[ilds] ILDS Digest, Vol 119, Issue 1

Ravi Nambiar cnncravi at gmail.com
Thu Jun 22 21:49:53 PDT 2017


Thank you, Ken. Wonderful. This is, I think, the first real analysis of the
characters in the *Quintet*. Durrell said in an interview that the four
moves into the five and the four gets cancelled out. So, the writer wants
him to be judged through the five, his "intellectual autobiography". The
five is supreme, the Skandas. The characters, like those living, may be
real or imaginary ("personality is totally illusory"); the content matters
("five baskets of experience"). I think in the *Quintet*, who speaks is not
as important as what is spoken. This is not the case in the *Quartet*.
There, Darley is trying to discover his "I" by moving through several
females. In the *Quinte*t, Affad knows his self, carries all the
philosophies and lived experiences under his belt, and with his
Mellors-like-penetration (Tantric), enlightens Constance. He is a
boon-bringer in a war torn world  Thanks.
Regards
Ravi Nambiar

On Fri, Jun 23, 2017 at 12:30 AM, <ilds-request at lists.uvic.ca> wrote:

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>    1. AvignonQ at OMGXVINO (Kennedy Gammage)
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> Date: Wed, 21 Jun 2017 14:41:04 -0700
> From: Kennedy Gammage <gammage.kennedy at gmail.com>
> To: ilds at lists.uvic.ca
> Subject: [ilds] AvignonQ at OMGXVINO
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> My controversial sf-not-pomo interpretation of AQ2 is of course correct -
> but comments are welcome. Thanks very much ? Ken
>
> _The Significance of ?Real? and ?Imaginary? Characters in The Avignon
> Quintet_
>
> I first ran into Monsieur or the Prince of Darkness in 1984. I had just
> been to Avignon, and by picking up Monsieur, through the magic of reading,
> I was instantly back there and immersed in this most intricate and
> surprising series of novels, with their "real" and "imaginary" characters.
>
> The Quintet was a work in progress when I happened upon it. Durrell was
> still alive and creating in the 1980s, and when I received my hardcover
> Faber & Faber first edition of Quinx upon publication in 1985 it felt as if
> Durrell had mailed it to me.
>
> One of the most intriguing aspects of the Quintet is the interaction
> between the so-called real characters (including Blanford, Constance, Sam,
> Livia and Hilary ? the original 5 young people who spent a magical summer
> at Tu Duc just before the war) and the supposedly imaginary characters:
> Sutcliffe, Toby, Pia, Trash, Sabine, Bruce and the Ogres: Sylvie and Piers.
> (Actually there is another set of Ogres who are supposed to be more real,
> but are probably not.)
>
> They interact in mirrored milieus such as Tu Duc and Verfeuille, paired
> with their virtual counterparts (Blanford / Sutcliffe, Pia / Sylvie, Trash
> / Thrush, Galen / Banquo, Akkad and Affad)...some remain fixed on their
> reality tracks and storylines while others cross over.
>
> What does this mean, real and imaginary characters, in the context of a
> novel? They?re all products of Durrell?s imagination, but are some more
> imaginary than others, or more real? In the Quintet, Aubrey Blanford gains
> putative advantage because he feels he is the creator of Sutcliffe ? but
> since they are both creations of Durrell, Sutcliffe rightly feels entitled
> to push back ? transcending his offstage death in the river to walk among
> living characters for the remainder of the Quintet.
>
> There is of course literary precedent for the alter ego or fictionalization
> of the author, which might be thought to earn pride of place as a
> character. Stephen Dedalus is the alter ego of the young Joyce ? ?the
> artist as a young man,? who will in some sense grow into the real Joyce.
>
> Does this mean that Blanford has earned pride of place as an alter ego of
> the young Durrell? By no means! He is just another character. In fact,
> Sutcliffe is much closer to representing Larry?s carousing Bohemian side ?
> but of course we never really view Rob as a young man, and he acts more the
> tragic clown than an alter ego. He appears to amuse the author.
