[ilds] Bitter Lemons and Academe

Panaiotis Gerontopoulos pan.gero at hotmail.com
Tue Apr 5 11:54:02 PDT 2016

 I do not understand
why and how I have misrepresent Redwine’s
point “about A.J. Balfour and HMG’s position on Egypt”. He disturbed Gramsci,
Fanon, Conrad, and went back to the Arab conquest of 640-41, but overlooked the
fact that the “HMG’s official point of view” on Cyprus offered by Lawrence
Durrell in 1954 to Charles Foley, was identical to that offered by A.J. Balfour
to the UK Parliament in 1910. Aggravated by the proof of the rising of the living standards of the indigenes because
of the opening of new bordellos for the troops called in to keep the indigenes under


Just as the liberal Robertson opposed the Tory policies in Egypt in 1910,
many UK liberals opposed in 1953-56 the policies of Anthony Eden in Cyprus. It
was Redwine and not I, to bring into this discussion the ‘postcolonial take on
Cyprus à la Edward Said’ and the unthinkable corollary ‘The Brits and Turks are
bad. The Greeks are good’. He should feel the need to explain what he meant..


For the attempt to whitewash of the British policy in Cyprus in Bitter Lemons, it is in order to give a
short but concrete example:


[…] ‘Have you heard the news?’ I nodded.
‘The execution?’ She puffed and swelled with sorrow. “Why should they do such
things? I became angry. ‘If you kill you must die,’ I said; she raised her
hand, as if to stop me. ‘Not that. Not the execution. But they would not give
his mother the body, or so they say. That is a terrible punishment, sir. For if
you do not look upon your loved one dead you will never meet him again in the
other world (Bitter Lemons of Cyprus,
paperback Edition Faber & Faber 1959, p. 268)


The discussion takes place between LD
and the cleaning-lady Xenou during LD’s last visit to the Bellapaix house the
day of the execution of Michalakis Karaolis in spite of the international protests
and appeals for clemency, US president Eisenhower and Albert Camus included,  LD gets angry: ‘If you kill you must die’.
Xenou the law-abiding subject of HM protests: the killing was OK, what she had
in mind was the decision of not turning back to the mother of the dead body for
sepulture ‘because if you don’t look upon your loved one… etc. ’The naïve belief
of the illiterate indigene registered by pseudo-orientalist LD that ignored the
story Antigone. Otherwise, as all law-abiding subjects of HM, Xenou approved the


Even more white washing, the ‘remarkably
courageous woman’ as advertised in the dust cover of her book ‘Below the Tide’ Penelope
Tremayne published in 1959, with a spirited preface by the philhellene  LD. Speaking of Caraolis
hanging  she does reiterate courageously ‘murder had been done, and punished according
the law’ and continues on desecrating the dead


He had killed a man, yes a policeman and
compatriot. But that was not murder: it was the high-spirited act of a decent,
upstanding youth who yearned for his freedom he was a hero and a martyr – or at
all events, he became later so. 

It is hard to think that many people believed in this martyr view at the
time. The average Cypriot, then, was still level-headed enough to know murder
when he saw it; and the EOKA enthusiasts must have been chilled, at least, by
the fact that, when he was condemned, all Caraolis’ political heroics fell from
him: he repudiated EOKA, said that it was all nonsense and he had never really
wanted to have anything to do with it, and asked for mercy on the grounds that
he was a good boy led astray by bad companions. (Penelope Tremayne Bellow the
Tide, Houghton Mifflin, First American Edition, 1959, 17)


Nothing to comment. The non-philhellene Charles
Foley was of a different advice:


Caraolis at twenty-two was a captive
specimen of Cypriot delinquency; Michael Davidson [a journalist of The Times of
Cyprus] had followed the trial and he wanted to know what twist of psychology
had brought him to kill a policeman at the behest of a secret society. Caraolis
had not, after all, learned his fanaticism at some Greek forcing house like the
[Pancyprian] Gymnasium; instead, he had been turned out by the English School,
the multi-racial, cricket playing, Shakespeare-reading mill for producing
Cypriot civil servants: its extensive grounds and playing fields adjoined
Government house, and the Governor presented the prizes on Sports Days.
Friends, family, his English masters were interviewed, they were biased in his
favour perhaps, yet their accounts tallied too closely to be worthless. Caraolis
appeared to be a model pupil, a good scholar, a popular perfect, a half-mile
champion and a member of the school cricket team. His colleagues said he was on
the threshold of a promising career. He showed little interest in politics,
read few newspapers. An uncle recalled that was prone to faint at the sight of
blood. There was no trace of mental unbalance, as far as one can tell.

