Forgetting A Homeless Colonial:
Gender, Religion and Transnational Childhood
in Lawrence Durrell's Pied Piper Of Lovers


James Gifford

The University of Alberta, Canada

Copyright © 2001 by James Gifford, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. Copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the editors are notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.

  1. Lawrence Durrell's works occupy an uncertain canonic status in Postcolonial Literature. They most often are read as the dying breath of Empire gazing at the exotic Middle and Far East, but they also are read as complex renderings of the problems of representation, homelessness and national identity. On the far right end of this spectrum of readings, Terry Eagleton assures the reader (who, he claims, need not actually read the primary works) that Durrell's novels comprise "a monument of fake exoticism and pseudo-profundity which some of us at the time mistook for great literature. It was an adolescent taste" (Eagleton n.pag.); moreover, Eagleton asserts that Durrell "carved himself a literary colony out of Alexandria."[1] In opposition stands Caryl Phillips, who does suggest reading and acknowledges that Durrell's "expatriate status greatly influenced his work and he openly acknowledged a 'love-hate' relationship with Britain. . . . His contempt is evident" ("London" 88). Ian MacNiven takes the same stance, contending "the lonely colonial child shadowed the cosmopolitan writer" (A Biography xvii). Notably, Phillips is referring to Durrell's first novel, Pied Piper Of Lovers (1935), while Eagleton is referring to the much later Alexandria Quartet (1957-60). The first work is largely autobiographical and as a juvenile work it reveals its theoretical apparatus quite easily, while the later quartet is emphatically not biographical [2] and refuses to render its theoretical agenda at a superficial level of reading. This article will address Durrell's first novel, including the problem of Durrell as both author and autobiographical subject in the work, while keeping issues of colonialism and the idea of 'home' at the forefront. However, I do this with an intent to more generally address the ways in which a superficial reading of Durrell's works can misrepresent their careful and nuanced approach to transience, home and Empire within the broader context of human frailties and fears.

  2. As I have discussed misreadings of the Alexandria Quartet's philosophic basis elsewhere,[3] I will leave the issue aside. In this article I am primarily suggesting -- via a close reading and attention to biographical echoes, rather than via a more theoretically minded approach -- that the early Pied Piper Of Lovers reveals a gendered tension between mother India and father England, Durrell having been the eldest child of two British colonialists. This gendered sense of home and exile will anchor my discussion. As Durrell himself claimed, "my thinking is coloured by the fact that I am a colonial, an Anglo-Indian" (A Biography 1), and as Nambiar notes, "Unlike Kipling Durrell believes that the East has a major role to play" (43). Also of note, Durrell's parents (Lawrence Samuel and Louisa Durrell) never actually saw Britain until after their son's birth,[4] but they nonetheless sent their eldest child 'home' to be educated, leaving him there while they returned to India. In interview, Durrell reiterated "that vague sense of exile [from India and home] has never quite left me" (Supposer 24).

  3. From the gendered division of his transnational childhood, Durrell developed -- while still very young[5] -- a narrative around a religious quandary, using Freud's sense of fear of fatherly retribution or the loss of fatherly love as the source of the religious impulse. As the semi-autobiographical Pied Piper of Lovers develops, the maternal homeland (India), the mother-figure (recurrent in nearly all the female characters), and the female god (mother earth and lover) all come into opposition to the fatherland (Britain), the father character (John Clifton), and the paternal Christian God. As MacNiven relates, "Mother, family and culture tied Larry to India; father, custom and ambition pushed him towards England" (A Biography 49). The result of this conflict is a confused and panicked protagonist, Walsh Clifton,[6] who is anxiety-ridden over death, dislocated from 'home,' and fragmented in his sense of gender. Most significantly, for an artist whose "work lacks that tension between home and abroad" (Eagleton), there is a very clear tension at work in every level of the novel, where the fundamental fracture is between 'home' in India and 'abroad' in Europe. This tension between home and abroad infects the subsequent divisions within family, sex, religion and race. Such a tension does not exist in Durrell's later works because while 'home' was "a peculiarly inspiring word . . . applied to England it meant less than nothing" (Pied 82).

  4. Of note to the connections between gender and nation at play here, as well as the father-mother categorization of nation, the novel is inscribed to Durrell's mother: "To my dear mother, but for whom. . . ." (Pied n.pag). Following this declaration, the prologue proceeds to describe the death of Walsh Clifton's mother, an intolerably corporeal Indian, in opposition to the spiritual father who has her buried in a makeshift coffin.[7] On her casket there is a dislocated advertisement that Krishnati, the carpenter, "had not planed . . . smooth. . . . [It has] stamped capital letters that herded unsteadily together and displayed their meaning for all to see" (Pied 34). The "epitaph, some parting tribute to hollow flesh" (34), reads:
    (The white man's delight.)

    (Pied 35)

    This inscription very adequately details the role of the Indian mother to the British father, who is "heartily glad that he did not belong to this ignorant people" (34), to whom his son does belong. Moreover, in one of Walsh's dream-sequences later in the novel, this same inscription reappears on wood "frail and fleshy and white" (Pied 153), as if ownership and colonial dominance were inscribed on the mother's decaying body itself. With regard to Walsh's racial status, Durrell himself was Anglo-Indian only in the original national sense of the term; however, he writes Walsh (his alter-ego) as Anglo-Indian in the racial sense.

