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