Many years ago, decades as a matter of fact, my husband and I, was backpacking through certain European countries. At one point, we arrived to Salzburg, Austria, in order to see where Amadeus Mozart was born and raised, but also to see all the spots made famous, by the film ”Sound of Music”. I had read reviews before hand, how one should take a bus tour with a guide, since it made it all so much more fun. The guides playing music from the film and being as enthusiastic, as all the tourists sitting on their buses. So my husband and I, bought our tickets and boarded one of the two buses available, on that day. And boy were we in for a nasty trip. Our guide was an old nazi hag, who made sure we all knew where she stood. She hated the film ”Sound of Music” , so the bus remained silent. She also hated her job and tourists, but most of all, she wanted to set the record straight.
Everywhere we arrived, she talked of ”Hollywood tralala”. Nothing in the story being correct. NOTHING! Among other things, she informed us that the von Trapps did not have to flee at all, but just sat down on a train and left Austria. If they had walked off, like they did in the film, they would have walked straight in to Germany.
Louisa, Gerry, Margo, Larry and Leslie Durrell, in the TV version
Some months ago, Swedish TV started showing the TV series, ”The Durrells”, and we started watching it, my husband, two of our children and I. It is a cozy series in one way, but I could not stop thinking about the nazi lady in Austria, with her super blonde hair, ice-cold face and words ”Hollywood tralala”. Too many questions arose in my mind, while watching the first season. Because there was too much of everything. Too much struggle for money, too much bohemian outlook on life in the children, at the same time as they expected a roof over their heads and food in their bellies, not to speak of their total lack of education. I just had to find answers. And while three out of four children wrote memoirs, I chose to not go that route. Through my research of women who served during world war two, I have discovered people having a propensity towards romanticizing their lives, creating a new story that is not really theirs and them starting to believe it to be true, themselves. I did not want to read Gerry’s or Larry’s or Margo’s pink tinted versions of their family and lives in Corfu. I wanted the truth, so I chose an outsider’s view, someone who had nothing to gain, by being dishonest.
Michael Haag starts out his biography on the family, by telling us that the family was a master of deception. That they twisted the truth so hard, that they came to believe it themselves. (Just as I suspected.) Margo, who by no means was the dip she plays in the TV series, stated that ”I never know what’s fact and what’s fiction in my family”. But perhaps it was necessary to lie. Gerry had to write best seller books in order to survive. He wanted to travel and discover animals and he wanted to keep a zoo, which all cost money. And why not write about a super excentric family then, which can charm everyone? If eccentricity really is endearing? Larry also had to live off his writings, for big parts of his life and if his little brother could lie about the truth, well, then he could not come up with another tale, could he?
Truth is, that the family that we see on-screen, is a far cry from the real thing and I would like to explain why, by going through the chapters in Haag’s book. At the onset of the TV series, we see a mother who feels that her entire life is falling apart. Bournemouth, where they live in a small semi-detached house, is cold, wet and bleak. And she miss her dead husband, which has left her destitute. Neither of her four children are shaping up the way she would have liked them to and in all this, she grabs the bottle at all hours, in order to cope. She decides, that the only way to sort her children out and survive financially, is to move to Corfu, where life expenditures are cheaper. So off they go. And I can swear that the sub-text said 1939. But that just can’t be. The TV producers can not be that idiotic.
The book starts way earlier than the TV series though, with the very beginning of Louisa’s and her husband Lawrence Samuel’s lives. Both were born in the Raj, at the end of the 19th Century. While Lawrence, as I will call him, was first generation born in India, Louisa was second generation. She grew up a privileged girl with tennis, dancing and amateur theatricals as the most strenuous things in her life. Lawrence on the other hand, studied at the Thomason College of Civil Engineering and met Louisa via her brother, who was also a student, at the same college. In 1909, at the age of 25, he had worked himself up to district engineer, on the railways, and felt enough well off, to take on a wife. In 1910, the 26-year-old married 23-year-old Louisa and a year later, their son Lawrence George was born. Or as I will call him, Larry.
