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About the Author
Born in Jalandhar, British India, in 1912 to Indian-born British colonials, Lawrence Durrell was a critically hailed and beloved novelist, poet, humorist, and travel writer best known for the Alexandria Quartet novels, which were ranked by the Modern Library as among the greatest works of English literature in the twentieth century. A passionate and dedicated writer from an early age, Durrell’s prolific career also included the groundbreaking Avignon Quintet, whose first novel, Monsieur (1974), won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and whose third novel, Constance (1982), was nominated for the Booker Prize. He also penned the celebrated travel memoir Bitter Lemons of Cyprus (1957), which won the Duff Cooper Prize. Durrell corresponded with author Henry Miller for forty-five years, and Miller influenced much of his early work, including a provocative and controversial novel, The Black Book (1938). Durrell died in France in 1990.
Read an Excerpt
or Buried Alive
By Lawrence Durrell
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1978 Lawrence Durrell
All rights reserved.
A Certain Silence
When the news of Tu's death reached Blanford he was actually living in her house in Sussex, watching the first winter snow fall out of a dark sky, amidst darker woods, which had long since engulfed an ochre sunset. "Actually", because his own version of the event will be slightly different, both for the sake of posterity and also on stylistic grounds. A deep armchair sheltered his back from the draughts which, despite the rippling oak fire burning in the grate, played about the old-fashioned, high-ceilinged room with its tapering musicians' gallery. His crutches lay beside him on the carpet. As he put down the swan-necked telephone he felt the knowledge boom inside him, as if in some great tropical conch – the bang of surf upon white beaches on the other side of the world. She would miss reading (the selfishness of writers!) all the new material he had added to his book – a novel about another novelist called Sutcliffe, who had become almost as real to him and to Tu as he, Blanford, was to himself. He took the handkerchief from his sleeve and dabbed his dry lips – dry from the eternal cigar he needed to bite on when he worked. Then he went swaying to the looking-glass over the bookcase and stared at himself for a good moment. The telephone-bell gave a smart trill and a click – long-distance calls always did this: like the last spurt of blood from an artery. The writer stared on, imagining that he was Tu looking back at him. So this is what she saw, what she had always seen! Eye to eye and mind to mind – this is how it had been with them. He suddenly realised that he was surrounded by the dead woman's books. Underlinings, annotations. She was still here!
He felt his image suddenly refreshed and recreated by her death – the new information was so terrifying, so hard to assimilate. Goodness, there was still so much they had to tell each other – and now all that remained was a mass of severed threads, the loose ends of unfinished conversation. From now on there would be nobody to whom he could really talk. He made a grimace and sighed. Well then, he must lock up all this passionate and enriching conversation in his skull. All morning he had played on the old pipe-organ, glad to find that his memory and his fingers still worked. There is nothing like music in an empty house. Then the telephone-bell. Now the thought of Tu. It is no use really – for once you die you slide into the ground and simply melt. For a while a few personal scraps hang around – like shoes and clothes and unused notepaper with abandoned phone numbers. As if suddenly one had had a hunger for greater simplicity.
Outside children chirped as they skated on the frozen lake. Stones skidded and twanged on the ice. How would his hero Sutcliffe take the news, he wondered? Should he make him whimper in the novel like some ghastly dog? Last night in bed he had read some pages of the Latin poet Tu most loved; it was like sleeping beside her. The phrase came to him: "The steady thudding of the Latin line echoes the thud of her heart. I hear her calm voice uttering the words." There were flies in the room, hatched by the heating. They seemed to be reading Braille. The treble voices outside were marginal. What good were books except to hive off regrets? His back ached all of a sudden – his spine seemed as stiff as a flagpole. He was an ageing war-hero with a spine full of lead.
He wished his own turn would come soon. From now on they could label him "Not Wanted On Voyage" or just "Unaccompanied Luggage" – and sling him into the hold, into the grave. In his mind he gave a great cry of loneliness, but no sound came. It was a shrill galactic cry of a solitary planet whirling through space. Tu had loved walking naked about the house in Italy, she had no sense of misdemeanour, reciting aloud the 16th Psalm. She said once, "It is terrible, but life is on nobody's side."
