Corfu and Lawrence Durrell


Kalami Bay, Corfu, Greece. Durrell’s ‘White House’ is visible, though half-obscured by a tree, to the center-right of the photo. It rises directly above the water. 


Corfu and Lawrence Durrell

I recently finished rereading the memoir the British novelist Lawrence Durrell wrote of his years on the Greek island of Corfu, from the mid 1930’s until the outbreak of war in 1939. Often I note passages when I read, so I can go back and savor them later, lest they be forgotten entirely as one book follows another. And I’d like to share some of them here, in case someone else can get something out of them too. They are from the 1996 edition of the book as published by Marlowe and Company, New York. The memoir originally appeared in 1945.

‘Seen through the transforming lens of memory the past seemed so enchanted that even thought would be unworthy of it.’

‘A peninsula nipped off while red hot and allowed to cool into an antarctica of lava. You are aware not so much of a landscape coming to meet you invisibly over those blue miles of water as of a climate. You enter Greece as one might enter a dark crystal; the form of things becomes irregular, refracted. Mirages suddenly swallow islands, and wherever you look the trembling curtain of the atmosphere deceives.’

‘It is a sophism to imagine that there is any strict dividing line between the waking world and the world of dreams….[We] are confused by the sense of several contemporaneous lives being lived inside us; the sensation of being mere points of reference for space and time.’

‘Our life on this promontory has become like some flawless Euclidean statement. Night and sleep resolve and complete the day with their quod erat demonstrandum; and if, uneasily stirring before dawn, one stands for a moment to watch the morning star, which hangs like a drop of yellow dew in the east, it is not that sleep (which is like death in stories, beautiful) has been disrupted: it is the greater for this noiseless star, for the deep scented tree-line and the sea pensively washing and rewashing one’s dreams. So that, confused, you wonder at the overlapping of the edges of dream and reality.’

‘In the spaces of the wind the ear picks up the dry morse-like communication of the cicadas high above on the cliffs; while higher still in space sounds the sour brassy note of a woman’s voice singing…Drinking the wind like some imagined figurehead on a prehistoric prow one cannot tell from the sad expression of the clear face whether N. hears the singing or not. Or whether indeed the singing is not in one’s own mind, riding clear and high above the white sails to where the eagles, broken like morsels of rock, fall and recover and fall again down the invisible stairways of the blue.’

‘”Philosophy,” he said once, “is a doubt which lives in one like a hookworm, causing pallor and lack of appetite. Suddenly one day you awake and realize with complete certainty that ninety-five per cent of the activities of the human race–to which you supposed you belonged–have no relevance whatsoever for you. What is to become of you?”‘

‘And here we are,’ says the Count, unwilling to relinquish his subject, ‘each of us collecting and arranging our common knowledge according to the form dictated to him by his temperament. In all cases it will not be the whole picture, though it will be the whole picture for you.’ 


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