“A Private Individual Without Concern for Policy:” Lawrence Durrell and the Times of Cyprus

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Ciara Barrick

Ciara Barrick completed her undergraduate education at Stockton University, after which she was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to Cyprus. She received her Master’s of Arts in Comparative Literature from King’s College London, focusing on Lawrence Durrell and Stratis Tsirkas.

Lawrence Durrell’s departure from Cyprus in 1956 — the result of rising tension on the island between the British, Greek Cypriots, and Turkish Cypriots — is concurrent with the publication of both Bitter Lemons (1957)1and Justine (1957), the first book of The Alexandria Quartet.2While Bitter Lemons,set during the Cypriot struggle for independence,is hesitant to commit to an admonishing, expatriate tale of a dying empire — a hesitancy undoubtedly influenced by Durrell’s career with the Foreign Office and the unfolding of the Suez Canal Crisis in July of 1956 — Justine and the novels that follow find themselves freer to offer a critical portrait of diplomatic life under British colonial rule. That Durrell should publish these two countervailing texts immediately following the end of his final political post as Director of Public Information, where he oversaw a propagandist radio station and government news publication, points to his torn identity as a British servant and a philhellene. Naturally, the works he wrote and their characters, such as the cautious, tight-lipped Durrell of Bitter Lemons and the disillusioned writer-turned-diplomat Pursewarden of the Quartet, inform an understanding of Durrell’s complicated identity. While the fictitious Pursewarden offers us much in the way of insight into Durrell’s feelings about life as a colonial servant — Pursewarden ultimately takes his own life—the Durrell-as-narrator of Bitter Lemons offers us something more. In order to truly understand Bitter Lemons, however, one must understand the world in which it was written and the world into which it was published. One historical means through which to understand Lawrence Durrell in Cyprus is the Times of Cyprus newspaper. Produced by the British editor Charles Foley, the paper represented a fervent anti-colonial voice in the events leading to Cypriot independence. An examination of articles printed after the publication of Bitter Lemons deepens a nascent understanding of Lawrence Durrell as both a writer and British official in Cyprus.

This consideration of Durrell’s work as a byproduct of colonialism is not original and thinking about the local responses to at least two of his major works (The Alexandria Quartet and Bitter Lemons) is fairly topical given modern academic discourse. The claim that Durrell makes that Bitter Lemons is “not a political book” has been challenged in David Roessel’s “Something to Stand the Government in Good Stead: Lawrence Durrell and the Cyprus Review” and the cultural, religious, and political inaccuracies of The Alexandria Quartet were delineated in Mahmoud Manzaloui’s “Curate’s Egg: An Alexandrian Opinion of Durrell’s Quartet.”3 Further, direct responses to Bitter Lemons by Cypriots have been brought to the fore by Roessel and Petra Tournay-Theodotou, namely through the work of Costis Montis and Rodis Roufos.4 In part because scholarship on the Quartet has been so prolific, a focus on Bitter Lemons is called for. The postcolonial understanding of Bitter Lemons has opened new considerations of the text and its control over the literary narrative of Cyprus’ journey to independence (ultimately achieved in 1960), yet there still exists room to consider less resonant voices in Cyprus. These voices, or in the case of this article one complex voice in particular, colour an understanding of Durrell as a political figure, one seen as largely innocuous and extricable from his celebrity.

Throughout this paper, I examine the Times of Cyprus’ treatment of Durrell, either through criticism of his political work, reviews of his texts, or the actual printing and serialisation of Bitter Lemons in the paper. I hope to paint an image of Durrell as a political figure in Cyprus as well as to ultimately offer a new reading of Bitter Lemons. I also contend that Cypriots and the English reading the serialised version of Bitter Lemons in the Times of Cyprus in 1957 beside commentary from Foley and his team experienced a unique reading that could not be replicated outside the colonial periphery.

* * *

In 1953, when Lawrence Durrell arrived in the port town of Limassol (Λεμεσός) on Cyprus’ southern coast, tensions between the Greek Cypriots and the British had been escalating for decades and were now on the precipice of revolt. Twenty years earlier, the Cypriots had attacked the Parliament House, burning it down as an act of rebellion against colonial rule.5 The Cypriots had been calling for Enosis (Ένωσις), or union with Greece. The word had been adopted to articulate Cyprus’ growing desire to be annexed by Greece, despite the large Turkish Cypriot minority on the island (and the many other minority populations on the island that made up, and continue to make up, Cyprus’ diverse community). Enosis’s modern roots date to the 1830s when the Megali Idea, an irredentist movement born out of Greece’s freedom from the Ottomans in the 1831, gripped the national Greek public.6 The term gained traction in Cyprus towards the end of the nineteenth century in the context of the Greco-Turkish war and the Cretan Question, both drawing attention to Cyprus’ undefined status as an island in the Eastern Mediterranean.7 During World War I, the Greeks and the Cypriots had been led to believe that in exchange for Greek participation in the war on the side of the Allied Forces, the British would cede Cyprus to Greece; and indeed, “the Coalition Government of Herbert Asquith very nearly did give it [Cyprus] away, making such an offer to Greece in April 1915 in return for the latter’s entry into war on the Allied side; and had the dominant pro-German faction in Athens not refused, much later turmoil might have been avoided.” 8 After World War II, a second moment presented itself in which the British might cede Cyprus to the Greek, but the British were slow to act. Facing problems in Egypt, the British saw Cyprus as an important foothold in the Middle East and could not therefore lose its valued base.9 Durrell arrived on the island when the violence between the British and the Cypriots was reaching its critical point. By the end of this concerted four year conflict (1954-59), the Cypriots would gain their independence.