The family moved around for almost 20 years, from one railway project, to the next. Lawrence was away for weeks, while Louisa stayed put in one location, with their son, a nanny and servants. In 1915, Louisa gave birth to their second child, Margery, who only lived to the age of four months. The baby caught diphtheria, which in those days was incurable. Louisa now took to the bottle. Gin became her only consolation and trying to contact the spirit world. All the same, in 1917, she gave birth to Leslie, another son, and because of the loss, the year before, she became completely over-protective, of this child. He could never do anything wrong and was allowed to do as he pleased, in everything. And he totally played on her fears, abusing them maximum.
In 1919, Margaret was born, nicknamed Margo. In 1920, Lawrence decided to retire and start his very own civil engineering and construction company, in Jamshedpur. The town was constantly growing and his company had lots of work, among other things, constructing a hospital. All financed by the Tata family, who today owns Jaguar, Land Rover and Tetley Tea.
1925, their last child, Gerald or Gerry, was born, when Louisa was 38 and Lawrence 40. Gerald had no memories of his dad really, since he only saw him twice a day for 30 minutes. Nor did he get to know his brother Larry, who had been sent to Britain in 1923, to attend boarding school. Larry never returned to India again. Gerry was not the only one who lacked memories of Larry, since he had been away to boarding school in India as well, for three years, prior to going to Britain. In other words, Leslie and Margo did not have any memories of him either.
Something which will come as a shock to most people, who watch the TV series, is the fact that the children were raised by their nanny, like upper class children were in those days. Margo explained that they only saw their parents at 16:00, when it was time for tea. She and her siblings had to dress up in nice clothes, to go see their parents, in the drawing-room. Not quite the cozy family after all, who had gone through thick and thin together. The only one who really shared trials with his parents, were Larry, in the early years of the couple’s marriage.
In Jamshedpur, they were surrounded by their own tailor, servants standing waving leaves, their own governess and of course a nanny. Margo insists that they were very badly behaved children, completely wild, and Leslie often being ill, since he was actually a rather fragile boy. He would pretend a lot of the time though and holding his breath, till he got what he wanted. Most often he would pretend to be ill, if his parents were going to go out and do something nice, just the two of them. He could not stand that, at all. But Margo felt that her mother did not really enjoy going out anyway. She liked to stay home while Lawrence went to fancy dress parties, sang, played tennis and joined amateur theatricals, all on his own, away from Louisa.
In the text, it is pretty clear that Louisa saw illness everywhere. Where it was not. The doctor became such a frequent visitor, that he ended up as their friend. Perhaps her insecurity stemmed from Lawrence having affairs? After all, this was the 1920s, and bedhopping was a common thing in upper British society. He clearly showed that he enjoyed others’ company more than his gin drinking wife’s. Just a guess.
In 1927, the family moved to Lahore, but the happiness was short-lived. In early 1928, Lawrence was starting to have severe head aches and behave irrationally. He was advised to go rest in cool Dalhousie, where he took ill and had to be admitted to an English cottage hospital. The governess had to take care of the children, while Louisa stayed with Lawrence. He died of a supposed brain tumour, but the doctor said brain haemorrhage. Louisa’s reaction to his death, was that she seriously contemplated suicide. The only thing stopping her, was Gerry and him only being three years old. She knew he needed her.
She decided to move to England, sold their Indian house and sent all their belongings to a house she and Lawrence had bought in 1926. The two of them had set their foot in England both in 1923, when they dropped off Larry at his boarding school, in 1925 when they left Leslie at a boarding school and again in 1926, after they found out that he was bullied at his school. Now they arrived in 1928, to this eight room house in Dulwich and very soon, hired help for polishing the silver and cooking meals. But it was only Louisa and Gerry, who lived in the big house. Margo, 9, and Leslie 10, were packed off to boarding schools right away and Larry, 16, was living in Cambridgeshire, preparing to take his entrance exams, to the prestigious universities.