  5. In learning to need his father's love and approval, since his mother is dead, Walsh equates maternity and the earth with nightmarish mortality and corporeality. Hence, his mother and mother-nation are something to be dominated and controlled, as his father has done. In this manner, the colonial situation of growing up in India equates to the sexual and gender relations that Walsh Clifton experiences in regard to the culture of the colony and Britain, as well as in regard to his family life. This equation is inverted at the conclusion of Pied Piper of Lovers, where the loam of the field, the midwife who saved Walsh's life in the opening scenes, and the female body become the only effective means to escape the terror of death that the imposed paternal god, father and British nation cannot abate and actually serve to increase.

  6. The Freudian Oedipal struggle and need for paternal protection is overt in the novel, with the exception being the lack of an actual mother. Walsh and John Clifton live as bachelors at first; however, Walsh soon learns about power relations as well as his own male omnipotence over women and the world, with the exception of his father. In his early youth of continual travel, Walsh "betted himself . . . that no other boy of his age had traveled quite so far, or remembered quite so much of importance. . . . [The bets] always gave him a deep sense of personal superiority over the whole of the human race, excepting his father" (Pied 39). This superiority becomes distinctly gendered as Walsh grows up and gains power over his "jerky Irishwoman" nanny who "talked in a funny way" (Pied 40):
    She had smacked him fiercely on several occasions and once he had retaliated, hitting her on the nose with his chubby fist. She was so surprised that she burst out crying. There was an example of his powers. . . . He had provoked a grown-up to cry. . . . They had left her behind. . . . It was pleasing to imagine them going off on a journey, puffed with importance, and leaving her behind without any money. . . . He often imagined her starving to death. (Pied 40)
    In a sharp juxtaposition, with regard to the father John Clifton, Walsh must still submit to punishment, rather than administer it:
    "Walsh . . . damn you." He struck the boy across the mouth with his hand. . . . "Destructive little swine". . . . Walsh sat quite still, too surprised to speak, or even to acknowledge the pain of the blow with a burst of crying. Numbly he sucked the bruise on the inside of his lip, staring up at his father with wide frightened eyes. (Pied 69)
    With regard to these two incidents, Walsh has learned that in the system where the father embodies power, he does so via the domination of woman (or the feminized), the colony and religion. Walsh can gain his powers only via the violence of masculine domination of the ethnically Other, while he is likewise subject to the violence of his father(s).

  7. In his reaction to this chain of domination -- being both the dominator of the weaker sex and ethnicity, as well as the one dominated by superior father figures -- Walsh comes to define himself via this sense of his masculinity. Being male means fitting into this system of domination, and being male is preferable to being otherwise. In accepting his repressed corporeality -- a theme that is intimately linked to anxiety and death throughout the novel -- Walsh discovers that
    It was a magnificent feat, his being sick with such ease and pleasure [over the side of a paddlewheel ship]. It placed him far, far above all those blowsy women who lurked in cabins with basins, retching and groaning, and hiding their shame from the menfolk: but then, of course, he was a man, not a girl, and that altered things considerably. (Pied 42; Spirit 166)[8]
    The distinction I am interested in here is between the child Walsh self-identifying as a "man, not a girl" (42), which places him not only outside the dominated gender-group, but outside the dominated age category as well. Walsh is a man, not a girl or a boy. In self-identifying himself in this manner, he symbolically gains powers over gender, age and ethnicity, such that he is placing himself outside the framework of being dominated by his masculine superiors. Moreover, the acceptance of the problem of corporeality (in vomiting) is intimately tied to the self-esteem boost predicated on this gender superiority.

  8. This series of domination by and unto Walsh continues through the father, John Clifton, the fathers of the monastery where Walsh is educated, the vicious schoolmaster who represents the father-figure of England, and ultimately to God the Father who enforces this entire system of domination through fear of reprisal and fear of the loss of love (ie: death, as will be detailed below). Walsh has this patriarchal system inscribed on him even further after the return to the fatherland of England. In line with the biographical aspects of the novel, Durrell recounts his being 'sent home' to London from India at age eleven:
    It was my father who decided to send me to England. My mother was against the idea. . . . It was the first time I had witnessed a really heated argument at home; it was so calm as a rule. Seeing my mother cry was a real body-blow. But my father wouldn't give in. . . . It was then that the 'transference' happened. I attack England because I identify it with my father. . . . I reacted with everything I had against England, primarily in order to break my father's will. . . .

    I must admit that I was terribly spoilt by my mother in India. Being exiled to England severed that bond. (Supposer 25)

    The 'transference' Durrell alludes to is the same created in his novel, where Walsh's punishment at the hands of his father and the church fathers in India becomes his punishment by the British school system. His housemaster in England shames Walsh's constructed masculinity, feminizing him in a symbolic rape, making him "bend over his moth-eaten sofa" (174), saying: "'Lower. Get down lower.' . . . He took an uncertain skip across the room and slashed Walsh across the buttock. Then, carefully observing the place where the first haphazard blow had landed, he cut at it again and again." (Pied 175). Walsh "felt tired and utterly humiliated" (Pied 175).