During Durrell’s first year on the island, he taught at the Pancyprian Gymnasium (Παγκύπριον Γυμνάσιον) in the capital city of Nicosia and worked as a copy-editor for Constantine Manglis, owner of Keo wine, beer, and spirits company.10 In 1954, Durrell returned to his work in the press division of the colonial government (previously having worked as a press attaché in Egypt, Rhodes, and Yugoslavia). Soon after, he was promoted to Director of Information Services. The position was primarily propagandist: “Durrell advised BBC news managers to ‘play down’ reporting of pro-Enosis ‘disorders and demonstrations’ in Greece, to ‘play up’ statements highlighting ‘British achievements’ in Cyprus, to emphasize the position of the Turkish Republic regarding enosis, and to praise the ‘calmness and judgment of the Cyprus public’.”11 Durrell claims not to have liked the work and often thought of leaving the position. Aside from his financial dependence on the job, Durrell felt that by leaving the post preemptively, the Greek press, through its editorials and gossip column, might jeopardise his reputation as both an author and a civil servant. At the end of Bitter Lemons, Durrell writes: “My contract still had several months to run, however, and it would be wiser to let it lapse than to hurry away and perhaps give the Greek press ground for believing that I had resigned on policy grounds, which would have been unfair to my masters.”12 Durrell’s fear of the press demonstrates the power they had over not only his life, but also the lives of British officials island-wide.

During his three years on the island, the Times of Cyprus newspaper demonstrated exactly what they could do to the reputation of a colonial civil servant. I will turn our attention to one particular example in the case of John Reddaway (1916-1990), the colonial Administrative Secretary, after a brief prefacing of the newspaper’s tempestuous nature.

The Times of Cypruswas initially created in 1880 after the British acquired the island from the Ottomans during the Cyprus Convention in June of 1878.13 From the outset, the newspaper was criticised for its anti-colonial stance and its lack of balance. In 1955, after years of hiatus, the magazine was revived by Charles Foley and financially backed by Constantine Manglis, Durrell’s former employer and a strong proponent of Enosis. The Times of Cyprus posed a unique threat as an English-language newspaper poised to antagonise the pro-colonial Cyprus Mail newspaper. For Foley, reviving the Times of Cyprus gave him the opportunity to do something unconventional, to create a paper that could fearlessly criticise the government without being tied to a colonial agenda; he writes in his memoir, “it would give me a chance to do something which nobody else was attempting.” 14

The Times of Cyprus quickly developed enemies: the Greek media accused it of being too colonial; the British, of not being colonial enough. When the Times first appeared, Radio Athens, perhaps the most influential proponent for the Enosis movement, excoriated the newspaper for its allegiance to the British government. In June 1956, Radio Athens broadcast:

The Times of Cyprus, which has made itself the mouthpiece of the imperial satrap [Governor] Armitage and has even dared to assail the sacred person of our Ethnarch [Archbishop Makarios], now turns its vile abuse on the Voice of the Fatherland [a Radio Athens broadcast].15

Contrary to this accusation, Manglis’ close relationship with Archbishop Makarios raises speculation about this claim. Additionally, the paper was more than once threatened to be shut down by both Lawrence Durrell and Administrative Secretary John Reddaway for violating the Press Law. When the Times was not being threatened with discontinuation, it suffered frequent lambasting for its provocative articles, namely those attacking British colonial policy. Foley’s memoir readily provides examples of his publication’s defiance. For instance, just after Governor Armitage left the island with his Colonial Secretary, Foley writes:

The administration were horrified when we published a row of their pictures with the departed members scored by black crosses. A headline which asked ‘WHO’S NEXT?” was considered in poor taste.16

Governor Armitage would not be the only colonial governor to be angry with Foley; power would change hands and the Times would remain a source of contention and conflict for the next colonial government. In February 1956, the Times of Cyprus responded publicly to a derisive letter from the Administrative Secretary, who had enumerated the articles published in the Times that promoted ill will between the Greek, Turkish, and British communities. Foley then published a rather defensive response, and was reprimanded in private by Field Marshal Harding, the new colonial Governor of Cyprus, for having done so: “I should have thought an English newspaper would offer more constructive thinking than yours has done of late.”17 Foley was ultimately charged under Section 43 of the Cyprus Emergency Regulations Act for publishing articles critical of British Government, but the work of his paper left a lasting impression upon the island.

A paper that prided itself on its confrontational and often incendiary publications would be ripe for an attack on Durrell as the Director of Public Information. It is surprising to learn that Durrell was largely left alone by the press during his years in office despite the amount of power he wielded. The Times continually characterised Durrell as innocuous, if not superfluous. Yet, as Director of Information, Durrell was responsible for overseeing the Cyprus Broadcasting Service, an instrument of British propaganda used to promote British rule in Cyprus and directly respond to the pro-Enosis Radio Athens. It would be easy to criticise Durrell publicly, as Foley does in his memoir, for the withholding of information regarding the colonial political opinion, yet the paper itself remained curiously silent.