>
> The Quintet begins with Monsieur, or The Prince of Darkness ? a beautiful,
> evocative novel. Monsieur gives Durrell?s readers great pleasure by
> returning us to the much beloved setting of his Quartet for Monsieur?s
> justifiably renowned scenes: the idyll on the Nile and the visit to
> Macabru.
>
> Though Durrell?s name is on the cover, Monsieur can be read as a novel
> written by Blanford about ?imaginary? characters, who are based on ?real?
> characters, his personal friends, taking place in familiar scenes from his
> earlier life. Bruce Drexel M.D., Blanford?s narrator, has enjoyed an
> idyllic m?nage with the Ogres in a Proven?al setting, based on Blanford?s
> nostalgia for his pre-war idyll with his friends at Tu Duc.
>
> Monsieur is a straightforward narrative until we get to Sutcliffe, the
> ?imaginary? novelist, who has created his own satirical character,
> ?Bloshford? the effete doubly-imaginary novelist.
>
> We meet ?Bloshford? on page 178...but since we?ve made Aubrey Blanford the
> putative author of Monsieur (or even the whole series), it?s good to be
> reminded that we don?t even meet him in the first book until the last
> chapter, nearly 100 pages later. Before that, Bruce and the Ogres are the
> story, followed by Sutcliffe and Toby, Pia and Trash.
>
> After all this, BLANFORD THE NOVELIST (as he is announced in all caps)
> steps confidently onto the page ? and he certainly makes a big impression.
> We buy-in to his primacy: he?s been called into town to write the biography
> of the dead Sutcliffe, and there are really only two drawbacks to that
> scheme: Sutcliffe is not really dead, and Blanford is crazy as a bedbug.
> Which is OK.
>
> Blanford (like Sutcliffe) is in Venice, where the phantom Duchess of Tu now
> resides for some reason. Reality shifts, and the book?s last chapter is
> capped by a psychotic break: Blanford dining with the ghost of his friend
> Constance ? who seems to buy-into the Rob/Sam equation, which is
> self-evidently wrong!
>
> The imaginary characters are supposedly composites of the real characters,
> which is insulting both to them and the reader. Sutcliffe = Sam + Blanford,
> ?Pia a composite of Constance and Livia.? Nonsense. We would do well to be
> skeptical of Blanford at every opportunity. There is a real character named
> Constance in these books, and this phantom Duchess at the end of Monsieur
> is not her.
>
> (Just as an aside: has Constance died of old age? Monsieur was published in
> 1974, when she couldn?t have been much older than 70.) What of Sutcliffe in
> his Venetian Documents, talking about ?the old Duchess of Tu? who again
> seems to be a totally different person from Constance. Bruce and ?Young
> Tobias? are obviously on a different reality track from this old Duchess.
>
> What is the relationship between Blanford and Sutcliffe ? the prime pair of
> twinned characters, real and imaginary? Occasional deference by Sutcliffe,
> but more often a raucous and profane apparent friendship of, if not peers,
> then certainly near-equals. We never see Blanford bully Rob ? though
> Sutcliffe complains that Blanford has killed him off: his exact words are
> ?Refuse to be rushed off the planet in this clumsy and ignominious
> fashion.? Rob Sutcliffe?s long decline is laughable ? living in the squalid
> digs of an angel maker with a bunch of starving children, spending his
> nights drinking himself to a stupor with the old crone ? an absurd
> characterization by Blanford which didn?t stick.
>
> I had forgotten that Rob Sutcliffe had written ?a famous novel? about his
> brother-in-law Bruce?s relationship with the Ogres. Has Blanford anywhere
> in the Quintet published anything? We know from the very first lines of
> Quinx that Blanford had tried to write a book about the same characters,
> but ?Alas, it had not come off.? Which is puzzling and contradictory.
>
> What does it mean when Sutcliffe restates the opening lines of Monsieur,
> the ?super glow worm? supposedly written by Blanford?  Is Rob reading
> Aubrey?s mind, as Blanford reads his? If so there is no real difference
> between their status, and Rob just has an inferiority complex! In Quinx,
> when Rob asks Sabine to sleep with him, she gives him a long strange look
> before replying: ?But I don?t know which one of you is more real ? for
> Aubrey has already asked me that.?