  9. Walsh's bitterness with regard to England -- which four years after the publication of Pied Piper Of Lovers becomes Lawrence Lucifer's 'pudding island' and 'English Death' in the surrealist The Black Book (1939) -- is apparent in his first view of it during the emasculating travel West. This sea journey is in contrast to the empowering boat-ride in India, where Walsh places himself above the "blowsy women" (Pied 42; Spirit 166). Caryl Phillips comments:
    I have imagined the scene many times. . . . Crowds of West Indians are peering from the deck of a ship, eagerly securing their first view of the white cliffs of Dover. . . . At the moment of that first sighting I imagine that their dominant emotion would have been that of a profound sense of loss, for clearly they knew that it would be many years before they would return home to loved ones and familiar landscapes. ("A Dream Deferred" 106)
    In order to give a partial answer to his imagined scene, Phillips would have been well-rewarded by skimming backward in Durrell's novel, which he had anthologized in Elegant Strangers only one year prior. As Durrell relates the scene, Walsh floats toward the cliffs of Dover among East Indians, and:
    It would perhaps be impossible to define accurately the feeling of disappointment he experience as he stood on the deck of the liner and watched the pearly cliffs insinuate themselves out of the light sea-haze. . . . [I]t was smaller than he had imagined! . . . [T]his observation implied some sort of intuitive deduction. . . .

    [T]hose who shouted, pointed and exclaimed were in the minority. A great number stood silent, gripping the rail, and experiencing that emotion of country-love which is occasioned in exiles. (Pied 157; Spirit 177; emphasis original)

    Walsh's bitterness and disappointment remain evident throughout the remainder of the novel. Moreover, in his inability to identify with the British citizens who revel over the "White as white" (Pied 158) jolly old England, Walsh turns to a "small and gentle-looking ayah . . . [whose] hands folded inside her sari" (Pied 159; emphasis original), [9] seeing in her face his home and feeling "sick with an undefined regret, as though the beauty of the hills which he had left behind for ever still worked in him" (Pied 160). As Gordon Bowker points out, "the young colonial [was] returning 'home', but also setting off into exile" (Bowker 18).

  10. A part of Walsh's conundrum over home and race lies in the fact that he looks English rather than Indian, despite his mixed blood. In his English skin, England is his home, just as Durrell the author (Anglo-Irish by blood) was British before he'd ever been there, born of parents who had never been 'home.' [10] The young ayah with whom Walsh begins a conversation quickly marks him as an outsider to her home, leaving Walsh estranged from India while in an England that he realizes has nothing to do with him. Walsh asks her, "You are of the hills?" to which she responds, "Yes. Of Nepal" (Pied 160). When he asserts his own home in the same manner -- "He said shyly: 'I, too, am from the hills. Kurseong.'" (Pied 160) -- she becomes silent; "she seemed to regard him as yet another of the alien race with whom she had nothing in common save the coincidence of a common dwelling; a birth-place and a country for her, for him no more than a temporary house" (Pied 160).[11] Moreover, it is not coincidental that this figure of Indian-ness is female, reminding Walsh of his exclusion from the feminine and displacement into a world of pre-established masculinity, a world to which he 'belongs' in the same way that he belongs to England.

  11. The final stage of the masculine identification -- and rebellion -- is via God the Father, and this struggle is named and via Walsh's attempts at Freudian analysis and autoanalysis in the novel, as well as Durrell's overtly Oedipal echoes of Freudian thematics. Likewise, religion is divided by gender and nationality in the same manner as I have outlined above. The Christian faith is presented as one of suffering and surrender to the masculine authorities; however, this is a surrender that Walsh resists. An Indian Tantric shrine that he sees as a youth, where he encounters his native double in the novel, provides a continual locus for his resistance to the repressions of the Christianity imposed by his father, the church fathers, and the fatherland of Christian England. The feminized Tantric shrine becomes the means to resisting the colonizing aspects of the 'home away from home.' From this break with Christianity, the Oedipal struggle erupts into a nationality struggle, and Walsh begins to both recognize and resist the psychological methods of enforcing compliance to his national and masculine identification.

