[ilds] Wordspinners

James Gifford james.d.gifford at gmail.com
Thu Mar 24 09:42:23 PDT 2016


Hi James,

On 2016-03-24 3:06 AM, james Esposito wrote:
> 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.

Please, "James" is just fine (no need for the professor bit).  Thanks 
for your comments -- it's always good to have new voices on the listserv.

As for the high modernists, some of it is fairly overt in the text.  He 
even wrote in 1975 that /Panic Spring/ is "a pretty good anthology of 
the styles of the writers I then admired, Huxley, Graves, Aldington, 
Lawrence," although as usual I think he left the biggest names out of 
the list...

For instance, Noah seduces/assaults Francis in a scene very much like 
that in the "A Game of Chess" section of T.S. Eliot's /The Waste Land/ 
or between the typist and young man in "The First Sermon" section.  Just 
in case we don't catch what Durrell's up to, Noah asks Francis if she's 
read /The Waste Land/ after having made sure copies of Ezra Pound and 
Eliot are visible in the room.  It's also not really a great surprise 
since the book was published by Faber & Faber where Eliot was an editor 
and Durrell was in correspondence with him.

We get kindred stream of consciousness scenes like Woolf and Joyce in 
"The Music" chapter as well as gestures to shell shock through Marlowe. 
  Overall, Durrell's fairly explicit about taking up stylistic and 
thematic models from the high modernists here, and while I think he had 
an uneasy relationship with those predecessors (for instance, in many 
respects substituting Cavafy for Eliot in the Quartet), they're also 
overt influences.

Other gestures to Eliot are fairly overt, such as in the "Walsh" chapter 
when the narrative voice tells us "They walked in the rain together, 
among a torrent of wet dead leaves, wind tugging their hair back on 
their scalps, rain in their mouths and the smell of dead earth" which is 
quite close to the opening lines of /The Waste Land/ (and in the 
preceding paragraph he stresses by repetition the "unreal" like Eliot's 
"Unreal city" from the same).  Francis is also like an "anaesthetised 
patient" much akin to the opening of Eliot's "Love Song of J. Alfred 
Prufrock" and so forth.

Perhaps I should emphasize that I don't see this as a problem -- he's 
reacting to the most famous generation of authors immediately preceding 
his own (and who were editing him...) while challenging and/or extending 
parts of their project in the process of discovering his own.  I think 
it's to be expected, and most authors of his generation did the same.

> I don't get the
> rhetoric about the mud bricks.

The mud brick figures in his "With Durrell in Egypt" piece (collected in 
/From the Elephant's Back/) -- it's a brick from Hassan Fathy's Gourna 
village.  I've suggested that since Durrell describes reading Fathy's 
/Architecture for the Poor/ in the piece and gives such a prominent 
place in the narrative to a symbol of the utopian project for peasants 
(the mud brick is a key part of Fathy's revival of traditional 
materials), it's not a politically neutral image.  I don't know how 
specific we might argue the "meaning" of the brick in the narrative 
could be, but I don't think it's neutral or random.

Others are arguing that the brick carries no importance, which I find 
unlikely, but to each their own.  I might even hope that it means both 
things at the same time -- Keats, after all, appears frequently in Durrell.

All best,
James


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