Heart of Desuetude

“He had heard and read of passion, but had regarded it as something which would never impinge on him, and now here it was…”  Mountolive – Lawrence Durrell

In the third of the Alexandria Quartet series by Lawrence Durrell, (you may recall my earlier posts on the first book Justine, and the second, BalthazarMountolive, the focus of the familiar story is now set upon the idea of power. As the story is seemingly repeated through each new eponymous character the genius of Durrell is really exposed. One begins to reassess the simplest assumptions: what looked like love was mere deception, what looked like an impossible twisted dark corner is true love, true friendship, and affection. Are life and truth so slippery as that? Yes, I suppose it is so.

“Truth is so bitter that the knowledge of it confers a kind of luxury.”  Mountolive

The love of power, the passionate ardor with which it is sought and wielded is examined with some intensity in this story, but it is backlit by a touching friendship and love affair between Mountolive and the mother of Nessim, Leila.  A tragic sort of love crushed by fate and weakness of feeling perhaps… The grunting displays of power  as well as the equally strong attempts to avoid dealing with a position of power, whether that position was sought for or not are shown through personal, national, and vocational relationships. Many people, maybe most, do not actually want to be in charge or deal with the ancillary pressure that a position of power brings; especially as power often devolves into paper pushing bureaucratic horrors.

In the gear up to a writer’s conference that I am participating in starting today (I’m a little nervous, if I focus on Mountolive maybe it will go away, maybe I’ll go away…) but I digress, there were a series of essays that we had to read, each others as well as published works; the one that I loved the most and which reminds me of the themes of Mountolive in many ways, is the one written by George Orwell: Shooting an Elephant. The final line in the story: ” I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool.”  struck me hard. Sometimes it really is that simple- that pathetic. The acts committed by people in power, acts that wouldn’t have or shouldn’t have occurred and yet somehow seem unavoidable, are so complex. We humans are so strange.

Truth naked and unashamed. That’s a splendid phrase. But we always see her as she seems, never as she is. Each man has his own interpretation.”  Mountolive

The last and final book in this series is Clea. She has been in and out of the first three and I am very curious about her. Durrell is never obvious in which character he will focus on or which perspective. Even from book to book a single character’s life can be revealed and obfuscated in the most interesting and authentic way.

“When you are in love you know that love is a beggar, shameless as a beggar; and the responses of merely human pity can console one where love is absent by a false travesty of an imagined happiness.”  Mountolive – Lawrence Durrell

Sculpture by Eric Ryan, my father.

15 responses to “Heart of Desuetude

  1. when I think of the great English writers, I always forget about Durrell. Like most good literature I read it as a child and can’t get my brain into thinking it is adult stuff. and of course there is always finding time. I seem to be unable to read much that isn’t on a screen these days. good luck with the course.

  2. What a magnificent post. I seem to followed your exploration of writing with every word expressed.

  3. I can hardly wait to see what you have to say about Clea. You sent me back to some of my own posts about Durrell, and I was surprised to find they all mentioned John Crowley, who recommended your blog to his Livejournal readership today. Durrell, or Richard Underwood’s way of looking at Durrell, changed my life many years ago now.

    • Thank you, they are really wonderful books. I will get to Clea after I finish my current book. I love coming back to him in between books, picking up another side of the story, it’s something like catching up with an old friend. I’ll be quite sad when I’m all done with the series.

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  5. Hello, I am looking for more information on the work of Eric Ryan, can you give me any advice on where I might see more images of his work?

    • Hi Dana,
      I am Eric Ryan’s daughter. All of the images of his work that I have posted (there are four so far) are in our possession. He was the head of the art department at Colgate University until his death in 1971, and they have a few pieces in their collection (an arts building at Colgate as well as some studios are named after him). Smith College also has a piece of his, but most of his work is in private collections. I could provide you with more images of the work that we have if you are interested, or copies of pieces that are in books or pamphlets that I have…
      Thanks for your interest.

  6. Also, if you’d like to see the other pieces that I have posted, just click the hyperlinks to the other books of the Alexandria Quartet – Justine, Balthazar, and the final, Clea

    • Thankyou, they are wonderful! The paintings in particular interest me. His work reminds me of another artist, Arnold Blanch. They both worked in Woodstock NY in the late 1950’s. My Grandmother Alice Lewis, had an art gallery there from about 1950-1975. I was born there.
      I wonder if you would mind taking this conversation to a less public format? I have a number of questions for you if you are willing to carry on this thread! I am on facebook, where we could use the messaging system. Or email if you prefer….or even, dare I suggest…snailmail!

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  8. Hi Jessica, I enjoyed reading your posts on your dad (who is my namesake and uncle) and seeing more of his art. I would like to hear more from you if you’d be interested in corresponding.
    Eric Ryan

    • Hi Eric, that was very disorienting seeing your name! Took me a moment (an added confusion is that my second son’s name is Eric as well!). I would love to hear from you. You can email me at jryan@smith.edu. Thank you for your comment and for reaching out. Jessica

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