  12. Death is ultimately the authority that keeps Walsh fearfully compliant with culturally established norms; however, Pied Piper Of Lovers occupies a unique place in the Durrellian oeuvre as his most death-obsessed work. It is filled with a sense of panic and unresolved dread. As Ian MacNiven points out, "Death is the leitmotif of this novel" ("Pied Piper Of Death" 25). In order to explore the gender and colonial issues in the work, the issue of death and the unresolved Freudian premise must first be examined, especially since Freud is an explicit reference in the novel and Durrell "had been reading Freud diligently by 1934" (A Biography 91) when he was finishing the final version of the novel. Before progressing directly to Freud, I must outline the context of death and the Oedipal struggle in the work. Walsh's first encounter with death, apart from the death of his mother during childbirth, is
    On Victoria Hill, with its untidy pyres. . . . [H]e had once seen a white ankle-bone sticking out of a jumble of ash, new and clean, untouched by fire, and he had suddenly been brought face to face with the meaning of death, expressed in terms he had never before understood. The monstrous sight of this ankle-bone jutting surprisingly from the layers of ash that the rain had moistened, gave the idea of death a defined and unforgettable identity. (Pied 78)
    In order to escape from this idea of death, Walsh submits to his father and God the Father. Of note, while death becomes a far less panic-stricken subject in Durrell's subsequent novels, the ankle-bone remains a fixed image in nearly every work until his death 55 years after publishing Pied Piper Of Lovers. In the short story pair "Zero" and "Asylum in the Snow" (1939), the ankle takes on a surreal function as an expression of terror from the insane narrator's unconscious. This event of the ankle and funeral pyre parallels one in Durrell's own life, where "Larry found a white ankle bone among the ashes" of an Indian pyre in the native cemetery in Kurseong.[12] Likewise, the ankle is a dominant and recurrent image throughout Pied Piper Of Lovers.

  13. Following his first significant Oedipal struggle against his father and break with Christianity, Walsh is regressed back under the paternal power of Christianity and John Clifton via the specter of death. With the appearance of the grossly obese Grandmamma, Walsh is re-exposed to the terror of mortality and the profusion of images and allusions to the ankle begin. Grandmamma is highly religious, and intent on the morbid aspects of her own and others' mortality. Furthermore, Durrell's own 'Big Granny' "horrifie[d] him, from her plump, purplish hands to her constant talk about death and her invocations of God" (A Biography 30). For Walsh, this combination comes at a time when mortality is likewise becoming a fact of the social realm: "With the summer came Grandmamma, and with Grandmamma came the plague; both calamities, coming as they did, at exactly the same time, became indissolubly linked together in the boy's mind as a double-headed evil; a two-fold catastrophe which was, inescapably, one" (Pied 133). It is the hyper-Christian Grandmamma who brings the fear of death to Walsh, repeating her mantra of the worms taking ten years to eat a corpse and telling him that even his father and 'surrogate mother,' Aunt Brenda, will eventually die. Naturally, at night after having seen a funeral procession to bury the victims of the plague, Walsh finds himself "for the first time in his life . . . afraid to go up alone to his room at bed-time" (Pied 135). It is within this terror of his mortality that the father figure is re-inscribed on Walsh. As John Clifton is absent from Kurseong, the child turns to God the father, "whisper[ing] in an agony of fear: 'Please God . . . please God . . . I don't want to die . . . I don't want to die'" (Pied 135). Likewise, it is the panicked terror of death that makes Walsh "abjectly, slavishly intent on becoming English" (Pied 168).

  14. Significantly, this nighttime 'agony of fear' is Walsh's first prayer in the novel. This approach to the fear of death and inscription of the dominant, masculine father parallels that given by Freud, where
    the derivation of a need for religion from the child's feeling of helplessness and the longing it evokes for a father seems to [Freud] incontrovertible, especially since this feeling is not simply carried on from childhood days but is kept alive perpetually by the fear of what the superior power of fate will bring. (Civilization 7)
    This resolution of the anxiety over mortality through submission to the power of the father is further reinforced when, in an authorial interjection, the narrator claims:
    it seems logical that we spend our lives upholding, [and] justifying [societal norms and hierarchies]: humanity must have something to do: must prime itself with the wine of these happy illusions as a condemned man about to mount the scaffold. (Pied 168)
    In Durrell's later works, and even noticeably toward the end of Pied Piper Of Lovers, this fear of indeterminacy is transformed into a desire for the uncertain as the sensual alternative to the anxiety of mortality. Nonetheless, for the young Walsh, his return to a position of deference to paternal power comes through his fear of death, as fits the Freudian model. Submission to the Oedipal father is assured through fear of death and retribution, which are essentially fears of the unknown, or of retribution by the omnipotent father for the child's Oedipal desires. These same fears prompt Walsh toward his own claiming of masculine dominance and British identity over the femininity of being partly a colonized Indian. Young Walsh does, however, temporarily alleviate this fear via a combination of the Indian homeland and the neo-Freudian 'oceanic' feeling it creates. In the hills surrounding Kurseong, standing in awe, Walsh says "It's so enormous, isn't it? I never realized the . . . the whole country was so lovely before. . . . I . . . should like to live here all my life . . . and all these people. I should like to live here always. . . ." (Pied 131, ellipses original).