* * *

Lawrence Durrell’s first appearance in the Times — a republishing of a glowing review of the Tree of Idleness by the Observer — is representative of the majority of Durrell’s appearances: either, as in this case, a reprinting of a British review or small blurbs about the parties he has attended, with whom, and what he is working on.18 In the paper’s gossip column, “Simple Simon,” epithets such as “our popular Director of Information Services,” and “one of the most distinguished men in the Middle East,” are frequently used to describe Durrell. One particular bulletin warns anyone against expecting parties at the Durrell “nest”, as “Durrell is to make no great sum of money from [a] publication.” To trace Durrell’s very public career as the Director of Public Information and more private career as a writer through the paper’s gossip column and editorials reveals a Durrell consistently portrayed as a nondescript character, uninterested in the affairs of the Cypriot people, largely someone absorbed with his celebrity. In Foley’s memoir, the depiction of Durrell tends to be somewhat more one-sided, suggesting that Durrell’s work as an author was always more important to him than his political career. For example, Foley recounts the day that Archbishop Makarios was exiled from Cyprus for his reluctance to denounce EOKA (Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston), a militant Greek-Cypriot organization that supported Enosis. Foley writes, “Later in the day the Information Office announced that Mr. Lawrence Durrell had been appointed Censor of Press, but there was little reason to distract him from his work on Justine. A week’s general strike had been called.”19 Foley’s comment that Durrell was busy at work on his novel and that his new post would not be enough to draw him away from his writer’s desk underscores the opinion the paper held about Durrell: a man unperturbed even by the major political events of the island, like the exiling of the country’s Ethnarch.

In addition to this understanding of Durrell as an writer-qua-government man, Foley emphasises that Durrell in the role of Director is not simply distracted, but uninvolved, uninterested. Foley recounts their first meeting. Durrell had gone to paid him a visit to ensure that the Times understood the official colonial point of view on a number of political matters. Foley depicts Durrell as a pawn of his supervisors, without his own motivations for safeguarding British interests. Foley writes, “Durrell was as free from humbug as a Cyprus official could be; indeed, from any strong views on the question.”20 This recalls what Rodis Roufos (1924-1972), Greek diplomat and writer, called Durrell’s “bland impartiality” that had “won all shades of opinion” and supports an understanding of the narrative voice in Bitter Lemons, namely one without political convictions.21

Durrell only becomes a person of consequence when he prevents the Times from getting the news.

One of our many troubles was obtaining the official view [of Special Court trials] and Larry Durrell always hotly denied that his Public Information Office was a news service… It was only through the generosity of a few senior officials that we were able to make any sense out of the British side of things.22

This is the only instance Foley offers us of Durrell having a stake in his public office, and it is likely only mentioned because it prevented Foley from doing his job, not because he thought this episode offered an additional understanding of Durrell. Durrell’s sheltering the Public Information Office from newshounds does, however, suggest that Durrell did care about how British interests were being represented and that despite his depiction in the Times he hoped to do that job well. Durrell knew that to share news with a publication like the Times could be seen as supporting their antagonistic and anti-colonial stance, even if only in delivering an official view.

The first acknowledgement in the paper of Durrell as a colonial official, rather than as a local celebrity, refers to the bombing of the Cyprus Broadcasting Station in August of 1955. The Times of Cyprus — reporting that “it must have been set off by one of the Greek staff” — was “ordered, without discussion, to publish a correction which was delivered [by Durrell].”23 Foley writes in the correction: “Mr. Durrell is said to be a man of liberal mind, so we assume that in pointing out provisions (and penalties) of the Press Law…he is carrying out the orders of panjandrums still higher up the scale.”24 The remark illustrates again what Foley relayed in the memoir, that Durrell is but a pawn of his superiors. The article concludes cheekily, “And we ask Mr. Durrell today and any other day when we are obliged to publish such ‘advertisements’, to pay the fee to the police benevolent fund or else devote it to the welfare of indigent Government pensioners.” The writer of this correction, whether Foley or one of his team, aims to publicly show that Durrell took advantage of his position by not paying the fee, and that he could be seen to be like the many British officials across the island, to act with impunity. Aside from this remark and a few others, there is little attention paid to Durrell as the Director of Information Services through the remainder of his tenure. Throughout the rest of 1955 and 1956, however, attacks on his colleague, the Administrative Secretary John Reddaway, appear biweekly. It is perhaps this crusade against Reddaway that made Durrell fear the press as he describes in Bitter Lemons.

