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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 Ruling Passions
By Lawrence Durrell
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1983 Lawrence Durrell
All rights reserved.
The prince was in a vexation. He had decided on the spur of the moment to return to Egypt with Affad whom he took to task very severely for having succumbed, as he put it, to the "whim" of falling in love with Constance. He pursued the theme doggedly as they rode in the official limousine towards the airport of Geneva. "It was completely uncalled for," he said, "in view of your superior experience and the engagements you had entered into with the seekers." He was referring to the small brotherhood of gnostics in Alexandria to which they both belonged and in the tenets of whose creed they both deeply believed. Yes, on this score Affad felt deeply guilty, deeply betrayed by his own desire. The face of Constance rose up in his memory as if to reproach him for what he could not help. "You had no right to fall in love," the Prince went on testily. "I will not have her hurt." Affad made an impatient noise in his throat. "There is no such thing, as you have said. We must find another word. I will not have engouement. It is something of another order. Not infatuation at all." (They were speaking French, their tone was high.) Then after a long silence Affad said, "The experience was new to me; I ran aground – j' ai calé. Prince, it was not myself acting. Besides, you talk as if you were in love with her yourself." This put the Prince into a fearful rage because it was true. He made a cryptic gobbling noise like an offended turkey and blew his nose in a cambric handkerchief.
The problem was insoluble. Surely the insidious goblins of love had ceased to exist on the thin moral fare offered by the modern world? Affad was thinking with deep desire mingled with remorse of that secret field or realm which constitutes the moral geography of the mystic. His friend Balthazar had once said ruefully, "I thought I was living my own life but all the time it was really living me without any extraneous aid. It had taken half a century for me to realise this! What a blow to my self-esteem!"
"Your behaviour is out of date," said the Prince again. "Since contraception things have changed. Women were once unique events in the life of a man; now woman is a mere commodity like hay. Availability has bred contempt."
"Not Constance!" he said.
"Of course Constance!" said the old man.
Affad thought back in silence. When he had first seen her he had been unable to believe his eyes, so original had her style of beauty seemed. ("I hate people acting out of epoch," said the Prince vehemently, and he intended the remark to wound.) "In fact so do I. But in any given moment of time some part of us is out of date, stays chronologically prehistoric in the most obstinate way. The kisses of ancestors take firm possession of our senses; we are mere distributors of love, not inventors. Even less investors."
"Fiddlesticks!" said the Prince.
"I was alarmed to find that for once this demonic sentiment was not moribund. I tried to escape it in vain, I really tried!"
"Fiddlesticks!" cried the Prince and gave a tiny stamp on the floor of the limousine. He was beside himself with ... not only moral vexation but also jealousy. Affad said, "You are behaving as if I were a curate who had been untrue to his vows of chastity. I won't have it." But this was unfair, the business was much graver. It was in the most literal sense a matter of life and death and sacrifice. He had fallen short of his own intentions. In ancient times human sacrifice was invented to placate this particular demon. Think of the hundreds of imberb boys and impubert girls it had needed to placate the Cretan minotaur! "On my last birthday my old aunt Fatima sent me a telegram saying, 'Death is of no importance to It: why then to you?' Was she wrong?"
"Yes, she was wrong," said Affad, out of sheer contrariness, for the Prince was very annoying and there was no point in continuing to give in to him. On theological matters it was another affair – he would have to face the Star Chamber, so to speak, and answer for his fidelity; but this was an inner committee which had every right to probe his sincerity. They had never heard of Constance, like the Prince. "As a matter of fact Constance herself took a rather robust medical attitude to the sentiment you so much disapprove of," he said, and he felt the Prince's mind pucker up around his affection for the girl. She had once referred scornfully to love's angoisse vésperale, evening distress, but then had softened of a sudden, tears had come into her eyes, she had put her hand over her mouth as if to discourage a disposition to cry. Under her breath she had added. "Mon Dieu! Quel sentiment de déréliction!"
"Well, I suppose it is all fiddlesticks, as you say, but it is an expensive form of folly. She will take to her bed with a high fever and transfer her angustia to her medical duties. How to face those huge heaps of dead leaves, the neurotic patients who besiege her?"
They rode on for a while in silence, the Prince cracking his finger joints with an ill-tempered scowl. That brave girl, he was thinking, having to defend herself from the charm and folly of this suave python of a man. It was quite maddening for he loved Affad also as he would have loved his closest friend.
