DURRELL Lawrence - Two cards Signed 1980 regarding the genesis of his novel Nunquam
Lawrence DURRELL (1912-1990)Autograph Letter Signed (“Lawrence Durrell”) on a postcard to Professor Pierre Citron, discussing his novel Nunquam, in response to a lengthy letter which Professor Citron had sent him.
Half page 8vo, Corfu, n.d. [postmarked 25 July 1980].
Together with a Typed Letter Signed (“Lawrence Durrell”), again addressed to Professor Citron, continuing the discussion of Nunquam in relation to a novel by Villiers de l’Isle-Adam.
1½ pages 8vo on card, Sommières, 5 August n.y. [but 1980].
Together with the autograph envelope.
A photocopy of Professor Citron’s letter to Durrell, written from the Sorbonne where he was teaching, is included. In five very closely written pages in English, Professor Citron enquires whether Durrell was familiar with Villiers de l’Isle-Adam’s novel L’Eve Future, and discusses at length the similarities between that work and Durrell’s Nunquam, while making it perfectly clear that he did not suspect plagiarism, but was, rather, interested in what influence one writer might have on another. Citron’s points are very interesting, and he ends his letter with a declaration of his great admiration for Durrell as a writer, his final paragraph reading “If you are kind enough to take your time to answer me, I thank you warmly in advance; if not, thank you all the same, just for existing.”
Durrell did answer Citron, not once but twice. His first reply, on a picture postcard of Corfu, gives some insight into Durrell’s thinking, which is expanded upon in the second letter.
“Thank you for your interesting letter. I reply hastily from Corfu to tell you that I have not alas read the text you mention, though I must now. I much admire the author. I thought perhaps that I had unconsciously pinched ideas from Hoffman or Stevenson but could not recall which. Such is our ‘originality’ that we all burgle ideas by osmosis so I am not surprised that I have a predecessor among the robots. The most recent roboteer is Woody Allen who has done his homework. Refusal to buy my film rights was accompanied by the statement that he had used all the best effects.”
Ten days later, Durrell continued the correspondence:
“Back in France once more I write to thank you for the books which I found waiting for me and which I am enjoying very much. It is every bit as good as you say it is; its strange I knew the Contes and not this though it appears in many bibliographies. My own effort concerning the death of Aphrodite and the Faustian compact over matter etc employs also these macabre dollies like everyone else. My point of departure however was post-psychoanalytic. You might say that my book begins with the suicide of Tausk and the reissue of his text on the “appareil a Influencer”; my subject (it was only an enquiry encoded as a sort of pantomime) concerned the progressive atrophy of the human spirit following the clear rejection of the Mother (both person and principle.) In the volume of Tausk there is an admirable essay about dummies by Gillibert which mentions the Villers book. As I told you in a joking sort of way my own book might be thought of as an attempt to rewrite and update Lady Chatterly [sic] …
But I see that you already know this line of country in great detail. I was always tempted to do a sequel to ‘A rebours’ concerning a female dummy. What would Villers have thought of a modern American sex shop?”
Durrell’s Nunquam, the second part of The Revolt of Aphrodite, told the story of the creation of a robot as the “perfect” woman, a theme also taken up by Auguste de Villiers l’Isle-Adam in his 1880s novel, L’Eve Future, in which the early symbolist writer coined the word “android”. Villiers de l’Isle-Adam later became friendly with Joris-Karl Huysmans, author of A rebours, in which the hero, a decadent aesthete cites Villiers de l’Isle-Adam as one of his favourite authors. In turn, A rebours is said to have influenced Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray.
Although the two volumes of The Revolt of Aphrodite, Tunc and Nunquam received a less favourable critical reception at the time of publication than his earlier masterpiece, The Alexandria Quartet, they presented an interesting view of the ills of modern society in a distinctly dystopian setting.
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