So the Sutcliffe he invented for his novel Monsieur shot himself through the mirror in the early version? "I had to," he explained, pointing to Blanford. "It was him or me." The writer Blanford suddenly felt like an enormously condensed version of a minor epic. Buried alive! The crutches hurt him under the arms. He groaned and swore as he dragged himself about the room.
The consolations of art are precious few. He always had a sneaking fear that what he wrote was too private to reach a reader. Stilted and stunted, the modern product – meagre as spittle or sperm, the result of too rigorous pot-training by his mother who had a thirst for purity. The result was retention of faecal matter – a private prose and verse typical of the modern sphincterine artist. In ordinary life this basic refusal to co-operate with the universe, to surrender, to give, would in its final stage amount to catatonia! In the "acute" wards at Leatherhead they had one twilight catatonic who could be suspended by his coat-collar – suspended by a meat-hook and hung on a bar where he stayed, softly swinging in the foetal position. Like a bat, dreaming his amniotic dreams, lulled in the imaginary mother-fluid. It was all that was left of a once good poet. The whole of his life had been spent in creative constipation, a refusal to give, so now he went on living like this – a life in inverted comas, to coin a pun. Blanford reached out and touched the earlier manuscript of his book Monsieur. He had given it to Tu and she had had it bound. He wondered where in his imagination, which was his real life, Sutcliffe might be – he would have liked to talk to him. Last heard of in Oxford, famous for his work on his friend's study of the Templar heresy. Blanford's last communication from him had been a cryptic postcard which said: "An Oxford don can be distinguished among all others by the retractable foreskin."
He risked another thought of Tu again and suddenly felt as if he were running a temperature. Breathless, he rose and succeeded in unfastening the French window, to let in a cloud of snowflakes and a rush of cold air. Then, bending his head, he lurched out on to the lawn, watching his breath plume out before him. He rubbed a little snow on his temples with a theatrical gesture. Then he laboriously returned to his fireside seat and his thoughts.
Cade now sidled into the room with the tea things and set them down beside him without a word, his yellow puritanical face set in expressions of fervent concentration such as one only sees on the faces of very stupid but cunning people. He bore in his arms with a kind of meek pride the new orthopaedic waistcoat-brace which had at last arrived from the makers, tailored to size. There was a good hope that this contrivance might allow Blanford one day to throw away his crutches. He gave an exclamation of pleasure while Cade, expressionless as a mandarin, helped him off with the ancient tweed coat he so loved (with its leather-patched elbows) and locked him into the new garment of soft grey rubber and invisible steel. "Stand up, sir," he said at last, and the writer obeyed in smiling wonder; yes, he was free to walk slowly about, to navigate on his own two legs. It was miraculous. But at first he was only allowed to wear it for an hour a day to get his muscles used to its stresses. "A miracle," he said aloud. Cade watched him attentively for a few moments and then, with a nod, turned away to his domestic duties while Blanford, feeling newly born, leaned against the chimney-piece, staring down at his fallen crutches. Cade would never know how much this new invention meant. The valet looked like the lower-class ferret he was. Blanford watched him curiously as he went over the room, emptying the ashtrays and refilling the saucer of water on the radiator, refilling the vase with its hothouse blooms. "Cade," he said, "Constance is dead." Cade nodded expressionlessly. "I know, sir. I was listening on the extension in the hall." That was all. That was Cade all over. His work done, he took himself off with his customary silence and stealth.
Carbon into diamond
Sand into pearl.
All process causes pain, and we are part of process. How chimerical the consolations of art against the central horror of death; being sucked down the great sink like an insect, into the cloaca maxima of death, the anus mundi !Sutcliffe, in writing about him, or rather, he writing about himself in the character of Sutcliffe, under the satirical name of Bloshford in the novel Monsieur had said somewhere: "Women to him were simply a commodity. He was not a fool about them; O no! He knew them inside out, or so he thought. That is to say he was worse than a fool."
Was this true of Constance or of Livia her sister, the writer wondered. The blonde girl and the dark. The girl with the velvet conundrum and the girl with beak of the swan?