  15. Walsh experiences a parallel to what Slavoj Zizek identifies as "manipulation of the future guilt feeling [, which] is melodrama at its best; its very gesture of pardon culpabilizes the son in advance. (Therein, in this culpabilization, in this imposition of a symbolic debt, through the very act of exoneration, resides the highest trick of Christianity.)" (Zizek n.pag.). The difference for Walsh, since he finds Christianity via fear rather than guilt, lies in his symbolic debt to England and his father for granting him gifts that he does not want. In facing his despair over arriving in England, Walsh considers crying, but feels "it would be deliberately ungrateful" (Pied 161). For Walsh, "the seeds of a forced gratitude had been sown in him" (Pied 161) for being sent 'home' away from his motherland; "already he was troubled by the growth of this thing, this parasitic gratitude. . . . He had begun to feel that the gift must be acknowledged . . . like some huge obligation" (Pied 161). In a like manner, Durrell the author "felt that his father now had the highest expectations of him, expectations he could never hope to fulfil[l], and [he] hinted at a lifelong sense that he had never succeeded in gaining his father's approval" (Bowker 18). [13] MacNiven ties these two contentions of guilt together, arguing
    This world [of the colonial family] . . . instilled in Larry both pride and guilt . . . guilt because he could not assume a place in the machinery of Empire. . . . Loving India, he felt that he belonged to it, yet he was estranged by his otherness: a white child among brown playmates, predestined to a master's position that he did not want" (A Biography xvii)
    He later adds to this stance, with regard to Pied Piper of Lovers, stating "two sides of his personality were striving with each other to take over the narrative: the modern romantic who pierced through the great façade of Empire, and the colonial boy who still saw the world with his dead father's eyes" (91). It is through this same mechanism of guilt that Durrell's character, Walsh, is made to identify himself as British rather than Indian, fracturing his identity and estranging his sense of home from the familiar to the completely unknown.

  16. It is only when Walsh breaks away from this system of being dominated through his fears and imposed guilt (both Oedipal and of the forced gratitude), that he finds space to overcome his debilitating anxieties and to live in a fashion that does not demand gross masculine assertiveness over woman, nation and earth. In rebelling against England, Walsh goes through a series of transformations where he likewise rebels against both the English God and his father in a dream-sequence, claims the attention of the mother-figure (his aunt Brenda), and overcomes the sex/corporeality/death equation that has been constructing his gender bias. The connection between divine right and the domination of India by Britain is made explicit in Brenda's guilt and housekeeping after 'returning' to England. The narrator tell the reader:
    Oh! you may be sure she felt guilty enough, but for all her guilt she was quiet, pegging her mind down with these little occupations: washing and dusting, cleaning and drying -- the mental duties she had never had occasion to fret over; duties which she had believed to be designed by a Benign Providence to occupy the time of native servants. (Pied 190; emphasis added)
    Likewise, an authorial interjection between Brenda's musings on the trauma of coming home suggests, "There should be . . . an agency which deals exclusively with wants of the colonial who comes 'home.'" (Pied 189). This authorial voice is quite explicit that "Hundreds of unfortunates . . . find that 'home' is another word for a suburban villa, that life at 'home' is a purposeless round of searching for friends and even acquaintances in a society as stupid and bigoted as any you will find on earth" (Pied 189). In the same manner that Brenda formerly perceived a Christian 'Benign Providence' caring for her housework, her neighbors perceive her as a foreigner, best suited in the natural hierarchy to caring for the colonial matters abroad.

  17. As with Brenda, Walsh finds that he cannot break away from his conflict between not being English, but needing a Christian divine providence. The only solution is his rejection of Christianity. Christianity has taught Walsh that "sex is of the body and the body is of death. . . . Eros and Thanatos are inseparable; death is the natural twin brother of sex" (Becker 162). Just prior to his final break, Walsh is approached by a prostitute, who he feels an attraction for, but under the 'strange-will' of his sexual impulse, Walsh is repulsed: "He turned in bed, feeling as though he had been opened and explored, as though her looks were so many knives prying into him, busy about his disintegration" (Pied 209). In the next paragraph, echoing the terror-filled prayer brought on by Grandmamma's morbid fascination with the worms eating one's corpse,
    For the first time in his life he prayed [leaving aside his earlier request to God], getting out of bed and kneeling down on the cold carpet; but he did not pray to the God of Grandmamma, he did not even think of Him. He said in a low voice a prayer to his own private, unknown God:
    "Please . . . please . . . I don't want to feel hurt like this . . . I don't want to feel hurt . . ." (Pied 209; ellipses original).
    Most notably, the prayer itself has transformed from "I don't want to die" (Pied 135) to "I don't want to feel hurt" (Pied 209), overcoming the disturbing sense of disintegration by abandoning "the God of Grandmamma" (Pied 209).

  18. A second parallel in this manner occurs concerning the Tantric and Christian presentations of human sexuality. Just as Christianity has taught Walsh to feel disgust over the prostitute, the agents of Christianity impose on him sex as "the mysteries of life" (Pied 179; emphasis original), complete with "flowers and bees. . . . The headmaster made the whole thing sound like a business transaction" (Pied 179). Nambiar echoes this language in his analysis of Durrell's Quinx (1985), claiming that "Durrell finds that in the West sex is considered not as a commitment but as a transaction" (46). In contrast to the headmaster's introduction of this contractual and business-like language, knowledge of sex has been given to Walsh by a young Indian boy (both of them speaking in an unnamed dialect other than English[14] ). The boy is Walsh's double in the novel, and their meeting immediately juxtaposes a scene reminding the reader of Walsh having been beaten. The two boys repeat the word 'mysteries' as they discuss the sexually explicit shrine, and then Walsh asks:
    "Tell me the meaning of these things."