In 1930, Louisa decided to rent out the house and moved herself and Gerry to a service flat, in the Queen’s Hotel, Upper Norwood. There were no rooms for Margo and Leslie, but Larry, who had decided on not attending university after all, had a room, which he used when he was not spending time in the bohemian areas of London. Gerry shared room and bed with Louisa, which can hardly have been fun for him, since she spent most of her time with her gin bottle and smoking. But at the hotel, they became acquainted with another family. Three generations of women, a grandmother, mother and daughter, who in 1931, decided to move to Bournemouth, since it was a retirement spot for military and civil servants. Mrs. Brown, the mother, talked Louisa in to buying a house down there as well, and sell up in London. Louisa followed her advice and bought a mini mansion, called Berridge House. A large house with an enormous garden for just her and Gerry. And now Louisa decided to sink even more in to her mourning, with the help of gin.
In 1932, things had got so bad, that Louisa had decided to just take Gerry and go back to India, but someone stopped her last-minute. The author of the book does not know what happened next, but Louisa had a break down of sorts and was sent to some kind of home, while a strange woman came to look after Gerry. Why or how this came about was not explained either, probably because the family has not wanted these un-cozy details, to leak out. When Louisa came back from wherever she went, she moved herself and Gerry to a smaller house, closer to civilisation, called Dixie Lodge, and hired a governess for her son. For some reason, she changed her mind about having a governess though and enrolled Gerry in the local school, instead. Which he thoroughly hated. Especially all sports activities.
The same year that Louisa went AWOL, Larry met his soul mate Nancy Myers. Just like him, she had dropped out of school. They settled in Bloomsbury, living off their inheritances. So, when the TV series pretend that these people were destitute, it is outright lying. All the children came upon an inheritance, when they turned 21. During this time, Larry and Nancy became acquainted with another artist couple, George and Pam Wilkinson. In 1933, the two couples went to live and write/paint in a Sussex cottage. Larry also introduced Nancy to his strange family. On visits, they would all sit in Louisa’s bed, while Gerry went to sleep there, and chat. Louisa sitting drinking her beloved gin. All the others drinking tea.
All the children realized that they had to look after their mother, because otherwise they would have no family. And soon things got bad. Gerry dropped out of school, for good, at age 9. Louisa’s drinking became more and more of a problem. In 1934, George and Pam Wilkinson were bicycling around in Europe and reached Corfu. They sent letters to Larry and Nancy, trying to persuade them to move to Corfu, since they felt that it was a much nicer place for two people living off their inheritances, than England would ever be. The couple was all for it, but decided that the entire family must go. In the TV series, it is said that the family moved to Corfu because they were so very poor. But that was absolutely not the case at all. Larry insisted they all go, to get his mother away from her alcoholic habits. Which of course was ridiculous, since she was an alcoholic and continued drinking her entire life.
Larry and Nancy, married 22 January 1935 and left for Corfu on the 2 March that same year. On the 6 March, the rest of the Durrells climbed aboard the ship, sailing for Greece. While their first days were tough and resembled those shown in the TV series, it was just a temporary set back. Like the bank not having forwarded her money, Larry’s and Nancy’s luggage not having arrived and Margo and Gerry being homesick.
Soon enough, Louisa found a property to rent for six months. The Strawberry-Pink Villa as Gerry named it in his book. Margo 16 and Leslie 18, were given a room each, while 10-year-old Gerry shared bed with his mother, as usual. Thanks to the taxi-driver we see in the TV series, Spiro, the family lacked nothing. He had lived in Chicago for 8 years and taken his Dodge with him, when he returned to Corfu, to work as a taxi driver. But he became so much more to them, than just a means of transportation. Like personal shopper for one.
Larry thought that Gerry needed some kind of education, so he talked his friend George Wilkinson, in to becoming Gerry’s tutor. George and his wife had settled on Corfu and Larry and Nancy took a cottage close to theirs. That is one of the things which bother me the most about Gerry and his famous memoirs. The most blatant lie of all, that Larry lived with them and that Nancy basically did not exist. She did exist and she and her husband Larry lived together, him writing books and she painting. Larry never really lived with his mother, after he was shipped off to boarding school, from India. If anything, it was just for short periods of time, while in transition.
The ones who integrated the most with their new surroundings, were Margo and Leslie. Leslie roaming around with his gun, just like in the TV series, but eventually working for the local police. The one who did not integrate at all was Louisa, who never learned a word of Greek, at all.