A brief consideration of the articles that attack Reddaway help to formulate an understanding of the newspaper as well as illuminate Durrell’s absence. Foley describes Reddaway in his memoir in terms of what Reddaway possessed that allowed him to climb the political ladder so quickly: “The new star in the ascendant, John Reddaway, …seemed to be just what Harding was looking for: still only thirty-nine he had spent seventeen years in Cyprus, had learned the languages and acquired a Greek Cypriot wife with her circle of friends.”25 As a note, Durrell was forty-three at the time. This “new star in the ascendant” bothers the Times tremendously. Just to name a few titles regarding Reddaway’s climb:“Hush-hush post is given to Mr. Reddaway,” “Mr. Glass and Mr. Reddaway may direct Information and Broadcasting: New Policy Chief?” “Reddaway, new post” “Up and Up and Up” “The Future of Mr. Reddaway.” These titles turn from the fear of his political ascendancy to simply the fear of his power. “The only way to restore faith in the Civil Service: REDDAWAY MUST GO, the good word of Britain at stake, his position bars way.” These titles alone provide us with examples of how the Times skewered the British administration and its officials but ignored Durrell almost entirely.

Attacks on Reddaway occurred bi-weekly for more than three years, and usually on the front page. John Brash, a former employee of the Times, admitted “there was a policy of running a hate campaign against Mr. Reddaway. He was the arch-fiend.”26 Reddaway described it himself as “character assassination” by the Times:

I had to put up with a great deal of personal abuse in the Greek Cypriot press …The impact of this abuse was intensified…by the intervention of a clever British journalist who had come to Cyprus…and had established an English-language daily newspaper in Nicosia… Up to then, I had never encountered such personal malevolence.27

The clever British journalist to whom he refers is Charles Foley. This report from Reddaway highlights precisely how untouched Durrell was. Reddaway considered legal action against the Times but at the Governor’s behest chose to “go on suffering in silence”. These examples show us both how far the Times could and would go, while also drawing a stark contrast to Durrell’s presence in the paper. It is not until Durrell leaves the island — escaping to the “heavily guarded” Nicosia Airport in the middle of the night, amidst bombs exploding across the capital — that the Times‘ considerations of him as both a civil servant and writer become almost as prevalent as criticism of Reddaway.28 It is the publication and serialisation of Bitter Lemons in the summer of 1957 that generates both renewed attention towards Durrell and an examination of the political and historical episodes of the text.

* * *

When Bitter Lemons was published in 1957, the book met with both praise and criticism, although along definite bilateral lines: the British nearly without fail found the book to be a success.29 Durrell won the Duff Cooper Prize for the work and was seen by many as an authority on “the Cyprus Problem”. A few British critics found fault — “the plot is weak, the action badly contrived…its slides from pathos to pathos” — yet even the same critic would go on to defend the transgressions of the book: “Bitter Lemons was not written for the edification, amusement, annoyance, or enlightenment of the people of Cyprus.”30

Cypriot responses to the work, both in the paper and elsewhere, were generally of an altogether different tenor. They find Durrell’s narrative of those years of conflict to be one-sided and, to some, a betrayal of the friendships he had previously made with the Greek people. George Seferis (1900-1971), the great Greek poet, felt deeply offended by Durrell’s assessment of the Cyprus problem and in his poem “In the Kyrenia District” calls Durrell “cynic and philhellene / An introverted snob.”31 Rodis Roufos, a major critic of Durrell, wrote a chapter in his The Age of Bronze entitled “Sour Grapes”, in which he discusses Maurice Ferrell, a parody of Lawrence Durrell: “His Greek friends spoke well of him because he was reputed to be a philhellene and told them he personally favoured ‘Enosis’ (the union of Cyprus with Greece); it seems he was equally amiable to his Turkish friends, to whom he said widely different things, while I am told that with British interlocutors he adopted the proper jocular tone about both varieties of ‘Cyps.’”32 Roufos paints Durrell much like Foley, “as free from humbug as a Cyprus official could be” and as someone without true political convictions. The third major work of Cypriot criticism is Costas Montis’ (1914-2004) book Κλειστος Πορτας [Closed Doors], which recounts the major historical episodes that occurred on the island, particularly those to which Durrell paid little attention. Unlike Roufos, who directly attacks Durrell, Montis aims to provide another equally viable narrative for the Cypriot struggle for independence.

Aside from these three responses are a number of responses that were printed in the Times of Cyprus, written by both Cypriots and British residents. The remainder of this paper examines noteworthy articles relating to the publication of the text and then considers how these articles, along with the serialisation of the text, produced an unparalleled reading. In transcribing the text and titles, I have tried to remain faithful to the capitalisation used, in order to demonstrate the newspaper’s original emphasis. I have arranged them chronologically in order to show the relational value between the articles and their publication dates. All of the articles illustrate a man who was ineffectual in his time as Director, and merely a literary figure both during and after his time in Cyprus.

The first appearance of Bitter Lemons is on 21 March, 1957, advertising the forthcoming publication: “Ex-Cyprus Director of Information, Lawrence Durrell…is to bring out this a summer a book which appears in publishers’ advance lists—under the surprising heading ‘Topography’.” And it is surprising, although Durrell conceived of Bitter Lemons as being the third in a trilogy of island books.33 (Prospero’s Cell has the subtitle On the landscape and manners of the island of Corfu,originally Corcyra.)Considering Bitter Lemons as a topography book would be less of a stretch if the events of the book were different. Durrell’s tendency to describe flower patches for several pages gives one the impression that there may have been a topographical book somewhere in the original drafts, but the preoccupation with topography had since been far overshadowed by the Cyprus Problem itself. The blurb concludes: “So far the publisher has made no intimation as to what sort of lemons are described.”