    Without haste or emotion the boy explained the mysteries of procreation. He droned on, illustrating (entirely without shame) those parts of his story that seemed to require illustration. Walsh listened with growing amazement. (Pied 111)

    In line with the gendered division between India and Britain, it is Brenda who confirms what Walsh has been told and it is with regard to the British schoolmaster that he hides his knowledge of procreation. The repetition of 'mysteries' ties these two scenes closely together, and the aside "entirely without shame" (Pied 111) is likewise repeated as a part of Walsh's later dictum "No Shame," which helps him to escape from the colonial mindset. In this manner, Walsh's eventual rejection of Christian sexual mores becomes an affirmation of his Indian identity and 'decolonizing' of the repressions derivative of these mores (such as the association of sex and death or of corporeal existence with anxiety).

  19. Walsh's final break from the patriarchal Christian doctrine comes with his acceptance of himself as a sexual creature, which entails accepting himself as a mortal creature -- the two themes becoming indistinguishable in his dying lover Ruth. After meeting and becoming separated from her, Walsh walks the cliffs above Hangar where they met, trying to "allay his own bitterness" (Pied 240; emphasis added) over discovering that his father has died in India (through a phallic and Oedipal dream sequence). In an epiphanic paroxysm, he "lay down with his head between his arms, his face in the damp grass. The rich, woman smells of the earth came up to his nostrils, bitter and soothing" (Pied 241; emphasis added). Before going on with this scene, I would like to point out that following the death of Walsh's mother, John Clifton finds in his unfulfilling stance of dominating the earth like a woman, that "[t]here was a sharp, poignant bitterness in the smell of the earth under his feet" (Pied 22), such that the 'bitter' sensation unites descriptions of the earth across the novel and across character perspectives. Walsh, finally, takes a different position from that of his father, and turns away from the colonial mind-frame of dominating the feminine and dominating death via the patriarchal system. Instead, he asks:
    "Benediction, O my mother," he whispered with a smile, rubbing his cheeks across the shaggy damp grass, dilating his nostrils at her scent, clutching his fingers into the soft grass and the springy turf . . .

    And suddenly a great wave of agony gripped him, and he cried out in anguish, his back arching under the torture of sobs, his limbs humped loose about the earth, his fingers twisted in grass. It was not for his father, not for Brenda, but for the humiliation of himself, his own misery and his own blindness -- the error of searching for something he would never be able to find. (Pied 241; ellipsis original)

    It is in this moment that Walsh realizes the damage that Empire has inflicted on him, in his sex, identity, religion and nationality: "I could have been almost anything other than what I am -- a bundle of splintered mirrors reflecting all the distorted images of other people's minds . . . a bundle of fears and indecisions" (Pied 241; ellipsis original). It is ultimately via his sexual love relationship with Ruth that Walsh finally realizes what he searches for but cannot find: home.

  20. In the gendering of Britain and India, Walsh searches for a return to the home of the mother's body in all its guises: mother earth, the womb that creates mortality (the womb/tomb), mother India as home, and the mother substitutes of Brenda and then Ruth. The father-centered framework of Empire leaves Walsh unfulfilled and "a bundle of splintered mirrors" (Pied 241) without his own identity. It is only through the symbolic return to the home/mother that he can grow to claim an identity, rather than have one thrust upon him, as a result of his fractured existence midway between the colonized and the colonialist. As well, the subsequent anxiety over corporeality and mortality inverts to become a life-affirming, orgasmic exultation (an alteration that remains throughout Durrell's later works, reveling in sensuality and transience). With Ruth, the horrors of sex and blood unite, but become wonders, such that Walsh is no longer repulsed and fearful of his sexuality and corporeality. He remembers her "crying out in the spume of the wave that broke over her body: 'Darling . . . Oh! It's as warm as blood!" Her breasts were round and firm under his shaking fingers" (Pied 242). This is opposed to his earlier sensation of female sexual desire as "so many knives prying into him, busy about his disintegration" (Pied 209). Walsh proclaims at the conclusion, "I know something, though, that's very startling -- absolute mental dynamite. That is: 'I am, and quite soon I will not be.' Isn't that enough" (Pied 373). In this declaration, Walsh turns away from his falsely constructed sense of gender, built around his dislocation from home (womb, mother and India) and admits to the loss in his life, while at the same time choosing a life that moves forward and gives pleasure despite this trauma.

    * * *

  21. In conclusion, I return to Eagleton's assertion that "whereas Joyce and Lawrence spent their lives on the run from cultural traditions they knew from the inside, Durrell never experienced them in the first place. Like his life, the overbred, cosmopolitan range of the Quartet conceals a cultural shallowness" (Eagleton). I alternatively assert that for a homeless colonial whose novels obsessively return to the displaced child and expatriate communities -- an author who was continually uprooted from successively adopted homelands in Greece, Cyprus and finally the Midi -- Durrell's decision to "leave the doctrines, the religions, the brotherhoods, the scarlet cardinals, and the twelve purple holy ghosts" (Pied 373) is certainly enough.