One day, George Wilkinson also introduced a character we know from the TV series, Theodore Stephanides. But not a whole lot about him comes across in the TV series. Theodore was 39 in 1935 and a renaissance man according to Haag. He was a doctor, scientist, naturalist and poet. And he could relate to everyone in the family. Theodore, like Louisa, was born in India to a Greek father and a London-born Greek mother. Theodore grew up with English as a first language, being a British citizen and only came to Corfu, learning Greek, when his father retired there. During WWI he fought with the Greek Army, and again in the Asia Minor Campaign of 1922, whereupon he went to Paris, to study medicine and radiology, under Marie Curie. He also studied astronomy in Paris, but decided that instead of becoming an astronomer, he would set up Corfu’s first x-ray unit, in 1929. He married the British Consul’s daughter Mary and had a daughter, Alexia, with her. With Louisa, Theodore discussed herbs, plants and recipes, with Margo, diets, exercise, and acne remedies, with Larry he discussed everything under the sun and with Leslie, weapons and game. Quite misrepresented in the TV series, in other words.
6 months after their arrival, their lease ran out and they moved to a larger villa, which Gerry 20 years later named the Daffodil-Yellow villa, even though it was pink. It was a huge four-story Venetian villa with extensive grounds. Close by, was Gouvia Bay, where sea planes landed on their way between England and Egypt. They kept the gardener that came with the place and hired on his wife, Lugaretzia, which is possibly the hired hand, which they have in the TV series. This is where things turned possibly as wild, as one sees on TV. The entire family lived under the same roof, since it was one of those transition times for Larry. He and his wife looking for a new place to live. He regressed to childhood, with keeping a messy teenage room in the house. Leslie took the verandah for a shooting gallery. Margo was sick after kissing the feet of an old corpse. Gerry now was given an own room, where he started his animal collection. George Wilkinson no longer wanting to teach him. And Louisa ”knocking back the gin”. Theodore came on his weekly visits, accompanied by his daughter Alexia, whom he hoped would marry Gerry one day.
In spring 1936, Larry and Nancy, moved to their own place again, in the North of the island. Doing so, made Nancy misplace her birth control device and soon, she found herself pregnant. Since both birth control and abortions were strictly forbidden in Greece, they had to persuade a doctor to terminate the pregnancy, pretending that Nancy was of a too frail constitution to carry a child. But it was not this, which made them hated on the island. They insisted to swim in the nude every day and the islanders responded to this outrageous behaviour, by stoning them. They tried desperately to find a secluded spot to continue this form of relaxation, but they were always watched by someone, somewhere.
Larry kept on writing books, the entire time he spent on Corfu. Most of them where not publishable in England, because they consisted of too many descriptions of sex. But he and Nancy had befriended the author Henry Miller, who had the same problem, and this man helped Larry so that his books could be published in Paris, instead. Life was tough for the couple though. The house and part of Corfu, they had decided to settle on, had appalling weather conditions and communications. They had to live off fish and macaroni from a tin, food had to be kept in a cave or down a well to not spoil and the charcoal stove was not the best for cooking meals on. But they persisted.
At one point, Margo was having health problems and Louisa took her and Gerry to London, to have it all sorted out. Soon after their return to Corfu, in July 1937, Larry and Nancy packed their bags for Paris, where they stayed from August 1937 to April 1938. On their return to Corfu, they only stayed till November that year and then were off to Paris and London, till May 1939. This, even though they had their house built on to. Larry just needed to be where other authors were living, and be part of that community, instead of sitting on Corfu, isolated away from the world.
In September 1937, Louisa gave up the Daffodil-Yellow villa and moved in to the Snow-White Villa, instead. Mainly because she realized that Larry and Nancy did not intend to live under her roof again, now having a big house of their own, where they intended to spend the rest of their lives.
Other things were changing too. Theodore became involved in a malaria campaign on mainland Greece and Cyprus, for the coming two years. So his visits basically stopped.