>
> Rob is Blanford, and THEY are Durrell! It reminds me of my favorite Lindsay
> Anderson film, O Lucky Man! where the same famous actors portray multiple
> characters. What does it all mean? In Constance, Blanford tells Sutcliffe:
> ?It is as if we were versions of one another set upon differing time
> tracks.?
>
> Of course they both married Lesbians, if that?s at all germane. What effect
> does Durrell intend to create with these overlapping casts of characters?
>
> Here?s one, Blanford speaking:  ?He wondered if in the next book about
> these people he could not cut down a layer or two to reveal the invisible
> larval forms, the root forms which had given him these projections.?
>
> Here?s another: in Quinx, Sabine shares an unspoken thought about herself
> and Sutcliffe: ?Why were they not free to forge their own futures? What
> damnable luck to be simply figments of the capricious human mind!? That
> line struck me. It is spoken by a so-called imaginary character ? but it
> speaks to me as a reader. Every one of us in this room is theoretically
> free to forge our own future ? but we are also constrained by the realities
> of the present!  As Felix Chatto muses to himself: ??so many petty
> humiliations!?
>
> Re-reading this line recently, I felt I understood the significance of the
> imaginary characters. They are like us ? pawns on a chessboard. As
> Sutcliffe replied to Constance when she says: ?So after all you are real,?
> he laughs and says ?Everyone is real.?
>
> What clues about his intentions did Durrell leave us in ENVOI, "the begats"
> on the last page of Monsieur?
>
> It appears from the punctuation that Durrell is implying Blanford not only
> created Sutcliffe and the other imaginary characters ? he also created the
> real characters! Or not?
>
> If Aubrey is capable of psychotic breaks like his phantom dinner with Tu,
> then perhaps the entire Quintet is a fever dream in his mind. To which I
> say: twaddle! Durrell?s name is on the books ? and taking even a few
> minutes to scan Aubrey?s internal stream of consciousness at the conclusion
> of Constance will disabuse anyone of the idea that he would be capable of
> creating the Quintet and its most moving scenes, such as the tragic end of
> Nancy Quiminal. ENVOI is a red-herring, Durrell having fun. Blanford
> rhetorically asks: ?And what of me, he thought. Am I possibly an invention
> of someone like old D ? the devil at large??
>
> Who is the Pr?fet at the end of Quinx and what is the source of his
> insight?
>
> There is much talk about ?time tracks? in the Quintet, and readers have
> noted its shaky timeline. (Durrell himself disclaims this ?slight
> divergence? in the Appendix to Livia.) Apparently the first book is the
> latest, the closest to the present day, where the last book, Quinx, takes
> place decades earlier, sometime after the conclusion of the Second World
> War.
>
> However, Monsieur truly is first, introducing us to this five book world
> centered around Avignon, and Quinx is really last, concluding the series on
> an optimistic note. This is where we meet the Pr?fet. Of all the
> characters, his vantage is the most omniscient. He sees all the characters,
> real and imaginary. For me, the Pr?fet is Durrell, inserting himself like
> Alfred Hitchcock in this cameo appearance, ?...noting with interest that
> some of them came from other time-fields or other contingent realities ?
> like Toby and Drexel, who were there with his two charming and juvenile
> ogres who seemed rather like impersonations of Piers and Sylvie of the
> past.?
>
> A hybrid of SF & fantasy ? like Tunc and Nunquam less than a decade
> earlier.
>
> Can the Quintet be considered science fiction, in the same sense that The
> Revolt of Aphrodite was?"
>
> I don?t think Durrellians are shocked by the words science fiction, yet
> there is a stigma about ?sci-fi? as serious literature, and probably some
> measure of disbelief from those fans who have perhaps only read the Quartet
> and the Island books, that Durrell was (or could be) a science fiction
> writer ? though he explicitly employs the term in his Note of introduction
> to Balthazar (in reference to the 4th-dimensional scheme of the Quartet).
