Monday, 14 July 2014

Lawrence Durrell's Justine: The 'Final' Typescript

Sotheby's on New Bond Street.
Today I went to New Bond Street to visit Sotheby's, the auction house.  Tomorrow they are auctioning some books and papers to do with Lawrence Durrell that include what Sotheby's describes as the 'final typescript' of Durrell's novel Justine, the first volume of The Alexandria Quartet.

I thought I had seen every stage in Durrell's writing of Justine, starting with the notebook he called Notes for Alex, begun in Alexandria in 1944 - though one could go back before that, to a 1938 notebook written up in London, his originally intended setting for what he was then calling The Book of the Dead, set in Bloomsbury specifically.

I also thought I had seen the final working typescript of Justine, a typed-out version of the novel on which Durrell added some hand-written notes and from which a clean typescript would have been produced and handed over to Faber and Faber, his publisher.  So what was this so-called final typescript about?  I had to go and see.

A page of the so-called final typescript with Durrell's handwritten alterations, early 1956.
I compared the typescript to Faber and Faber's first edition of Justine, but any edition will do.  Take for example the typescript page 229 (see above); Nessim and Melissa are making love; a few pages later we come to the climax of the novel, the duck shoot on Lake Mareotis.  This typescript page corresponds to pages 204-5 of the Faber edition of Justine (both hardback and original paperback versions), and to page 166 of the four-volume-in-one Faber edition of The Alexandria Quartet, hardback and paperback.

If you look at the top paragraph of the typescript and count nine lines down you come to the sentence which originally read, 'They lay together for a long time in trembling silence'. Durrell alters that in red ink, so that it now reads, 'They lay together for a long time in perfect silence seeking through the darkness of their feelings for the way forward'.  And that is exactly as that sentence appears in the first edition of Justine (see the top of page 205 below).

The corresponding part of Justine, first Faber edition 1957.
But look at page 205 of the first edition again and you will notice that before 'They lay together ...' it says 'nakedness always gave her fulness and balance: the craft she lacked in the cabaret'.  That is what it says in the book, but it does not say that in the typescript.  Durrell would cut everything before 'They lay together', but he did not do it in this tyepescript; he did it in the final working typescript, the one I have seen and which is in the British Library.

Therefore Sotheby's is mistaken in describing this as the final typescript of Justine.  A simple comparison of the typescript with the published novel would have revealed that.

The carelessness does not end there.  The Sotheby's catalogue describes the typescript as 'seemingly lacking six leaves'.  But the typescript ends just before the duck shoot when there are still another forty pages of the published novel to come; 'lacking sixty leaves' would more accurately have described the typescript.

All the same, the truncated typescript being auctioned tomorrow is a valuable document because it allows anyone studying how Durrell composed Justine to see yet another stage that he went through.

In fact one of the most remarkable things about Durrell's composition of Justine is how much of the shaping took place in the last stages, as here in the typescript being auctioned by Sotheby's, and that so many of the most memorable lines and passages were composed at almost the last moment, written in by hand onto the final working typescript held by the British Library.

Basalt bust of the Egyptian goddess Sekhmet above the entrance to Sotheby's.  They have dated it to about 1320 BC and in this they are at least close enough.  It is the oldest outdoor monument in London.  It has been a Sotheby's trophy ever since the 1880s when it was sold at auction for £40 but the buyer failed to collect.