"I hardly dare to confide my distress in you because you react so violently. What would you say, I wonder, if you knew that I had been trying to make her pregnant – to face total and irrevocable disaster, so to speak, which would have united us definitively. Eh?" The elder man jumped at the confidence but did not comment upon it; he just sat looking straight ahead for a long moment before asking, "Does she know yet? For certain?" and Affad took his arm affectionately as he replied, "Unfortunately yes!" Rather surprisingly the Prince turned his birdbright glance upon him and said with unexpected sympathy, "Bad luck! Poor girl! But it would have rendered your decision to leave her even harder, even more cruel. You have behaved like a great coward in all this business, I feel; you have failed on both sides, Eros and Thanatos. Yes, you may well hang your head, my boy. And I suppose you blame love for all this lack of moral fibre?"
"Fiddlesticks!" said Affad in his turn with a blush which showed that he had felt the force of the reproof. His thoughts had come full circle and settled into the deep gloom engendered by his self-reproach and by the knowledge that in the last analysis it was the secret brotherhood which had the ultimate claims upon his life, and that at any moment they could foreclose upon his future. What a curse it was, after all, this love which set friend against friend, lover against loved. The whole circle of his friendships had shifted, been displaced by Constance's choice of him.
He had spent a no less gloomy moment at the bedside of the recumbent Blanford whose friendship he now treasured almost as much as that of the Prince. "It was my fault for letting her see passages from the bloody novel; it made her understand how crucial your beliefs were to your life ... you hadn't told her, had you? O God, I am so sorry. But from her point of view you are simply ill, so to speak; you are suffering from a dangerous form of religious mania which she must be dying to cure in order to keep you!" Affad wrung his hands as he listened. He implored his friend to spare him any further analysis. The "bloody" novel lay before Blanford on the bed. He touched it wistfully from time to time with an air of deep regret. "Sebastian, please forgive me!" he said.
Affad rose. He stood for a while looking down upon the troubled face of his recumbent friend with affection and sympathy. "Aubrey!" he said aloud and fell silent. Just the word, like a note in music. He did not add a goodbye for it would have seemed out of place – for he was not going anywhere in the profoundest sense. But he did add: "Please write to me when you feel like it; I am not sure when I shall come back, but my intention of the moment is to return in three or four months."
"I know you will come back. I have begun to see a little way into the pattern, the apparent confusion is beginning to make sense. I realise now that I came to Egypt because I was ill, I was afraid of the man on my back. I did a Sinbad in the hope of ridding myself of Sutcliffe – you will have noticed my various attempts to dispense with him, to make him commit suicide for example, using the bridge as a symbol. I had to have my spine shot into holes before I realised that the only way to deal with the Socratic Voice is to concretise it, let it live, manifest itself. Then it becomes a harmless ghost, it passes off in a fever, it writes the classic phrase for you. It can do everything but love. That you must do for yourself."
"O God!" said Affad dismally. "Again!"
"I had formed him just as one forms a renal calculus – or a teratoma, or the shadowy figure of one's twin which must be thrown by the ever-present witness of birth, the placenta. To hell with all this verbiage! The creature is alive, he is coming to lunch, he will even get an O.B.E. in a while for his services to the Crown. O God, Sebastian, I wish you were staying; I have learned so much from you!"
Still his friend said nothing but simply stood looking down at him affectionately. Blanford had become very thin and pale and drawn-looking; the spinal operations had taken their toll of his health, but so far they had been successful, and the surgeons believed that the next and most critical would be the last. After that it was up to the musculature to recover its tone once more, and for the patient to begin to dream of sitting up, and then walking once more. It seemed such a dream from this vantage point in time. He himself hardly dared contemplate the thought for fear of an ultimate disappointment. He poured out some mineral water from the bottle at his bedside and drank down a draught, but not without pledging his companion ironically in the harmless brew. Alcohol for the nonce was forbidden or he would have proposed a drink in token of farewell. But it was better thus.
So Affad had taken his leave in a thoughtful and sorrowful silence. And the same afternoon while the nurse was bathing and dressing Blanford, Constance looked in for a brief, unexpected visit – the new Constance, so to speak. For she was pale with sleeplessness and professional stress and her talk was languid and of an unusual vagueness. She did not mention her lover, nor did he, for his own distress and confusion were further deepened by the obstinate knowledge that he himself loved her and regretted the harm caused by his selfishness and self-importance. They sat for a while in silence, her hand lying upon his arm, full of an unstressed affection, and perhaps a tiny bit pleading, as if for sympathy. They were not at the end of their surprises, it would seem. It was the death of Livia, now.
