> His boast about the writing of the 'Antrobus' stories and the use to which
> he put the money and the comparison with P G Wodehouse and Proust suggest
> that he really did see himself as two types of writer. I'm not saying that
> these two writers were entirely separable, but I think Durrell was
> conscious of a difference in his approach to different tasks - the
> ephemeral newspaper and magazine assignments and the major works. And
> perhaps "avaricious hack" is not quite the way to describe him when he sat
> down to quickly write a piece, maybe off the top of his head, which would
> earn him some necessary money so that he could get back to spending quality
> time on his 'serious' or 'real' (as he called it) work?
> James Esposito
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