Caraolis and his kind were a perpetual puzzle to those who believed that
the population were being terrorized by a handful of callous malcontents …
(Charles Foley ‘Island in Revolt’. Longmans 1962, p.48)


As for the executions, the refusal of
the Colonial Government to render the bodies of the terrorists to their
families, and the protest of the superstitious Xenou:


The execution shed stood in a corner of
an extensive prison grounds where you might have expected to find an outside
lavatory; it was made of the same yellow sandstone as the rest of the jail.

   Ten paces away were the condemned cells, which
had no windows,  through a certain amount
of light came through  the bars above
the  cell entrance […] On a day of a
hanging the executioner and his assistant arrived from London and slept in the
little hall outside the cells. 

Men were hanged between the hours of midnight and 5 a. m. […] The rope
was greased by a big bar of yellow shop for the purpose and a piece of thick
grey felt was wrapped around the prisoner’s head. The trap was released by a
metal lever of the sort seen in old-fashioned railway signal-boxes. There was a
surprisingly loud bang when the doubled doors in the platform fell open, and
attempts to quieten the sound with bits of rubber did not succeed.

The coffins were kept piled by a corner. Made of the flimsiest material
covered with cheap black cotton, each had a silver-paper cross gummed on the
top. From there it was only a short walk to a patch of prison yard, which had
been freshly walled off to house the graves of the men killed in action or
executed. After the fiasco of Mouscos’ funeral in Nicosia, all dead Eoka men
were buried here. To save space, two bodies shared a grave, one at a depth of
ten feet , the other at six; no one knew how many more were to come , and the
graveyard was rather small. As there was no burial service and no Greeks were
admitted to the area it soon took on a neglected, weed grown air (ibid p.86)


1953-56 LD was in possess of mote information than Charles Foley on what
happened in the prisons and in the offices of the Colonial Government of Cyprus.
He was not a policy maker but in Bitter
Lemons he chose to lie not ‘for his country’ but for ‘the Tories of his country’
cashing the Duff  Cooper Memorial, the
compliments of the Queen Mother and the applause of Lord Salisbury. Thirty
years after, in the interview with the Aegean Review he apologized. Maybe not
in earnest, but why ironically? All these might sound simplistic but are hard facts
that must be taken into consideration and explained by the learned professors of this list unless they
think they deal with simpletons.  























From: bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Date: Tue, 5 Apr 2016 05:18:24 -0700
To: james.d.gifford at gmail.com; ilds at lists.uvic.ca
CC: bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Subject: Re: [ilds] Bitter Lemons and Academe

Yes.  I thought of adding Chinua Achebe to my list of postcolonial writers but thought my comment had already grown too long.  Now that you’ve brought him up, I’ll elaborate.
I’m not a fan of Achebe, a Nigerian novelist and critic, and his diatribe on Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.  His essay, “An Image of Africa:  Conrad’s Heart of Darkness,” was first delivered as a lecture at the U of Massachusetts, Amherst in 1975 and was later published in the U of Massachusetts Review in 1977.  In the lecture, he calls Conrad a “bloody racist”; in the article, he emends that phrase to “thoroughgoing racist.”  The Brits are attuned to the difference.  I find “thoroughgoing” more offensive.
Ian Watt was a Brit and one of the great critics of the English novel and Joseph Conrad in particular.  (See his Rise of the Novel:  Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding [1957] and Conrad in the Nineteenth Century [1979].)  In his article, “Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and the Critics,” anthologized in his Essays on Conrad (2000), Watt dismantles and refutes Achebe’s charge of Conrad’s racism.  In my opinion, of course, anyone who takes Achebe seriously has not read Heart of Darkness closely.  This is not to say that Conrad did not have prejudices which extended to certain ethnic groups (he had a preference for the Malays over the Chinese, I seem to recall), but to call him a “racist” I find outrageous.
Unfortunately, as Regina Martin’s recent article in PMLA suggests, Achebe’s charge of Conrad’s “racism” is now widely accepted as fact and would seem to have the stamp of approval of the Modern Language Association.  (Interestingly, Martin does not cite Achebe; apparently, she felt no need to reference the obvious.)  This is what I find disturbing.  I attribute it to the excesses of “postcolonial” thinking and argumentation.
Re your other comments, I think you’re right that Durrell likes to have things both ways.  That’s part of his sly persona.  As to Cyprus and the Cold War, that historical context is important.  But that’s the present of 1957.  One of the things I’ve always liked about Durrell and his epigraphs (along with the illustrations) is how he places one foot in the present and another in the past, deep time.  It’s no coincidence that he worked in Kyrenia (or was it Nicosia?) but found a home in the village of Bellapaix, a Crusader refuge.  All Romantic Classicism, I guess.

