|Auction dramatics at Sotheby's.|
One was a first edition of Reflections on a Marine Venus, his book about Rhodes where Durrell lived for two years immediately after leaving Alexandria in 1945. His inscription, dated 1974, says that he spent 'a long period in this island at the end of the war – one of the nicest and best periods of my life'. I know from Eve Durrell that it was paradise for them - Durrell had taken his Alexandrian girlfriend Eve Cohen to Rhodes with him as his secretary and eventually they married there. 'We had the island all to ourselves', Eve said. This inscription gives emphasis to Durrell's remark about Rhodes in his 1978 Greek Islands book, 'They were the happiest two years of my life'.
|The Marine Venus in the Rhodes Museum. 'The sea-water had sucked at her
for centuries, till she was like some white stone jujube ... the
absence of firm outline|
only lent her a soft and confusing grace'.
But he was happiest in Rhodes. Happy that the war was over, happy that he had left Egypt, happy that he was back in Greece. But most of all happily in love with Eve. Eve said the same; they shared love and happiness in Rhodes, a happiness that Durrell recalled many years later despite the final disaster of his marriage to Eve. Paradise for Durrell was Rhodes with Eve, not Nancy and Corfu. Yet oddly Reflections on a Marine Venus lacks that beauty and lightness of touch and subtlety and sadness that imbue Prospero's Cell. The reason is probably very simple: Durrell was too busy living happily to waste his time writing about happiness.
Prospero's Cell, published in 1945, had been written in Alexandria in the immediate breakup of his marriage to Nancy. Reflections on a Marine Venus took longer to write and was published only in 1953. But what Durrell did complete on Rhodes was a light book about people getting lost in a labyrinth, unable to escape. During his last months in Alexandria and when he came to live in Rhodes he wrote Cefalu, published in 1947, later republished as The Dark Labyrinth. The second lot up for auction at Sotheby's included a first edition of this too, inscribed in 1974. 'Human life is a damnable labyrinth out of which one never escapes.'
|Human life is a damnable labyrinth out of which one never escapes.|
But later the notion becomes oppressive, the attempts at play more desperate - in The Avignon Quintet, for all its multiple and dissolving and intertwining and infinitely begating characters, nobody escapes.
|Montségur, last bastion of the Cathars. When they surrendered 220 Cathars were burnt en masse on the lower slope of the mount.|
Durrell carried this gnostic sensibility around with him, and he was the one person he could not escape. But he may have made a mistake in settling in Provence. For all its brightness and life, there is something dark about it, a darkness that Durrell explored in The Avignon Quintet through the Cathars and the Templars, both victims of what he called 'the gas chambers of the pope'. Durrell might have been happier staying in Greece.
|A table waiting at the White House, Durrell's home in Kalami, Corfu.|