The next appearance Bitter Lemons makes in the newspaper is under the title “DURRELL GETS TO WORK,” published 20 May, 1957. The article is signed “W.S.” The subtext, offset in bold, reads, “The one time Director of Information in Cyprus, Lawrence Durrell, who is threatening the island this summer with a book called Bitter Lemons of Cyprus,has been very prolific since leaving the bitter lemons behind.” The author describes Durrell’s work, adding “If Bitter Lemons is anything like Justine, Cyprus is in for some interesting ‘revelations’.” This first review, with its use of the word “threatening”, makes clear that Durrell’s work is considered potentially harmful, yet not something to be taken seriously. The “revelations” mentioned by the author insinuate that Durrell’s perspective on the Cyprus Problem will not be based in fact, but rather in the romantic ideals he holds throughout Justine. The next article to mention Durrell is not until 28 June 1957, after the publication of Bitter Lemons. The interim, however, is filled with roughly a dozen articles about John Reddaway and the public’s resentment of his practices.

The next article is written to the editor of the paper and titled “Leave it to the practical men?” Martin Hopwood writes:

I have often wondered what it would be like in Cyprus if, instead of the obtuse and unimaginative senior civil servants we have a group of students of the humanities such as Mr. Durrell and Mr. Liddell…we could spend our time foregathered on the grass at Bellapais discussing Byzantium and the old world that used to be…I think Mr. Durrell would agree after all he tried once and failed.34

“Mr. Liddell” refers to Robert Liddell, a contemporary traveller of the Eastern Mediterranean as well as a writer and critic. His biography of Greek-Alexandria poet C.P. Cavafy, who inspired in many ways Durrell’s city of Alexandria, and his writing on Egypt more generally align him with Durrell as a Western traveller experiencing the Eastern Mediterranean. Hopwood underscores the vision of Durrell that the Times had sought to convey: that Durrell’s position as Director of Information was ill suited, that he was better suited for a life of intellectual leisure. It is advantageous to the paper to print such a comment, as it also helps in their criticism of Reddaway. According to the paper’s perspective, the colonial government continued to put the wrong men into power, and Durrell’s book, with its lack of solution and its wavering commitment to either party, is confirmation of that fact.

On 1 August 1957 a review of Bitter Lemons by Sir Harold Nicholson was published. The article is generally a favourable one. It applauds Durrell’s intelligence and style, it recounts Durrell’s credentials and supports his version of events, lightly admonishing the British while underscoring the Cypriot and Athenian responsibility for the Cyprus Problem. Yet the title, not composed by the author, makes Durrell’s book appear inconclusive rather than balanced: “Cyprus tragedy: everybody was RIGHT and everybody was WRONG[.] That’s the conclusion to Lawrence Durrell’s book Bitter Lemons now available in Cyprus.” 35

Foley’s team might have been eager to publish reviews of the work — they are relevant, they drives sales — yet the paper made editorial selections such as titles and subtitles that underscore an impression of the work which is different from the other critic’s intent. This title ignores the nuances of Durrell’s work and provides a simple summary, one that suggests Durrell’s work is inconclusive. It warns readers that this book does not provide definitive insight into the crisis, merely some “revelations”. An important note of contrast, however, is that the Times of Cyprus, in its promotional advertisements for the serialisation, suggests that Durrell’s book can indeed provide that kind of insight. In an advertisement printed 20 August, 1957, a front-page image reads, “HOW DID IT HAPPEN? WHO IS TO BLAME? HOW WILL IT ALL END?”

While the Times privately believes Durrell as a colonial official was merely a colonial pawn, they advertise his work as though it will provide the British reading public with a new understanding of the Cyprus Problem. By August, it is certain that Foley and his team had read the text and knew that Durrell’s book concludes with his escape from the island and a poem, rather than answer any of these questions printed on the advert.

In a review of Bitter Lemons from the Spectator, reprinted by the Times, Lord Kinross [3rd Baron Kinross (1904-1976)] writes what Durrell hesitated to admit: “When the history of the decline and fall of the British Empire comes to be written it will surely be found to have failed, at the last, in terms of personal relations.” The article titled “We thought we were in the Fiji Islands, not Cyprus” laments the British treatment of their friends in the Eastern Mediterranean and applauds Durrell for his closeness to the people of Cyprus:

Those Englishmen nowadays who love and understand the peoples of the Eastern Mediterranean are less likely to be officials than writers, travellers, painters…men powerless as a rule to translate their understanding into terms of political influence. Mr. Lawrence Durrell is one of these… for once, [however], an enlightened colonial secretary appointed Mr. Durrell to the Cyprus government.36

I’ve included this excerpt to give a British perspective on Durrell as Director of Information, a perspective in direct contrast with the Times’view, and to show that even in moments which praise Durrell’s performance as an official, it is only in the light of his career as a writer. For Kinross, his ideal government man is an imperialistic artist, which makes Durrell a prime candidate. Here, Kinross assumes that, simply through the appointment of Durrell, he might became able to successfully “translate” his understanding of the Cyprus Problem into terms of political influence. Kinross’s portrayal, however, stands strangely in contrast to Durrell’s self-depiction in Bitter Lemons, as a Director of Information who is continually surprised by the actions of both the British and the Cypriots.