On Apr 4, 2016, at 7:05 PM, James Gifford <james.d.gifford at gmail.com> wrote:Hi Bruce,

Postcolonialism in the academy has some pernicious consequences.  In a
recent article on Joseph Conrad in /PMLA,/ the premier journal of
American literary studies, we find this first sentence:  “Critics tend
to agree that Joseph Conrad’s novels engage in a critique of
imperialism, but, given the novels’ pervasive racism the nature of that
critique persist as a source of debate in postcolonial studies” (Regina
Martin, “Absentee Capitalism and the Politics of Conrad’s Imperial
Novels,” /PMLA 130.3/ [2015]:  584).  “Critics” do /not/ tend to agree
on Conrad’s “racism” (read an eminent critic like Ian Watt on Conrad and
the authoritative/ Oxford Reader’s Companion to Conrad)/ but Martin
would have it so.

I'm not a Conrad scholar, but I can probably trouble this a bit -- we hosted the Conrad Society's conference here at FDU-Vancouver just after the last On Miracle Ground.  One side would certainly defend Conrad from the charge, but there's also a famous lecture (later paper) by Chinua Achebe on Conrad in which he offers the biting comment "Conrad was a bloody racist."   He goes on to give a more nuanced outline of the sentiment, but the laconic form makes the point.  As an instance of how that plays out, the outstanding Conrad scholar John Stape taught for us here in Vancouver and brought the conference here, and my Campus Provost was friends with Achebe -- when they talked, it was from two very different perspectives...

By granting the critique of imperialism along with the racism, I'd suspect Martin was trying to speak in a way that would reach both of those crowds (more a way of getting the two major readerships to feel okay than necessarily the central gesture).  I'd have to go to the article and read to say more!

That said, a comparable comment on Durrell from a global figure like Achebe but born in the mid-1970s would be rather helpful (a comparable age gap for us today from Conrad & Achebe).  After all, people tend to actually read the polemics -- it's the same reason bad reviews are better than tepid reviews: the stirring of curiosity is always a help.

As to Durrell’s /Bitter Lemons,/ calling the book a “whitewash” of
British policy is far, far too simplistic and another misreading of a
complicated text written by an author who was deeply conflicted and

As you know, I tend to read Durrell as often ironic, and many don't agree with me -- I've said on the listserv in the past that I look to the opening of /Bitter Lemons/ in exactly the same way as I look to the opening of /Justine/ in the same year.  It speaks in the contradictions but not in what's said, much like the closing interpretation of silence.

Justine opens with Freud & Sade, but I think it's Freud *vs.* Sade, and the cut or unspoken portions are the most important.  Likewise, /Bitter Lemons/ opens with its claim "this is not a political book" but follows up an epigram that makes the irony pretty overt: "A race advancing on the East must start with Cyprus" followed by grand conflicts between nations and imperialism then a closing reference to how important the Suez Canal makes Cyprus.  It's always struck me as something like "of course I could not write this book if it were a political book, so it isn't -- by the way, I'm lying."

Durrell's anonymous writings on Cyprus make it clear he was thinking of the Cold War, not some "genuine" claim Britain had.  Only three years later he would write that humanity lives "under sentence of death and simply living from reprieve to reprieve."  It's unsurprising for the period -- in fact, what is surprising is that an author would turn to the kind of lush writing we find in the Quartet at that precise moment.  If we read /Bitter Lemons/ beside 1957 in literature, some other trends might stand out: Fleming's /From Russia, with Love/, Kerouac's /On the Road/, Pasternak's /Doctor Zhivago/, Rand's /Atlas Shrugged/, Wyndham's /The Midwich Cuckoos/, etc...  Durrell certainly stands distinct from his contemporaries, but the Cold War mentality seems ready to hand!  I think we'd be wise to see it as ready to hand in /Bitter Lemons/ as well, even if it's mumbled.

All best,

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