[ilds] Bitter Lemons and Academe

Richard Pine pinedurrellcorfu at gmail.com
Mon Mar 28 13:41:43 PDT 2016

As the Durrell Library mailbox is temporarily unable to transmit messages I
am sending this from my personal mailbox.
I find myself in the curious position of both agreeing and disagreeing with
Panayiotis (his message is below)
I agree with both him and James Esposito about the need to avoid technical
jargon and obscure theories when discussing literary texts - except perhaps
when they, the theory-critics, are doing so amongst themselves and not in
front of the students.
But I disagree with Panayiotis' views on Durrell's philhellenism.While I
can understand any Greek (and especially of course a Cypriot) suspecting
LD's thoughts and actions, as  a member of the British 'occupation' of
Cyprus whose job was to bolster the British fight against the enotists, I
think Panayiotis is wrong to assume that LD was not a philhellene. He
certainly came from a colonial background but there is plentiful evidence
of his rejection of much of the Raj's purpose. I am certain of two things
in his position in Cyprus: 1) he was obliged for financial reasons to work
for the British and 2) he loved Greece and the Greeks all his life. The
excerpts from his private notes which I quote in my book, regarding his
view of the way the British were handling the enosis situation, convince me
that he was reluctantly taking the money against his better judgement. A
very clear parallel can be drawn between LD's attitude in Cyprus and that
of W E Gladstone in the Ionian Islands in the 1850s when  he was sent to
assess the enotist situation here. As a philhellene he believed that these
islands should join the state of Greece; as a British government minister
he was responsible for maintaining the link with Britain. In both cases, it
was an agon of head and heart.
I do not see "Bitter Lemons" as a whitewash - it is clear to me, as a
philhellene myself, resident in Corfu, that the book reflected this
head-heart agon. It is also clear to me that it rightly attracted criticism
publicly from writers like Roufos and Montis and, privately, from Seferis.
But that does not diminish LD's anguish at the situation in Cyprus nor does
it invalidate his undoubted philhellenism. But it deepens the problem of
fruitful Anglo-Greek relations.
One further point: yes, I (not 'Price') was responsible with Spiros
Giourgas (correct spelling) in persuading the municipal authorities in
Corfu to name the 'Bosketto', 'Bosketto Durrell' (not Durrell Park as ,
apparently, reported by Helena Smith in the Guardian). And subsequently a
private sponsor paid for the placing of 2 bas-reliefs (not 'brass-busts')
of the brothers Gerald and Lawrence in the Bosketto. This was not done by
the municipality but it was done with their agreement. Panayiotis must
surely be aware that Gerald loved Corfu, probably more than did his
brother, because it meant almost everything to him in terms of what he
achieved in adult life.
Whack, pow, thud. bang! Uurrah for teachers and critics, beware of and
shame to irriverent grocers and pub-tenants dealing with high literature
seated on their toilets where they belong. We heard all this, in this List
in the few past days. The fact is that nobody put in question the need to
have teachers and critics, provided they base their teachings and critiques
on the contents of a text and on what we know about the circumstances under
which the author wrote it. In other words in plain words, understandable by
the "common reader"and the next door grocer. They are not so stupid after
all. What is to avoid is to speak about simple texts using high flown words
and post-modern lingos neglecting solidly established facts.
Good examples of the accomplisments of this school of thaught are the
various readings of Bitter Lemons as a marvellous travel book, taking in
serious the first words written in 1957 by Lawrence Durrell in his preface:
This is not a political book, but simply a somewhat impressionistic study
of the moods and atmpspheres of Cyprus during the troubled years years
In 1957, the atmosphere in Cyprus continued to be troubled and in December,
Bitter Lemons won for its author the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize. The Queen
Mother told him during the ad hoc ceremony held at Kensington Palace that
she had enjoyed the book and Lord Salisbury, top exponent of the
ultra-conservative Tories asking for tougher measures against the revolted
Cyps, disected the book with a tender little speech (Mac Niven, A
Biography, 464).
Actually, Bitter Lemons was an awkward attempt to white-wash the blind
British policies in dealing with the decades-old demand of Greeks
(including Cavafy) and Creek-Cypriots for self determination. Durrell was
not a policy-maker and he is not to blame if he lied for his country but
make of him a Philhellene is quite another story. Nonetheless, at the
insistance of Dr. Spyros Georgas, "physician of elderly British aristocrats
and retired civil servants who moved in the island from India in the 50s
and 60s" and Richard Price [Pine?] director of the Durrell School of Corfu,
the Bosketto Park of Corfu was renamed in 2006 Durrell Park (Helena Smith,
the Guardian, September 22, 2006). In addition, in 2008, the Municipality
of Corfu erected in the Park two brass-busts to honor furtherly the two
authors and philhellene brothers.
I believe that if Bitter Lemons were read with the pragmatism of a grocer,
taking into account Durrell's letter to the Governor of Cyprus on February
17 1954, published by Barbara Papastavrou-Koroniotaki this embarassing
situation could have been avoided and if only they could both brothers
would agree.
Panayotis Gerontopoulos
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