Good Morning, Midnight
Four women novelists: Eudora Welty, Jean Rhys, Carol Hill, and “Lawrence Durrell.” They can usher in the graceful words with which Sir Walter Scott bowed out, after praising Fanny Burney, Maria Edgeworth, Jane Austen, and a great many more:
It would be impossible to match against these names the same number of masculine competitors, arising within the same space of time. The fact is worthy of notice; although, whether it arises from mere chance; whether the less marked and evanescent shades of modern society are more happily painted by the finer pencil of a woman; or whether our modern delicacy, having excluded the bold and sometimes coarse delineations permitted to ancient novelists, has rendered competition more easy to female writers, because the forms must be veiled and clothed with drapery,—is a subject which would lead us far, and which, therefore, it is not our present purpose to enter into.
Exit Scott in 1825. Enter Virginia Woolf in 1918, with a cool list of drastic questions about “the women novelists.” By 1970, “our modern delicacy” is not quite what it was, and Scott is to be suspected of insufferably male gallantry, of paying women novelists a compliment rather than doing them justice.
But first the “Lawrence Durrell” affair. It is no coincidence that it should have been Nunquam which has at last blown the gaff, and has revealed to a mildly surprised world that “Lawrence Durrell” is the anagrammatic pseudonym of Ellen Ward Curler, a fragile relic of the Twenties who was one of the founder members (the other members soon foundered) of the Ladies’ Liberation Front. Aged sixty-nine, she now lives on Lesbos, and she has let it be known to Private Eye (whose scoop all this is) that the only point of all her “Lawrence Durrell” books has been to make financially possible her long-standing enterprise of translating “Homer” (that other great authoress) into English Sapphics.
Anyway, that the disclosure should have been precipitated by Nunquam is no accident, since the novel is itself an allegory of the whole hoax. Frankenstein was “A Modern Prometheus”; Nunquam is a modern Frankenstein. But Ellen Ward Curler has seen that Mary Shelley should have stood by the rights of women; the new fatal simulacrum has to be, not a man, but a femme fatale. “We don’t really need a male dummy, do we?”—what the character means (he is lusting for the female dummy) is not at all the same as what the authoress means (male dummies we do not need expensively to make).
Nunquam wraps up the story of Tunc (1968), and it makes clear just what was involved in that earlier anagram. Has she not reason to lament what man has made of woman? And what apter fable could there be than that of a synthetic woman such as man insists woman must be? Julian, the wizard of the great concern “Merlin” which is taking over the world, bends everyone’s scientific skill to the creation of …