Grind grain, press wine,
Break bread, yours mine,
Take breath, face death.
Where had he seen these lines underlined by Constance in a book? At that moment the telephone seemed to thrill again, and he knew at once who it was – it could only be his invention Sutcliffe. He must have heard by telepathy the news about Constance (Tu). He realised now that he had been expecting this call all day.
He did not bother to utter the usual Hullo but immediately said to his confrère, his semblable and frère: "You have heard about Tu," and the voice of Sutcliffe, speaking through a heavy cold, and nervous with regret, replied: "My God, Blanford, what is to become of us?"
"We shall go on sitting about regretting our lack of talent; we shall go on trying to convince people. I am as grieved as you are, Robin, and I never thought I would be. I had so often thought of dying that I thought I had the hippogriff under control; yes, but of course like everyone I cheated in my mind by being the first to die. I suppose Constance did the same."
"You made my own life come to a halt when Pia died," said Sutcliffe both reproachfully and gravely, and then blew his nose loudly. "So I set up shop here for a while to completely rewrite Toby's book about the Templars – to apply a bit of gold leaf here and there, to give it such orotundity as befits a fuddled don. But now he is famous and I feel the need for a change, for a new landscape. Tobias has the Chair in History which he coveted. Why not the Sofa? He will live on in a conical dismay, lecturing loudly on the plasticity of pork to the new generation of druggie-thuggies." He chuckled, but mirthlessly. "What about me?" he said. "Have you nothing I could do short of entering the Trappe?" "You are dead, Robin," said Blanford. "Remember the end of Monsieur?" "Bring me back then," said Sutcliffe on a heroic note, "and we shall see."
"What happened to the great poem and the Tu Quoque book?" asked Blanford sharply, and Sutcliffe answered: "I was waiting to get over Pia a bit before finishing it. It was cunning of you to make Pia a composite of Constance and Livia, but I never felt I could really achieve the portrait of her simply because I was blinded by love. I wasn't cruel enough. And I wondered about Trash, her black lover. I think your story is better than mine, probably sadder. I don't know. But the death of Tu, of poor Constance, should be celebrated in verse by an Elizabethan."
For some reason this irritated Blanford and he said with asperity, "Well, why not a poem called 'Sutcliffe's Salte Teares upon the tombe of Tu'?"
"Why not?" said his fellow writer, his bondsman, "or perhaps in seventeenth-century style, 'Sutcliffe's Big Boo-Hoo'."
"Poetry," said Blanford on a lower key, talking almost to himself, "which always comes with sadness; poetry, in the jumbo version of the supermarket, enough for a whole family. The economy size. Robby, you can't go on being cheerful in Oxford. Shall I send you to Italy?"
"Another book? Why not?" But Sutcliffe did not sound too sure. "I really think it's your turn to write one – and this time the true story of your love, our love, for Constance and indeed for Livia despite what she did to you, to us, to me. Would it hurt too much if you tried?" Of course it would. Good grief!
Blanford did not answer for a long moment. Then Sutcliffe said, in his old flippant vein: "Last spring I went to Paris with a girl somewhat like Pia-Constance-Livia. The word archi had come into vogue as a prefix to almost everything. Our own translation would be super, I suppose. Well, everything was archi this and archi that. I realised that one might describe me as archicocu, what? Indeed I went so far as to think of myself as absolutely archicocuphosphorescent."
"In a way I did tell the truth about us," said Blanford haltingly. "Livia carried me out of my depth. I had always needed a feather-simple girl; but Livia was only fit to have her tail spliced by a female octoroon. Damn!"
"Aha! but you loved her. We both did. But where you lied was to graft onto her some of the femininity of her sister. You made her a female quaire not a male." After a pause, during which both writers thought furiously about the book which Blanford had called Monsieur and Sutcliffe The Prince of Darkness, their faltering conversation was resumed. If lonely people have a right to talk to themselves couldn't a lonely author argue with one of his own creations – a fellow-writer, Blanford asked himself.
"A hunt for the larval forms of personality! Livia was, as far as I am concerned –" Sutcliffe gave a groan.