The serialisation of Bitter Lemons began on 22 August, 1957. Large spreads of Durrell’s text fill this small six-page newspaper for weeks on end. Before looking at the text of the serialisation, there are three responses published post-serialisation that are worth examining, the first of which I believe to be most significant. In the “Letters to the Editor” section on 13 September, Socrates Evangelides, a colleague of Durrell while he worked at the Pancyprian Gymnasium, writes a lambasting response to Durrell’s book, although extends that criticism beyond Durrell to all philhellenes: “God save the Greek Cypriot and poor Greece from the pen of such great philhellenes as Lawrence Durrell and his like.”37 The Times decided to pull the title from the piece: “Bitter Lemons? I say it’s sour grapes!” Evangelides writes that it was a pity that Durrell spent “two years at the Public Information Office writing misleading political extravaganza which will do no end of harm to both Cyprus and Great Britain.” In the article, regarding Durrell’s job as a Public Relations Officer, Evangelides recalls that he has not heard of any efforts by Durrell to prevent the gap between the British and Cypriots from widening. He criticises Durrell’s claim that there are no policy files in the Public Information Office, wondering if Durrell compiled any policy files himself during his two years in office. Inflammatory phrases like “he has no right to say” and his deprecating addresses of “my dear Larry”, make Evangelides one of the most antagonistic figures against Durrell in the Times of Cyprus. The article reads: “His last sentence on page 246 is perfectly true: that he has achieved nothing and that he was tired, but definitely not from overwork, but from wandering about doing nothing in my opinion.”

Roughly two weeks later, on 1 October 1957, the Times prints John Bray’s response, titled “HOW PLEASANT TO KNOW MR. DURRELL,” which makes no qualms about refuting Evangelides claims and is quick to criticise pedants. The article begins, “Certain kinds of literature should not be taken literally.” Bray links the serialisation of the text in the paper with the outrage that followed:

Since extracts of the book were published in this paper, indiscreet fragments and occasional errors of fact have aroused just the kind of controversy that converts a simple literary study into a complex historical account…[Bitter Lemons] makes no attempt to be factual or exact, and such political and social comment as there is has been made thoroughly impersonal and cannot be regarded as considered opinion. 38

Bray’s shortsightedness about the impact of Bitter Lemons reveals what no one could foresee: that Bitter Lemons would remain the foremost English language book written about Cyprus more than 60 years later. It is easy to shake off errors of fact if the book were not to become the premiere literary version of events for audiences around the world.

The final article “Cyprus as seen from Parnassus: When Paradise was Lost—so was Mr. Durrell”, published 11 October, 1957, falls just shy of Bray’s level of defence. The unidentified author writes “[Durrell’s] talent for wearing his prejudices on his sleeve…is so naïve as to be unobjectionable, in fact, almost endearing.” While the author finds Durrell “endearing” he doesn’t hesitate to prod Durrell’s lack of political commitment: “What, in fact, was the Durrell approach? Did it amount to much more than a vague and rather haunted optimism and a flair for reducing everything to the level of personal conviviality?” The author concludes, “to expect full consistency in any assessment of the Cyprus problem is to ask too much. To expect it from Mr. Durrell…would be grossly over optimistic.”

As seen through these three responses printed post-serialisation, the text’s publication generated a debate between various parties on the island. Importantly, this examination excludes responses that may be found in the colonial paper The Cyprus Mail and so is not a definitive collection of responses. Additionally, editorial selections such as pull quotes and subtext may have contributed to the impressions left on readers and responders. Worth noting is that among the many pages of the serialisation is an unfolding of drama between John Reddaway and the Cypriot public. The growing antagonism and the calls for Reddaway’s resignation and reassignment must have influenced a reading of Bitter Lemons. The readers of Durrell’s book are looking for the answers the Times promised: “How did it happen? Who is to blame? How will it all end?” and what they read is Durrell’s text interrupted by criticism of another colonial official. The articles about Reddaway remind readers that although Durrell has left, the Cyprus Problem is far from over; indeed, the struggle for Cypriot independence precipitated many more lives lost and the eventual division of the island in 1974.

Without meditating over every editorial selection the Times made in the serialisation, there are two instances of pull quotes that reveal the political motivations of the newspaper. The first, on 23 August, 1957, reads “‘Fight against Britain? Never!’ said nationalists to Lawrence Durrell. But the omens were there to be seen—and ignored.” Here, Durrell and the colonial government are shown to have been ignorant of the reality of the Cyprus Problem, and Durrell in particular appears to be gullible, seduced as he was by the local population. While some may read Bitter Lemons and observe Durrell as ignorant of the Cypriot reality, this pull quote enhances that perception and steers readers towards criticism of Durrell and, by proxy, the British colonial government.

In a second example on 27 August, 1957, the pull quote reads: “The Administrators at their lunch tables were out of touch with the real Cyprus, says Lawrence Durrell”, his name written in a different font to add authority. Here, Durrell has betrayed his government; he has done what he feared most, “give[n] the Greek Press grounds for believing he had resigned on policy grounds, which would have been unfair to [his] masters”. Durrell is presented as disloyal to his government, which the book makes strides to avoid at every turn. The Times deliberately spins Durrell’s narrative to create distrust and loyalty between the Cypriot reading public and the colonial government. These examples show how the press manipulated Durrell’s literary work to suit their perception of him as an official.