  22. Once left, no home (as with the womb or mother) can ever be returned to. Moreover, to subvert a condemnation, for Pied Piper Of Lovers the displaced home "is a country of the mind . . . at once nowhere and everywhere" (Eagleton). This country of the imagination, an explicitly intentional aspect of Durrell works, is centered in the re-creation of a 'home,' rather than the simple exoticism derived from an anxiety-creating Empire. MacNiven adds, reminding the reader of Durrell's colonialism, "[w]hat would endure for Larry Durrell . . . was not the siren call of race and mission but a wild ache for the Roof of the World" (A Biography 2), which he identified with home, rather than the exotic. Playing on the title of one of Durrell's favoured source-materials, Trauma der Geburt [The Trauma of Birth], it is important to recognize that in a trauma (wound) there is a traum (dream). Just as one cannot regain the womb, one cannot regain a lost home; however, from the wound of loss both continue to exist in the imagination and dream world. In this sense, it is very difficult to distinguish between the inscription of desire and repression that occurs in the imagining of home as opposed to the colonial imagination of Empire and the exotic. While Durrell's writings are certainly steeped in war and Empire, and their entanglement or struggle with the perspectives of Empire cannot be denied, after Pied Piper of Lovers there is neither a blind deferral nor an overt challenge to political authority, but rather various levels of trauma, wholeness and searching among characters, both at home and abroad. This blind search for a home and wholeness that exist only in the mind is the primary problem in Durrell's works, against the traumas and anxieties of living, and it is simplistic to read this as a craving for Orientalist erotica and exotica. After Pied Piper Of Lovers, the reader is left to create his or her own imaginative readings of the world and creation of home, without blindly relying on the author to lead the way to an immobile solution that is dead by the fact of having been given rather than created.


    [The photographs used in the banners are of St. Joseph's School, Darjeeling, India, which Durrell attended. For more information about this school, visit its web site at]

  1. I am using Eagleton sarcastically here. The numerous inconsistencies between his description of Lawrence Durrell: A Biography and the book itself (textual, factual, theoretical, temporal and even physical inconsistencies) leads me to believe that the copy of Justine that "looked suspiciously unthumbed" (Eagleton n.pag) very likely resembles his copy of the biography he reviewed. This is not meant to imply an antagonism toward Eagleton's work in general, but rather an antagonism toward the academic use of rumour and superficial skimming. Back

  2. The Alexandria Quartet does, of course, draw on Durrell's biographical experiences of war-time Egypt, and the protagonist Darley notably has the same full-name initials as Durrell; however, after Pied Piper Of Lovers Durrell was very careful not to allow his works to openly reflect his own character and life. An author who closely guarded his personal privacy, Durrell never allowed republication in his lifetime of Pied Piper Of Lovers or his second novel, Panic Spring (1937, published under the name Charles Norden). This is excepting two brief 'landscape' excerpts compiled by his close friend Alan G. Thomas in Spirit of Place. Likewise, the travel narratives retain their privacy and The Revolt of Aphrodite fragments biographical echoes among multiple characters. Back

  3. See my "Reading Orientalism and the Crisis of Epistemology in the Novels of Lawrence Durrell" and "Reevaluating Postcolonial Theory in Durrell's Alexandria Quartet." Back

  4. Lawrence Samuel Durrell was born in Calcutta in 1884, and his wife Louisa Florence in Roorkee, 1886. Back

  5. Although Pied Piper Of Lovers was published in 1935, when Durrell was 23, he claimed to have written it between the ages of sixteen and eighteen. MacNiven outlines clearly that Durrell was working on the manuscript in 1934, prior to relocating to Corfu. There are some unpublished speculations that he borrowed portions of the text from an abandoned narrative by an uncle in India or his cousin Richard Sydney Blaker's Scabby Dichson, although the similarities to Blaker's novel are primarily superficial. Back

  6. Walsh Clifton is Durrell's 'double' in the novel, taking on numerous biographical parallels to Durrell's early life. These parallels are so numerous that in Gordon Bowker's biography of Durrell, the novel is often confused with factual events. I discuss this issue of biographical differences between the two Durrell biographies in some of the notes below, as they pertain to the incidents I refer to in this paper. Back

  7. The male figures in the novel are generally spiritual or abstract in their thinking, while the women are physical and are not alarmed at their corporeality. This is the nature of the 'rescue' performed by Ruth, Walsh's love, when she helps Walsh to overcome his angst about death and accept his corporeal existence. Back

  8. Whenever possible, I am including references to the portion of Pied Piper of Lovers that is reprinted in Spirit of Place, as the full novel has been out of print since its first publication in 1935, and most copies were destroyed during the London Blitz. This has left very few available for scholars. As I have noted, Durrell never allowed republication of the work in his lifetime and it has yet to be reprinted. Back

  9. Interestingly, this brief scene is cut from the preceding and following segments that appear in Spirit of Place. Caryl Phillips's anthology, Elegant Strangers, uses Spirit of Place as its soruce, but removes all Indian references and uses only the "London At Night" chapter. Back

  10. Lawrence Durrell's parents, Lawrence Samuel and Louisa, did not visit England until 1926 and 1923 respectively, Louisa briefly accompanying her eldest son as he was sent home for schooling. Lawrence Samuel visited in 1926 "to inspect the house his wife had chosen for his retirement" (Bowker 30); however, he died two years later in India (as does John Clifton) of a brain hemorrhage due to a tumor at the age of 43. MacNiven differs from Bowker on this point, contending that Lawrence Samuel visited England for the first time in 1923 with his wife. Regardless, neither parent had ever seen 'home' prior to sending their child there. Back