To her immense surprise the information had come as a profound shock to Felix Chatto, of all people – he had been almost physically knocked over by it. All his new social assurance and devil-may-care airs had deserted him. The easy splendour of the man of the world – it had vanished, to leave in its place a frightened undergraduate. It was indeed a profound puzzle to the boy himself – yes, while Livia was alive he had lavished an adolescent attachment upon her; but he had never had any faith in his own feelings, he just enjoyed making his friend Aubrey suffer – as apparently had she. Now with the knowledge that Constance brought him he had made the discovery that, after all, he must have loved her – for he loved her still, retroactively, retrospectively – he was sick with the thought of her disappearance, even though he had hardly spared her a thought in all these long mysterious months during which she had vanished and her continuing existence could only be supposed! (I am sick, thought Constance, of sitting at bedsides and prescribing sedatives!) But this paradoxical behaviour touched and interested her, as much as it seemed to surprise the boy himself. He was, for example, avid for every scrap of information concerning the death of Livia; he wanted to know in great detail how she had been found, how the body had been cut down and disposed of, even such minor points as the slit vein in the thigh – Constance had humoured the old superstition about being buried alive by accident in which her sister had believed, and made sure with a femoral incision! She remembered her own insistence upon every scrap of detail in the case of Sam's death – how she had implored Blanford to tell her everything down to the smallest fact, pain her though it might. It was a way of mastering pain to absorb it like this – she now recognised that Felix Chatto was doing the same thing.
It was curious also that the references to Smirgel, the German informer who had enjoyed a somewhat enigmatic if not mysterious relationship with Livia, touched a chord in the memory of Felix – for he recalled that when they were all together in Provence before the war Livia's disappearances often seemed attributable to the existence of a German scholar who had been entrusted with the task of restoring some of the more famous paintings in the town collection. He was rather older than Livia and seemed a harmless, scholarly personage. Was it Smirgel? And did their attachment date from then? She must ask Affad to find out; then all of a sudden she felt the wild pang of her lover's absence like a knifethrust in the loins.
"It must have been him, Smirgel!" she cried with undue emphasis, to stifle the pain of the memory. "He told me he was restoring two famous ones. One was Clement's Cockayne." Where had this memory surfaced from? She did not know. Felix said: "Someone was filling her head with stuff about Goethe and Kleist and Novalis with which she would bore the devil out of poor Aubrey who was reciting Keats in his sleep. Somehow I must get over this soon, I can't let her spoil my life by accident like this." So love had its ignominious side also?
Constance walked back to the clinic in a quiet despair at ever restoring the world around her to some sort of coherence. She told herself: "There's a barrier that goes down between you – the process starts at first sight, Shakespeare was perfectly right, like Petrarch, like Marlowe. Click! Of a sudden you are thinking each other's thoughts. Every other mental predisposition seems meaningless, trivial, vulgar.... There is nothing more to understand, it would seem!" Clouds had formed and swung low over the lake preparing for one of those electrical thunderstorms which punctuate life in mountain scenery. She was still living out the supreme collision of that first embrace, now so far back in time that it seemed prehistoric. Yet it was there, ever-present on the surface of her thought. She had changed very much. In the margin of a book she had borrowed from Sutcliffe she had found the scribbled words: "The same people are also others without realising it." The wind had risen and the waters of the lake were marked with dark prints of paws. The sky had swelled, as ominous as the nervous breakdown she could feel approaching her across the water. She tried once or twice to weep but it did not work; her mind was as dry as a bone. Then it started raining and she ran the last hundred yards to the ferry with her handbag held above her head.
Schwarz her doctor associate sat like a graven image at his desk reading the News of the World raptly. After long days spent with the insane he found these excursions into reality, as he called them, most refreshing; in this long catalogue of crime and folly, of mishaps and maladies, he felt that the real world was asserting itself, marking out its boundaries. It saw precarious, full of penalties – for one slip of the tongue or the mind and one became food for the doctor or the psychiatrist, a tenant of this quiet hotel set among lawns and orchards beside the lake. Here among the worm-casts of old theologies they knew for certain that science had abdicated, that the law of entropy ruled. Reality which was once so very "real" now only manifested a "tendency to exist"! All truth had become provisional and subject to scale. Truth was only true "on the whole". Someone, perhaps Schwarz himself, had scribbled upon the blackboard above her desk the verse:
Though dice thrown twice
May remain the same dice
Yet chancy their fall
For hazard is all!
Excerpted from Sebastian by Lawrence Durrell. Copyright © 1983 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 The Recall,
TWO The Inquisition,
THREE Inner Worlds,
FOUR The Escape Clause,
FIVE The Return Journey,
SIX The Dying Fall,
SEVEN Other Dimensions Surprised,
EIGHT After the Fireworks,
NINE End of the Road,
TEN The End of an Epoch,