This is where Haag gives us another view of the family. Like I mentioned above, Northern Corfu was very deeply religious and old-fashioned and Larry and Nancy’s eccentric ways, were sure not appreciated there. Haag lets a 10-year-old girl give testimony in the book, of her impressions from meeting the Durrells. She grew up in a British merchant family and visited the Durrells, but that visit made a very strong impression on her for years to come. The family all talked at once, shouted at each other, Gerry behaving like a child, even though he was a teenager and even though they had guests, they upped in the middle of the dinner, to throw out Gerry’s toads, through the window. She felt that they completely lacked manners and upbringing, behaving more like the locals than like British people. At the same time, they made fun of the Greeks, Gerry later on recalling that the Greeks behaved like clowns. But this girl felt that the only ones behaving like clowns on the island, were the Durrells.
I think all of us who watches the TV series, see a family which does not fit in. They want to run their own race, but they do it at a cost. Because deep down, they do want to fit in. Not be looked at, as outsiders. Sadly, they were not accepted by either side because of their ways. The British people on the island felt uncomfortable with the family, because they did not know how to classify them. They did not belong to the professional class, nor the officer one or the gentry. The family socialized with peasants and villagers and this made them outsiders to the British. You could say that the British acted like snobs. But, there is a problem with that sentence. Because the Durrells were outsiders to the peasants and villagers as well. The Greeks did not feel inferior to the British at all. They had their pride. But, they knew their place as one says. There were subtle social rules that both the Greeks and the British followed, invisible barriers and borders not to be crossed. The Durrells disrespected those social rules entirely. And you can not do that. Because it leaves everyone uncomfortable around you.
You could say that they were communists and regarded everyone as equals. But they were not! Louisa had lived a privileged life her entire life and acted that way. So did her children. She warded off Margo’s suitors, one by one, as not good enough, for example. What you do, when you pretend that someone ”below” you is on the same level as you, creates humiliation, for that person. That person knows that you are not sincere. That it is all a playact. That in reality, the borders are still there. And for an entire family to live year after year, in the illusion that they were one of the locals, is just embarrassing. The Greeks never felt that the Durrells belonged! And their behaviour offended not just the British population, but the Greek one as much. It takes years to fit in to a community, set in its ways and values. Some things you will never learn, since there are unwritten rules and laws only known to those growing up in the community. You can be accepted on one level. But you will never be counted as ”one of us”. The Durrells seemed to be oblivious of this fact, when they later wrote all their books.
In September 1938, after Larry had ballet dancers visiting his and Nancy’s house in Corfu, and him having an affair with one of them, Nancy told Larry, she wanted a baby. They soon left Corfu, for Paris and London. Margo decided to leave as well, to attend art school in 1939. Soon she was followed by the family’s servant, Maria Condos. Haag states that the family were close friends with the Durrells, Leslie serving on the police force with Maria’s father. So it is an utmost disgrace what happened next. Leslie seduced Maria and the Condos wanted to kill Maria for dishonouring her family, in that way. Another proof of how the Durrells ran their own race. Maria was shipped off to England, so she would not get killed.
Maria was soon followed by Theodore’s wife and child, who understood that war was coming. But Louisa remained in Corfu till June, when the bank told her that in the event of war, she would be cut off from her money in England. This made her close the villa and travel back to England with Gerry and Leslie. Strangely enough, Margo went back to Corfu in August 1939 and moved in with the Condos family.
But war was soon declared and all the men disappeared to army camps all over Corfu. Greece was for the time being neutral but was preparing itself for a defensive war. Larry and Nancy, who at the time was on Corfu, with their friend from Paris, Henry Miller, started destroying all papers and paintings at the same time as they were packing to flee the island, like many other Brits. They were able to flee to mainland Greece and Athens, where Larry took up a position with the British Embassy, translating Greek newspapers and writing counter propaganda, to the German propaganda spread around. Larry, Nancy and Henry never set their feet on Corfu again, even though the couple owned the White House there.
Margo stayed in Corfu though, till she met a British flight engineer named Jack Breeze. He told her that she was being ridiculous for thinking that she could melt in with the Greek population and hide. Instead he ordered her to go home to her mother and wait there, for him to marry her. Henry Miller also left Greece about the same time, for New York, where he soon discovered that Spiro, whom they had all got so attached to, had suddenly died.
Larry and Nancy tried to stay as long as they could in Greece. He tried to get a job with Naval intelligence, but when that did not work out, he was assigned a teaching job. Nancy gave birth to their daughter Penelope on 4 June, 1940. But the Germans had their eyes set on Greece and the couple managed to flee to Egypt last-minute, in April 1941.
