[ilds] Durrell's endings

Panaiotis Gerontopoulos pan.gero at hotmail.com
Wed Apr 13 09:58:37 PDT 2016

   A reader reads
according his own sensibilities, cultural background and personal bias. Redwine
agrees with Whitewine  in describing ‘Bitter Lemons’ as a fine, clear, concise,
poetic book. I do not have the ambition to argue or answer to the insults launched
against my nullity for having pointed out facts that Redwine, Whitewine,
Gifford and Richard Pine, should have known long ago as official exegetes
of LD’s writings. 

  The irony of the thing
is that, far from being a slanderer of LD’s memory I think I have a better
understanding of his misfortunes in Cyprus. To explain this, I have to recall another
philhellene. In “The Philhellenes” C. M. Woodhouse, parachuted on a Greek
mountain during the World War II, observes that his philhellenism and that  of his’ British companions fighting the Nazis
on the Greek mountains, had nothing in common with the philhellenes of the
1820s and their aspirations, for catholic emancipation, parliamentary reform,
republicanism etc. Their motives “were free of ideology”. 

After World War II, Woodhouse
and many of his British mountain companions joined ‘The Friends’, alias ‘M16’,
to fight communism. His personal involvement in creating the net of the
operation ‘BOOT-AIAX’ aimed to topple Mohammad Mosaddegh is well known. It is
also well known that, far from being directed against communism, that operation
was directed against the nationalization of the ‘Anglo Iranian Oil Company’. In
‘Something Ventured’ Woodhouse acknowledges its catastrophic consequences that
brought-back in power in Iran first the Shah and then, in 1979, Ayatollah
Khomeini. He justifies his actions as follows: 

What we did not foresee was that the Shah
would gather new strength and use it so tyrannically, nor that the US government
and the Foreign Office would fail so abjectly to keep him on a reasonable
course. At that time, we were simply relieved that the threat to British
interests had been removed. 

   Sic et simpliciter. The
consequences of this and other operations  of the same kind are before our eyes in every day’s
newspapers. The parallel between Mosaddegh and Makarios (the black-Mac as LD called
him privately) and the resemblance of the M16 methods in defense of British
interests in Iran and Cyprus, evoking in first place the communist threat is
also striking.  In  January 1953, LD descended in ordered mission
to Cyprus to defend the British interests evoking the communist threat, mixing sex
to the political propaganda of the CBS, and trying to lull the ‘Enotist feeling’ by advertising
in all directions his philhellenism and
his ties
with the Greek intellectuals of the ‘Generation of the 30s’.     They were fast to take distances from their
former friend. Not because they were Greeks or Cypriots, as Richard Pine likes
to believe, but to put it with George Seferis, in the last words of one of his
last texts, written directly in French, at the request of Frederic Temple
director of ‘Entretiens’, for a special issue dedicated to LD with the English
title ‘Many Nightingales ago’

But I belong to another ‘private country and I would
like to emphasize the word ‘private’ (LABRYS 5, LAWRENCE DURRELL July

The Durrellian Temple published in
‘Entretiens’ two years after Seferis’ death, a censored version of the
original manipulating it so to hide the fact that, notwithstanding his deep
human sympathy for Larry, in 1970 Seferis considered him a former friend (an ancient ami). To avoid
misunderstandings I transcribe in French the last paragraph of the original
conserved in Seferis’ Archives of Gennadios Library of Athens, resounding Seferis
thoughts on LD’s propaganda tactics in Cyprus unmistakably revealed in Bitter Lemons

Je disais tout
à l’heure que ce soit le passé qui m’ait dicté ces lignes. Le présent - que
l’on me passe l’anglicisme - n’est pas malheureusement très invigorant pour
moi. D’autre part il y a longtemps que de circonstances fortuites ont voulu que
nous ne puissions pas nous voir très souvent. Ainsi s’est tout naturellement
que je me suis tourné vers Larry le poète avec lequel j’étais plus familier :
- le roman n’est pas mon fort et je n’ai jamais attaché grande importance
à Durrell le fonctionnaire dont les drôleries diplomatiques ont fait rire
beaucoup de gens dans les chancelleries. Ce n’est pas par puritanisme que je
dis cela. Chacun a le droit de s’amuser comme il peut mais j’appartiens à une
autre “Private Country”. Je tiens à souligner le mot “Private”. - Athénes 31
Mai 1970. George Seferis. 

LD’s ‘drôleries
diplomatiques’ in
Cyprus, were certainly childlike and in last analysis much more harmless than
the intrigues of Woodhouse in Iran. On the other hand  we cannot ignore that he served like Woodhouse the interests  of the collapsing British empire. Considering him a philhellene
whatever  this word meant in the 1950s or can mean today is ridiculous. If not for anything else because he defined himself ironically philhellenese. Be it as it may it is offensive to his memory saying that he did what he did it for money taken in an Agon between heart and head letting the head always win. Like Woodhouse he was a fervid anticommunist and a devoted Tory and he had no obligation whatever to serve Greece. 
In conclusion, everybody
has the right to amuse himself as he can and Richard Pine to press the Mayor of
Corfu to rename the “Bosketto” in “Bosketto Durrell” or unveil bronze Bas Reliefs,
paid by the multinational Luis Group, to honor the philhellene LD in  pathetic ceremonies framed by young Corfiots in local
costumes, reminiscing Byronic klephts. In another point of his post, Richard Pine says ‘If to be British/English is to be bad (in
Greek terms) then there can be no philhellenes, hence no Byron’. Hence, no
Mr. Pine I suppose. 