  11. In a related incident in Durrell's life, MacNiven tells: "[o]nce when his shadow came across the ayah's [Kasim's] food, she angrily threw it away . . . there were always barriers of status and . . . colour. The recurrence of such small events would add up to the conviction in Larry's mind that he could not be truly Indian" (A Biography 27). Back

  12. The two biographies on Durrell differ with regard to the specifics of this event. I am inclined to trust the more diligently researched and authorized biography by MacNiven, where 'Larry' found the bone while with his ayah Kasim. As Bowker describes the scene:
    Miss Farrell [the nanny] . . . inadvertently found herself and the child [Lawrence Durrell] passing through a Parsee graveyard. Bodies were being cut up and hung on trees for the vultures to feed upon, others were being burned. There were the relics of bodies -- arms and legs, strewn about, half buried of half burned in a smouldering fire. . . . There was something profoundly wrong with the western approach to death, he later decided. (Bowker 2)
    Miss Farrell, who MacNiven does not directly name, replaced Kasim in the Durrell family after the time that MacNiven locates the graveyard scene (which is notably less dramatic in his recounting). MacNiven relates "Lawrence Samuel engaged a governess, a thin, dry Irish Catholic who was very likely the pattern for the 'gaunt' disciplinarian in Pied Piper Of Lovers" (A Biography 28) who has already been discussed in this paper. Back

  13. Bowker is here referring to the 'Constellation' manuscript in the Durrell archives at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. He does, however, at the same time incorrectly cite the cliffs of Dover in Pied Piper of Lovers, already described in this paper, as being pearly gray in contrast to the white snow of the Himalayas (19), when in fact the cliffs are simply described as "pearly" (Pied 157). Bowker may be trying to distinguish between separate and unconnected descriptions of the two landscapes in the novel, but is likely borrowing Richard Pine's repeated analogy in Lawrence Durrell: The Mindscape. Back

  14. Durrell, who was greatly prone to exaggeration in interviews, makes the reasonable statement that "we spoke the languages of the place" (A Biography 2), but also claimed that his "first language was Hindi" (A Biography 19). MacNiven qualifies this, noting that historically many English families preferred servants to speak to a child in the local dialect, even if they spoke English, so as to avoid 'contaminating' the child's class-denoting accent. He also points out: "[a]t other times Durrell claimed that he and his family spoke Urdu. There is not necessarily a contradiction: Urdu, spoken by Muslims in India and written in Arabic characters, is also called Hindustani, an Indic language of the Hindi group, widespread in northern India" (A Biography 693). Back

Works Cited

Becker, Ernest. The Denial of Death. 1974. New York: Free Press Paperbacks, 1997.

Bowker, Gordon. Through The Dark Labyrinth: A Biography of Lawrence Durrell. New York: Saint Martin's Press, 1997.

Durrell, Lawrence. Interview with Marc Alyn. The Big Supposer. Trans. Francine Barker. Paris: Pierre Belfond, 1972. London: Grove Press Inc., 1974.

---. "London at Night." Elegant Strangers: A Literature of Belonging. Ed. Caryl Phillips. London: Faber and Faber, 1997. 87-91.

---. Pied Piper of Lovers. London: Cassell & Co. Ltd., 1935.

---. Spirit of Place. Ed. Alan G. Thomas. London: Faber & Faber, 1969. New York: Marlowe & Company, 1997.

Eagleton, Terry. "Supreme Trickster; Lawrence Durrell: A Biography." New Statesman 127.4382 (1998). 48-49. EBSCOhost Database. Online:

Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents. Trans. Joan Riviere. London: Hogarth Press, 1930. Toronto: General Publishing, 1994.

Gifford, James. "Reading Orientalism and the Crisis of Epistemology in the Novels of Lawrence Durrell." CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture 1.2 (1999). Online:

Gifford, James. "Reevaluating Postcolonial Theory in Durrell's Alexandria Quartet." Literary Studies and Global Culture. University of Victoria, Department of English. 17 Mar. 2001. Online: textsvictoria.htm

MacNiven, Ian. Lawrence Durrell: A Biography. London: Faber & Faber, 1998.

---. "Pied Piper Of Death: Method And Theme In The Early Novels." On Miracle Ground. Ed. Michael H. Begnal. Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1990. 25-40.

Nambiar, Ravidran C. "The Resonance of India in the Novels of Lawrence Durrell." The Literary Criterion 27.1-2 (1992): 43-49.

Phillips, Caryl. "A Dream Deferred: Fifty Years of Caribbean Migration to Britain." Kunapipi: Journal of Post-Colonial Writing 21.2 (1999), 106-118. Text of: Arthur Ravencroft Memorial Lecture. University of Leeds. 11 May 1998.

Pine, Richard. Larence Durrell: The Mindscape. New York: St. Martin's, 1993.

Zizek, Slavoj. "From the Myth to Agape." Journal of European Psychoanalysis 8-9 (1999), n.pag. Online:

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