James Gifford’s Homepage -- PhD Proposal


This is the rough, but current version of my PhD thesis proposal, for anyone who may be interested. Please feel free to email me to comment on this page.


"The Unknown is Constant"; The Fiction and Literary Relationship of Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller

In the mid-1930s, Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller made their rather late literary debuts in the movement that has since become known as Anglo-American Modernism . This entry then led into a protracted period of continued development and interaction with each other before their artistic reputations became more firmly established after World War II. Durrell was born and raised in India, sent 'home' to England for his education by a family that had never seen this 'home,' and then settled in Greece until he was evacuated to Egypt via Crete in World War II. Miller, in contrast, was born and raised in New York, eventually moving to Paris in pursuit of his estranged wife, and then coming to Greece to visit Durrell before escaping to America as war broke out. This geographical context is reflected in the literary circles they associated with: those of France and Greece. While my scope here is not specifically biographical , it is a convenience to find texts so often physically and contextually placed beside each other and to make the obvious step of comparing them for commonalities and differences, especially given their frequent mutual citation and even incorporation of each other's writings . Moreover, after reading Miller’s Tropic of Cancer in 1935, Durrell contacted him from his new home on Corfu . This first contact led to a forty-five year correspondence beginning in 1935 and ending only with Miller’s death in 1980. During this correspondence, the most significant periods of mutual influence and agreement, as well as separation and criticism of each other’s works, are well-documented in the biographical studies of both authors . More to my point here, Durrell and Miller differ from the established trends in Modernism because of this later period of activity and their close ties to alternative literary approaches, such as Parisian Surrealism and Greek Modernism of the 1930s . Their breadth of interests, locations, and choices of subject link them to each other as well as to these alternative movements within Modernism. These factors also influenced the way they worked through established traditions in order to widen the gaps within them, thereby bringing out or drawing attention to what the mainstream traditions failed to divulge—this was Durrell’s and Miller’s style, raising questions or problems and aporetically challenging received wisdom without offering a definitive resolution that was not itself subject to further query. What is more, many Modernist works explore landscape (often urban or colonial space), selfhood and subjectivity, and sexuality (the topics of the proceeding chapters), but limit their expansion of these topics to the established discursive trends embodied in an academic modernist approach. In the context of Miller’s and Durrell’s alternative influences and affiliations with many European trends of the time, these four topics interrelate through one unifying puzzle: the “Unknown.” A seemingly daunting term to explore, tied to much historical weight and associations, in fact Durrell’s and Miller’s “Unknown” meets a very simple definition revolving around selfhood, the reader, and perceptions either read or expressed through writing: gaps and ambiguities in the text prompt active reading where extra-textual materials are integrated by the reader during the reading process. Nonetheless, their uses of this term reveal new trends in their literary approaches and responses to Modernism, as well as how these authors work within a spectrum of reader-to-writer relationships, thereby suffusing the supremacy one has over the other. In addition to their correspondences and critical writing—both of which play a role in my explorations of these two authors’ literary relationships—the two continue this argument through their creative works.

This dissertation is concerned with some typical themes in Modernist fiction, thematic areas where these two authors’ works differ in significant ways: landscape, selfhood and subjectivity, and sexuality . Moreover, it would be unreasonable to have such prevalent themes as landscape, selfhood and subjectivity, and sexualities, without first considering the literary tradition in which these themes are developed (context) and secondly how these authors interact with regard to these themes and their milieu. In order to tie together these themes, I trace Lawrence Durrell’s and Henry Miller’s notion of the “Unknown” across their oeuvres and in the context of their contested positions as Modernist authors —I use this specific idea, as it is transformed and varied across their careers, to trace their thematic and biographical differences from mainstream Modernism. Therefore, in order to show their distinctness, I work from their relationship with Parisian Surrealism and Greek Modernism as alternative traditions within what Peter Nicholls calls “hegemonic Modernism” with its Anglo-American focus. From this, I explore the importance of their discussions of landscape, identity, and sexuality to the concepts they develop under the canopy of this notion that they term the “Unknown.” This leads me to the more typically Modernist concerns (though not in a typically Modernist fashion) with selfhood and subjectivity, notions Durrell and Miller tied to the tension over the “Unknown,” which itself develops from their interest in alternative Modernisms. Both Durrell and Miller were under the stimulating influence of ‘foreign’ France and Greece during the formative years at the outset of their literary careers in the 1930s, careers that notably antedate the height of Modernism in the 1920s. Therefore, it is no surprise that they are associated with movements based in these locales and less so with mainstream Modernism. This period, with their first novels published in 1935 and 1934, respectively, also places them as latecomers to Anglo-American Modernism’s rise from 1914-1922 through into the 1930s. It also marks them as able to respond to Anglo-American Modernism’s trends, as well as resist some of its influences. This is especially so via their affiliations with the growth of Greek Modernism, with its focus on landscape and literary tradition, a movement that is akin to but distinct from T. S. Eliot's sense of Tradition . For the purposes of this dissertation's context, this introduction (1) locates these authors in their literary circles and the literary movements with which they interacted; (2) surveys the general trends in the critical literature on these authors in relation to their milieu; and lastly (3) defines my approach to their sense of the "Unknown."


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Page Created: January 30, 2001. | Last Updated: October 4, 2001.