When Louisa got back to England, she rented a flat off High Street Kensington in London. But she was drawn again, to Bournemouth and bought a house there, 52 St Albans Avenue, where she would live out her life. This is where Margo arrived at the end of 1939. Early 1940, Jack married her and the airline, BOAC, posted him to South Africa, so off Margo went again. They did not stay in South Africa for long though. Their continued life with BOAC meant moving on to Mozambique and Ethiopia. Margo even managed to get caught by the Germans and having to give birth to her first child, in an Italian run POW camp. How this girl, whom the TV series portray as an air-brained girl, survived this is beyond me, because she had to have a C-section, without anaesthesia! Finally, towards the end of the war, Jack was posted to Cairo, in Egypt and Larry was only hours away, in Alexandria. Yet they never met up.
One of the men Louisa had disapproved of as a suitor for Margo, was her son’s tutor Pat Evans. I mention it, since this young man, even though his family were quakers, signed up with a Royal Tank Regiment and fought the desert fox, Erwin Rommel. Then in 1943, he joined the SOE and worked with the Greek Resistance 1943-1944. A true hero ending up a Major, but Louisa deemed him inferior to her daughter!
Theodore also became a war hero, serving as a doctor with the British Army, in Greece, till it fell in May 1941. From then on he worked as a doctor in a military hospital in Cairo, and soon managed to find Larry and Nancy. In July 1942, all women and children were evacuated to Palestine and this is when Nancy decided that she had had enough of Larry. She asked for a divorce. Larry was posted to Alexandria to write upbeat stories for the newspapers, to boost morale. And Theodore was posted at a hospital nearby, so they could still see each other, from time to time. But Larry soon found a new woman, Alexandrian Eve Cohen.
Towards the end of 1942, Gerry got his call up papers, but was excused since his sinuses were not fit for service. Instead he was put to use, taking care of cows and horses on a farm. Leslie had already tried to enlist with the Royal Air Force, but with a burst ear drum, he was also rejected, just like his brother, and ended up working in a munitions factory. He continued his liaison with the family servant, Maria Condos, and towards the end of the war, when Margo got back home, it was discovered that Maria was pregnant.
In 1947, several things happened. Margo bought the house opposite her mother’s house, with her dad’s inheritance. She had divorced Jack Breeze and needed to support herself and two sons, so she opened the house as a boarding house.
Gerry came to live there with her and kept a growing zoo, in the garden. Larry showed up with his new wife Eve, as well, and moved in with his mother. Nancy really wanted to come for a visit too, and perhaps dump Penelope on the family? Nancy had married an Edward Hodgkin in Jerusalem, and a new pregnancy was treating her poorly. But Louisa did not want such a visit, from her former daughter-in-law, so Nancy was forced to put Penelope in to a boarding school, near Bournemouth instead. Larry brought Penelope home for visits, but the family really did not want Nancy in their lives. Not until 36 years later, when she was dying of cancer. Then Margo and Penelope tried to care for her. To me, this shows that not only was Louisa an alcoholic, but she was not the sweet TV Louisa at all. Instead, she was a very judgemental woman, putting on airs. I am sorry, but she certainly dealt with people in an awful way.
Maria Condos gave birth to her and Leslie’s son in September 1945, but there seem to have been no agreement that Leslie should do the honourable thing. Not from his side, nor from Louisa’s. Maria Condos had to raise her son, entirely on her own. Margo offered her a place to stay for a while, but Maria ended up on an estate in Bournemouth, struggling to survive, working in a laundry facility, at a hospital. If this is not outright shameful, what is? She loved Leslie and he just took advantage of her. Once again, crossing a line that should not have been crossed.
Instead of marrying the mother of his child, he bought himself a sail boat with his inheritance and the boat sank on its maiden voyage. Then he shacked up with Doris, an 11- year-older woman and they ran a pub together. But in 1952 they headed off to Kenya, to escape bad finances. He really was a mess. Spoiled from birth. In Kenya, he managed a farm and then cleaned at a school, but had to flee back to England in 1968, after stealing funds from that school. In London, he worked as a janitor and he died in a pub, 1982, where he used to sit and boast and tell everyone, that he was a civil engineer. Not quite the cute young man, who I saw deliver a baby on TV, last night. Total ”Hollywood Tralala”.