These purposeful pull quotes, the articles printed during Durrell’s time in office which paint him only as a literary celebrity, and the articles printed after Durrell has left and published Bitter Lemons,all help us consider a new reading of Bitter Lemons. We now must imagine Cypriots reading an English language newspaper, with articles that portray Durrell as an ineffectual British official (and Reddaway as an “evil genius”) side by side with the actual text of Bitter Lemons. No audience outside of Cyprus has ever read Bitter Lemons in this way. Perhaps this juxtaposition contributed to Costas Montis’ or Rodis Roufos’ reading of the text as well. Bringing this paratextual evidence together showcases Durrell as literato, philhellene, and colonial official. While Durrell claims that he “had come to Cyprus as a private individual, and had no concern with policy,” his literary work became a political text in its own right.39

The final image of Durrell in Foley’s memoir is that of a man who came to the island to get what he needed. Foley writes “The island had a new information chief, Durrell having departed with the manuscripts of Bitter Lemons and Justine under his arm.”40 Foley offers us one final look at Durrell as a man whose job was simply a distraction from his real work and for Charles Foley, this was who Durrell was — a writer making money as an official.

The last mention of Durrell in The Times of Cyprus,pre-independence, is on 15 May, 1960. The title reads “CLITO PAYS THAT DEBT TO DURRELL.” Clito is “the best known wineshop keeper in Cyprus” and a character in Bitter Lemons. Durrell’s description of Clito’s bar drove readers of Bitter Lemons to his small shop in Kyrenia, which in turn made him relocate to a larger location to accommodate the demand. As a way of honouring Durrell, he named the bar “CLITO’S BITTER LEMONS BAR”. While this appears to be a sweet ending to Durrell’s legacy in Cyprus, there are less favourable traces of Durrell still in Cyprus. Published in Cadences: A journal of literature and arts in Cyprus in the fall of 2013 is a poem by George Tardios called “After the Lemons”.41 The speaker, presumably an educated tourist of some kind, is searching for Clito’s bar and finds a simpleton who confirms the location of the once thriving bar: “Before, yes, yes…You like see? I show.” He brings the speaker into a dark tavern. The simpleton:

lobs back shutters like grenades

Freed light fights its way in—

“You see?”

Dust motes spinning desperately

Flagstone cavern, four straw-pleated chairs.

A seated figure lizard-still, arms feelingly outstretched

Slowly unscrews its head

“Who are you, my friends? I am Clito…”

We see what has happened to Clito in Durrell’s absence. “In peacetime, British soldiers, drunk / Aggressive, stamped him blind. / No reason.” But Clito’s blindness is more than literal; he cannot see the connection between Durrell and his present state: “I have written to Durrell – / My good friend. / He will help me. / Doctors, private, you see…” The reader knows Durrell will never return to help Clito and the history of colonisation suddenly seeps into every word of the poem. While this article primarily sought to demonstrate a little-examined part of Bitter Lemons’publication history and illustrate how Durrell was received by the Times of Cyprus, thinking about how the effects of colonialism and Bitter Lemons persist in Cyprus today lends poignancy to this project. Investigations into the local voices, even those British voices with anti-colonial agendas, helps construct a more fully fleshed narrative of the colonial project.

Works Cited

Durrell, Lawrence, Bitter Lemons(London: Faber and Faber, 2000).

—. Justine (London: Faber and Faber, 1964).

Foley, Charles, Island in Revolt (London: Longmans, Green and Co. 1962).

Holland, Robert, Britain and the Revolt in Cyprus, 1954-1959 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998).

MacNiven, Ian S.,  Lawrence Durrell: A Biography (London: Faber and Faber, 1998).

Mas, Jose Ruiz, “Lawrence Durrell: A Philhellene Against Enosis”, EPOS, XIX (2003) pp. 229-243. http://espacio.uned.es/fez/eserv/bibliuned:Epos-06540BA4-FC08-586D-9536-77A561E422D8/Documento.pdf. Web. 28 Dec. 2015.

Montis, Costas, Closed Doors, trans. David Roessel and Soterios G. Stavrou (Minneapolis: Nostos, 2004).

Reddaway, John, Odi et Amo: Vignettes of an Affair with Cyprus (London: K. Rustem & Brother, 1990).

Roessel, David, “Something To Stand the Government In Good Stead”, Deus Loci: The Lawrence Durrell Journal NS3, 1994.

Roessel, David, “A Selected Fiction? Lawrence Durrell and the Overgrown Typescript of Lawrence Durrell”, Synthesis 10 (Fall 2001).

Seferis, George, Complete Poems trans. Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard (London: Anvil Press Poetry, 2013).

Stubbs, Jonathan, “Lawrence Durrell and the Information Services Department in Cyprus”, Deus Loci https://www.academia.edu/19450967/Lawrence_Durrell_and_the_Information_Services_Department_in_Cyprus. Web. 7 Apr. 2016.