>
> There?s been some informed discussion on the topic of Durrell and science
> fiction recently on the ILDS e-mail list ? focused mainly on the Revolt of
> Aphrodite  (the Quintet has so far escaped)?and I won?t speak on this
> subject for more than one more moment - but, as an SF fan for 40 years:
> There is little ?science? in the Quintet ? but, as so-called speculative
> fiction, these overlapping time tracks and hierarchies among characters
> based on gradations of their fictitious reality...these are definitely
> fantastic or fantasy elements by their very nature. Durrell handles them
> deftly, with a light and affectionate touch, and not every reader noticed
> that these books could be considered science fiction or fantasy.
>
> Who is the nexus of the real and imaginary characters in the Quintet?
> Freud! Constance is a disciple ? but Pia, Bruce?s sister and Sutcliffe?s
> wife, is his patient, and Pia and Rob are the ones who save Freud?s couch
> in Livia and ship it to Provence! Across reality tracks to Tu Duc, not to
> its mirror image of Verfeuille from their own ?imaginary? world. (Actually
> it?s Blanford who redirects the couch to Constance, ?as he carried more
> weight in everything to do with real reality.?) Yet, in the same book when
> he meets Sylvie at Montfavet, Blanford doesn?t recognize her, nor the name
> of her brother Piers ? even though he supposedly ?created? them.
>
> Durrell is playing with us! He is showing a deft hand at tweaking reality
> in interesting ways.  Constance is a beautiful and frightening book about
> World War II, and is the Quincunx of this series as many have noted,
> central to the other four books. It is a serious and harrowing novel about
> life in the Vichy - but it also manifests these fantasy elements.
>
> Not all of the characters are aware of the real/imaginary dichotomy but
> some are ? particularly Constance. When she admits to the old doctor
> Jourdain at the asylum that she is having an (unethical) affair of the
> heart with Sylvie, a patient and one of the imaginary ?ogres?, it appears
> that these two characters from different time tracks are interacting on the
> same level. But when the old witch reveals to Sylvie that her partner
> ?would soon leave her ? indeed, that she was not any longer loved,? that is
> when different levels of reality manifest themselves and Sylvie ?saw
> herself diminishing, becoming a parody of a person?? She was reverting from
> real to imaginary, changing states. This is science fiction at its highest
> and most literary level!
>
> Constance says to Blanford: ?By the way, I thought for a long time your
> Sutcliffe was imaginary.?
>
> She thinks: ?It must be strange to exist only in somebody?s diary, like
> Socrates...?
>
> How could Constance accept Sutcliffe deferring to Blanford as his maker? A
> doctor and disciple of Freud ? and she takes at face value that one friend
> created another? I don?t believe it! Sutcliffe is as real as Blanford ?
> arguably realer, with his more complex life experience, his sorrow over
> Pia?s ?inversion.? The reader is not fooled, nor are the characters.
> Everyone is playing parts?As Blanford considers at the end of Quinx:
> ?...perhaps they could also be the various actors which, in their sum, made
> up one whole single personality??
>
> It?s complicated. Did some readers experience a disconnect with the
> Quintet? Perhaps it was the sex scenes?Let me ask this question one last
> time:
>
> ?What does this mean, real and imaginary characters, in the context of the
> novel?? I think one way of looking at it is, these groups of characters are
> from different time fields. When we meet the cast of Monsieur, these are
> definitely the ?imaginary? characters, all embarked together on their own
> time track.
>
> ?Squinting around the curves of futurity? ? this is Blanford?s key speech
> to Sutcliffe early in Livia: ??I saw something like a quincunx of novels
> set out in a good classical order. Five Q novels written in a highly
> elliptical quincunxial style invented for the occasion?.they would not be
> laid end to end in serial order, like dominoes ? but simply belong to the
> same blood group, five panels...? Here?s another:
>
> ?To celebrate the mystical marriage of four dimensions with five skandas so
> to speak.?  The five books of the Quintet are the five Skandas, proceeding
> from the four dimensions of the Alexandria Quartet. Onward and upward ?
> this was Durrell?s ambitious plan for the Quintet: an extended metaphor
> about the creative process: characters creating other characters. I think
> he pulled it off rather well.
>
> I am pretty much a lifelong Durrell fan, always aware of those four
> paperbacks of The Alexandria Quartet in my parents' hall bookshelf: the
> lovely Giant Cardinal editions. Thank you very much.
>
> @kgammage
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