"A powder-monkey in Hell," said Blanford almost shouting with pain, because her beauty had really wounded him, driven him indeed mad with vexation.
"A dry water-hole," agreed Sutcliffe. "Who is Livia, what is she?"
All our swains commend her.
Perfection's ape, clad in a toga
And beefed up by the shorter yoga
A Cuvier of the sexual ploy
You forged a girl out of a boy.
You wielded flesh and bones and mind,
She was attentive, tough but kind,
Yet unbeknown, behind your back
She sought the member that you lack.
"Enough, Robin," cried Blanford in a wave of regret and mind-sickness as he thought of the dark head of Livia on the pillow beside him. Sutcliffe laughed sardonically and tormented him with yet another improvisation.
I am loving beyond my means
I am living behind my moans!
Tra la la! Tra la la!
Toi et moi et le chef de gare
Quel bazar, mais quel bazar!
Blanford supposed him to be right; for the story for him could have begun in Geneva – on a sad Sunday in Geneva. It was cold; and ill-assorted, straggly and over-gummy were the bifurcated Swiss under a snow-moon. He closed his eyes the better to hear the tumultuous chatter of stars, or dining later at the Bavaria with her face occupying the centre of his mind, he engulfed the victorious jujubes of mandatory oysters. Ouf! What prose!Nabokov, à moi ! In hotels their lives were wallpapered with sighs. Then tomorrow on the lake, the white stairways to heaven splashed with a wrinkled sunshine. "My sister Livia arrives tomorrow from Venice. She is anxious to meet you."
That was Constance, made for deep attachments as a cello is made for music – the viol's deepness on certain notes, in certain moods. It was ages before they had both realised that the words which passed between them had a certain specific density; they were registered and understood at a level somewhere below that of just ordinary speech. The sisters had just inherited the tumbledown chateau of Tu Duc (hence the nickname for Constance). It was near the village of Tubain in the Vaucluse. Not too far from the one city which, above all others, held for him the greatest number of historic memories.
Here, Sutcliffe interposed his clumsy presence on Blanford's train of thought; sniffing and adjusting those much repaired spectacles of his. "But Livia had what excited you most – the sexual trigger in the blood; she deserved to be commemorated in a style which we might call metarealism – in her aspect of Osiris whose scattered limbs were distributed all over the Mediterranean. Enough of the pornocratic-whimsical, Blanford. For my part I was hunting for a prose line with more body – not paunch, mark you, but body, my boy."
"Remember, Rob," Blanford retorted, "that everything you write about me is deeply suspect – at the best highly arguable. I invented you, after all."
"Or I you, which? The chicken or the egg?"
"The truth of the matter is that we did not really know much about ourselves in those old days; how happy it made one just to squander our youth, lying about in the deep grass eating cherries. The velvet English summers of youth, deep grass, and the clock of cricket balls marking the slow hours of leisure between classes. The distant clapping when someone struck a ball to the boundary merged with but did not drown the steady drizzle of crickets. We slept in the bosom of an eternal summer.
"Tu once said that nature cured her own fertility imbalances by forcing sterile loves up on – illicit in the biological sense. Of what avail our belief in freewill? For her we were sleepwalkers caught in the current of an irresistible sexuality." He said aloud: "Poor enough consolation for the cowardly Robin Sutcliffe, sitting in that sordid house, drinking his way towards his goal – the leap from the bridge. His Charon was the twisted black woman with the crow's beak, who could procure something for every taste."
"I suppose so," said Rob with a sigh. "The bandages, the whip, the handcuffs – I should have put more of that into the book, instead of leaving it for you. She let her dirty rooms out by the hour. I came there hunting for Pia, just as you came in your turn hunting for Livia and found her in bed with that little hunchback with the pistachio eyes."
Excerpted from Livia by Lawrence Durrell. Copyright © 1978 Lawrence Durrell. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsONE A Certain Silence,
TWO Humble Beginnings,
THREE The Consul Awake,
FOUR Summer Sunlight,
FIVE Lord Galen Dines,
SIX Talking Back,
SEVEN Prince Hassad Returns,
EIGHT Lord Galen's Farewell,
NINE The Spree,