Roufos, Rodis, The Age of Bronze (London: Heinemann. 1960).

Tardios, George, “After the Lemons”, Cadences: A journal of literature and the arts in Cyprus Vol 9, Fall 2013.

Tournay-Theodotou, Petra, “The Empire Writes Back: Anti-Colonial Nationalism in Costas Montis’ Closed Doors and Rodis Roufos’ The Age of Bronze” in Hubert Faustmann, Nicos Peristianis (eds.), Britain in Cyprus: Colonialism and Post-Colonialism 1878-2006 (Mannheim/Moehnsee: Bibliopolis, 2006).

1 Durrell, Lawrence, Bitter Lemons (London: Faber & Faber, 1957).

2 Durrell, Lawrence, Justine (London: Faber & Faber, 1957).

3 Roessel, David, “Something to Stand the Government in Good Stead: Lawrence Durrell and the Cyprus ReviewDeus Loci: The Lawrence Durrell Journal 3 (1994) p. 44. Manzaloui, Mahmoud, “Curate’s Egg: An Alexandria Opinion of Durrell’s Quartet” in Critical Essays on Lawrence Durrell,ed. Alan Warren Friedman (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1987) p. 156.

4 Montis, Costas, Closed Doors: an answer to Bitter Lemon. trans.Roessel, David and Stavrou, Soterios G. (Minneapolis: Nostos, 2004). Tournay-Theodotou, Petra, “The Empire Writes Back: Anti-Colonial Nationalism in Costas Montis’s Closed Doors and Rodis Roufos’s The Age of Bronze” in Hubert Faustmann and Nicos Peristianis (eds.), Britain in Cyprus: Colonialism and Post-Colonialism 1878-2006 (Mannheim/Moehnsee: Bibliopolis, 2006) pp. 359-380.

5Holland, Robert. Britain and the Revolt in Cyprus, 1954-1959 (Oxford University Press, 1998) p. 4.

6For more on the meaning of Enosis and its evolution in Cypriot life and usage, see Holland, Robert, “The Pattern of Colonial Cyprus, 1878-1950” in Britain and the Revolt in Cyprus, 1954-1959 (Oxford University Press, 1998).

7 Ibid, p. 7.

8 Ibid. p. 8.

9 Ruis Mas, Jose, “Lawrence Durrell in Cyprus: A Philhellene Against EnosisEPOS XIX (2003), pp. 229-243.

10 Roessel, David, “A Selected Fiction? Lawrence Durrell and the Overgrown Typescript of Lawrence Durrell”, Synthesis 10 (Fall 201)p. 89.

11 Stubbs, Jonathan, “Lawrence Durrell and the Information Services of Cyprus” Deus Loci NS 14. (2013-2015).pp. 174.

12 Durrell, Lawrence, Bitter Lemons,p. 228.

13 The waning Ottoman Empire had offered the island in exchange for a promise, that the British would use Cyprus as a base to protect the Ottomans from Russian expansion. This arrangement would last until 1914 when upon declaration of World War I the British found themselves at war with Turkey.

14 Foley, Charles, Island in Revolt (London: Longmans, 1962)p. 13.

15 Foley, Charles, p. 41.

16 Foley, Charles,p. 44.

17 Foley, Charles, p. 91.

18 Times of Cyprus, April 12, 1955.

19 Foley, Charles, p. 66.

20 Foley, Charles, p. 12.

21 Roufos, Rodis, The Age of Bronze (London: Heinemann. 1960) p.138.

22 Foley, Charles, p. 56.

23 Foley, Charles, p. 38.

24 Times of Cyprus, September 5, 1955.

25 Foley, Charles, p. 69.

26 Times of Cyprus,June 25, 1959.

27 Reddaway, John, Odi et Amo: Vignettes of an Affair with Cyprus (London: K. Rustem & Brother, 1990) p. 66.

28 Bitter Lemons,p. 270.

29 Rodis Roufos writing sardonically about Bitter Lemons: “Sour Grapes is above all — so said most of its Anglo-Saxon readers — a fair and courageous book”, confirming that Cypriot opinion was less positive: Roufos, Rodis, The Age of Bronze, p. 134.

30 Bray, John, Times of Cyprus,1 October 1957.

31 Seferis, George, Collected Poems p. 269.

32 Roufos, Rodis, Age of Bronze,p. 135.

33 The trilogy consists of Prospero’s Cell; Reflections on a Marine Venus;and finally, Bitter Lemons.

34 Times of Cyprus, 28June, 1957.

35 This title is taken from Bitter Lemons directly: “I could not find my way forward among these mutually contradictory propositions; it seemed to me that everybody was right and everybody was wrong” (Bitter Lemons, 206).

36 Times of Cyprus, 7 August, 1957.

37 Times of Cyprus, 13 September 1957.

38 Times of Cyprus,1 October 1957.

39 Bitter Lemons,p. 118.

40 Foley, Charles, Island in Revolt,p. 111.

41 Tardios, George, “After the Lemons” in Cadences: a journal of literature and the arts in Cyprus, Fall 2013, pp. 82-4.


Further essays (by Richard Pine) on Durrell-related themes are:

These can be read on the Durrell Library of Corfu website – click on the link above, and open the ESSAYS and THESES page.

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