[ilds] ILDS Digest, Vol 119, Issue 1

Rick Schoff frederick.schoff at gmail.com
Fri Jun 23 04:59:30 PDT 2017

Ravi -

"Who speaks is not as important as what is spoken". That is the key to
enjoying the Quintet, rather than being confused or unsatisfied by its
difficulties. I think I've done three reads and each time - even though I
track the characters better - at some point I just forget all about that
and get swept up in the ideas presented. While most writers feel they must
take pains to define each character as distinct, here Durrell doesn't. I
don't believe it was due to lack of skill. Ravi - you've swept away any
confusion/disappointment I've ever felt about AQ2. Thanks! To you AND Ken!

- Rick

On Fri, Jun 23, 2017 at 1:14 AM Ravi Nambiar <cnncravi at gmail.com> wrote:

> 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
> Regards
> Ravi Nambiar
> On Fri, Jun 23, 2017 at 12:30 AM, <ilds-request at lists.uvic.ca> wrote:
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>> Today's Topics:
>>    1. AvignonQ at OMGXVINO (Kennedy Gammage)
>> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
>> Message: 1
>> 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
>> Message-ID:
>>         <
>> CANDhJnTmuESoip1PXk0Q9Bc8MHkHBASEVV_B9DUgFhBqcfPiNA at mail.gmail.com>
>> Content-Type: text/plain; charset="utf-8"
>> 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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