DURRELL LIBRARY OF CORFU and COLENSO BOOKS
an important addition to the LAWRENCE DURRELL canon:
publication (June 2018) of
The Placebo consists of the previously unpublished drafts for Tunc (1968): “A Village of Turtle-doves”, “The Placebo: an Attic Comedy” and “Dactyl”.
Dating from 1955 to the mid-1960s, they provide evidence of the evolution of Tunc as Durrell moved from an architectural metaphor for creativity and its relationship with nature (the building by Caradoc of a village in north-east Greece) to the role of Felix Charlock (about to become embroiled in the as yet un-named “Firm”) in pursuit of scientific enquiry in its relation to aesthetics.
The editors have provided two introductory essays: “From Fathy’s Gourna to Durrell’s Peristeri” by David Roessel and “The Placebo as a central text in Lawrence Durrell’s work” by Richard Pine. These analyse the texts and Durrell’s sources, including his friendship with the architect Austen Harrison, his knowledge of the building of New Gourna, in Upper Egypt, by Hassan Fathy, and the socio-cultural context of Greece in the immediate aftermath of the second world war.
Drawing on Durrell’s notebooks, manuscripts and typescripts to establish the principal topics addressed in The Placebo, the editors chart Durrell’s increasing disillusion with the decline of civilisation, the poverty of the written word and the marginalisation of creativity as he worked through a period of professional and personal depression. The Placebo offers a unique opportunity to study a creative intelligence engaging with universal issues in a profoundly personal way, and an insight into Durrell’s compositional methods over a ten-year period.
The text is copiously provided with explanatory notes of Durrell’s borrowings, allusions and quotations from classical Greek literature, philosophy and mythology. Four appendices include drafts of poems later published in The Ikons (1966) and some bizarre episodes in the career of Arthur Sipple, besides the full replies by Austen Harrison to a questionnaire from Durrell regarding the technical requirements of building a village.
The Placebo is also distinguished from Durrell’s other novels in that it is set entirely in Greece. The book is illustrated with photographs of Athens in the first half of the twentieth century, showing the city much as it still was in the period in which the book is set, the late 1940s to early 1950s. The cover is based on Durrell’s sketch for the village of “Peristeri”.
RICHARD PINE is Director of the Durrell Library of Corfu, the successor to the Durrell School of Corfu which he founded in 2001. The author of Lawrence Durrell: the Mindscape (1994/2005) his fifteen books include The Diviner: the art of Brian Friel (1990/1999), The Thief of Reason: Oscar Wilde and Modern Ireland (1995), The Disappointed Bridge: Ireland and the Post-Colonial World (2014), Greece Through Irish Eyes (2015) and Minor Mythologies: a Student’s Guide to Popular Literature (2018). He is a guest lecturer at the Ionian University, a columnist for The Irish Times and Kathimerini and an obituarist for The Guardian.
DAVID ROESSEL is the Peter and Stella Yiannos Professor of Greek Language and Literature at Stockton University. He is the author of In Byron’s Shadow: Modern Greece in the English and American Imagination (2002).