From: bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Date: Sun, 10 Apr 2016 16:32:39 -0700
To: ilds at lists.uvic.ca
CC: bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Subject: [ilds] Durrell's endings

What you say is absolutely true.  Still.  This has been discussed before years back, namely, Durrell’s tendency to conclude (not the right word—no real conclusion) his fictions on a note of darkness or ambiguity.  I’m thinking of Prospero’s Cell, Marine Venus, Bitter Lemons, Dark Labyrinth, Justine, and even Quinx.  The move is from exterior to interior.  The lyric “Bitter Lemons” illustrates this beautifully—an island (indefinitely located) yields to reflections on some trauma (deliberately hidden).  A coda winds up a piece of art.  It’s a summation.  If the subject of this poem is Eve Cohen and if she embodies the mental state of “biter lemons,” then the whole book (or some major part anyway) is really a descant on Durrell’s troubled marriage and problems with women.  My interpretation, that is.

On Apr 10, 2016, at 1:54 PM, Denise Tart & David Green <dtart at bigpond.net.au> wrote:Yes, Bitter lemons, the poem, is a favourite. Tight, cryptic but evoktive. Hard to know what saying but I agree that it is personal poem about loss, loss of youth, loss of Eve and loss of beloved Greece. It was on Cyprus that Larry and Eve's relationship irretrievably broke down. There were black eyes and claw marks probably best left unsaid. Eve took Sappho away with her. His beloved Greeks turned on him, Panos was shot and attempts made on his life before he fled, never to live in Greece again. Tears Unshed may refer to that deep emotional pain that will never fully heal. Dunno - or perhaps something to do with true story never being able to be told. Larry may have left Greece but Greece never left him. When he bought the mazet near Nimes it was because the land there reminded him of Greece, especially Corfu.


Sent from my iPad

On 11 Apr 2016, at 1:35 AM, Bruce Redwine <bredwine1968 at earthlink.net> wrote:

David, I think you're on point about Durrell's memoir, Bitter Lemons.  This is a good summation.  But what do you think about the coda, the short poem "Bitter Lemons?"  I see a shift--from the political to the personal.  The hidden reference is to Eve and not, as you might expect, to the sadness of the political situation.


Sent from my iPhone

On Apr 9, 2016, at 6:51 PM, Denise Tart & David Green <dtart at bigpond.net.au> wrote:

'Bitter Lemons' won the Duff Cooper prize in 1957 not because Lord Balfour would have approved or because it 'whitewashed' British complicity and folly in the Cyprus crisis, but because it is a fine book and, along with Justine, one of Durrell's best. It is clear, concise, poetic and energetically written with a well selected cast of characters who allow the author to tell the unfolding tragedy from a range of perspectives (Greek, Turkish, British) with wit, humour, wisdom, pathos and a sense of inevitable impending doom; all this through an excellent story arc that moves effortlessly from comedy to tragedy. As such it not a 'political book' in the sense of being an in depth critique of British policy. However, we are left in no doubt of the party line Durrell had to spruik, often reluctantly. The British community is portrayed as inept, boorish and insensitive to local feelings and culture. He shows that the British decision to close the door on Enosis was a mistake and !
t the Cyprus situation could not be kept as a colonial matter. Although not a fan of Greek administration he is sympathetic to their cause, but also represents the Turkish view and well as that of the administration.

I have read Bitter Lemons several times and, given the balance of perspectives that Durrell weaves through his narrative, find it disingenuous to accuse Durrell of 'whitewashing' the British handling of the crisis. To suggest this is to suggest a different book to one I read. Durrell builds his story from the hint of menace in 'Voices at the Tavern Door' to a 'Feast of Unreason' and then 'Vanishing Landmarks'. He is as critical of British blindness and insensitivity as he is of the nationalistic rhetoric pouring out of politicians in Athens and Ankara, inflaming the local situation. The chapter 'Point of No Return' explores a range of perspectives here. In his role as school teacher, civil servant and inhabitant who could speak Greek and understood Greek culture and history, he was well placed to see all sides and this comes through. Durrell's pain, internal conflict and sadness are palpable; a Greek world that he loved and in which he hoped to live falling apart as he 'a!
eves nothing'.

It maybe he is too sentimental about the so called historic friendship between Britain and Greece dating back to Byron's time, but we should remember that Durrell had the best of his youth in Greece and if we are in any doubt as to his views of the British administration, I shall leave you with the words of his friend Richard Lumley:

"And I can see him now (Durrell) sitting in the hall, fairly pissed one evening, and the telephone goes and a long, increasingly angry conversation. And this is one of the top in the administration. And Larry's punchline I'll never forget - 'anyway, you're an inept cunt!' Howls of laughter and he puts the receiver down."

Needless to say, Durrell's days in the diplomatic corps were numbered. 


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