Gerry, was one of the successful brothers. He spent all his money on expeditions all over the world, collecting wildlife, with his wife Jacquie. When he eventually ran out of money, he started writing humorous books about his family and his travels, to finance further expeditions and the zoo he started, in Jersey. To keep it all afloat, he had to write two books a year, and he did not care whether the stories were true or not. He made himself the hero in them, even if events had happened to say Leslie or someone else in the family. It was common practice, to steal the glory from each other like that, in his family. And both Margo and Louisa, full well knew that most of his writings were pure fiction, but very convincing such. So much so, that they more or less adopted his version of their lives.
Louisa was the first to die. In 1964, but Haag does not say from what, so I guess we should assume that it must have been alcohol related. Noone can drink heavily for half a century and not be effected by it, physically. Leslie, as mentioned above, was the next to die and then Larry in 1990. Larry worked as a press attaché in Belgrade, for the British Embassy, after the war and that is where his daughter Sappho, was born in 1952. But Eve ended up in a military hospital in Germany, with severe depression and hallucinations. In 1953, he took his daughter to live in Cyprus and Louisa arrived to look after the child, while he worked as a teacher. In 1954, Eve joined them and Louisa returned to England, since she could not get along with this daughter-in-law either. Larry took a new job with the Cypriot government but in 1955, Eve decided to move back to England with Sappho and filed for a divorce. Larry spilled no tears over it, he soon had her replaced with an Alexandrian co-worker by the name of Claude Vincedon. The two of them moved to Provence, in 1957, where he stayed for the rest of his life. Writing books and finding a new life partner in a fourth woman, named Francoise Kestsman.
Gerry’s wife filed for a divorce in 1976, but he was like his brother and soon found a new woman. A very much younger American graduate student, by the name of Lee McGeorge and they married in 1979. Together those two ran the zoo, wrote the books and went on expeditions. He died in 1995. The last Durrell, was Margo and she passed away in 2004.
As for the book itself, I would only give it three stars and this because it only scratches on the surface. I do not think that a book becomes particularly objective, when one quotes from memoirs one knows are false and more than a little bit fictive. But, the book does one thing for sure and that is taking away the pink coziness one watches on the TV, every week. The handsome actors are doing such a great job. The storyline is very cute. And it shows a sort of eccentricity that we can all accept and perhaps envy a little bit. BUT…
The truth is not cozy at all. The truth is that mother Louisa was ill prepared for life, like many young women were in 1910. Her social class taught girls to marry and servants would take care of all the boring bits of life. She might have loved her husband Lawrence, but would he indeed have stayed with her? Already in India, he was craving a vivid social life and it would not have changed in England. His wife’s drinking would have got them ostracized from certain things and people. Louisa’s alcohol problems started long before he died, so his death was not the cause.
What we see of Louisa on TV, is fiction. When she arrived in Corfu, she was already considered old. In the photos of her, you do not see a slender, attractive woman. And Haag does never mention that any men showed her any interest. So ”Sven” and ”Hugh”, is just there for the TV watchers to get a cheap thrill. Her love was for the bottle and between the lines, I read that the youths more or less had to take care of themselves and her.
Maybe, the children would have had different lives, had Lawrence not died? But the fact is that none of them were interested in formal education. Could he have forced them to stay in school, get educations and Leslie and Margo, at least, getting proper jobs? Looking at all of their failed marriages, tells me that they were incredibly difficult to live with. Not because of eccentricity I think, but more likely selfish attitudes and manners. When the parental guidance is not there, children have to raise themselves. And it is a fact, that children of alcoholics, are forced to become the parent. Only a very strong person, will come out alright in the end, having grown up the way the Durrell children did. I would say, that their social class is the worse culprit in all this. A working class child, would have had to come to grips with things much sooner. Such a child would have had to step in as a parent to younger siblings and the drinking adult.
Instead, in this case, you had four children, brought up by nannies, governesses and boarding schools. Never having to take any responsibility for anything really. And they go off to paradise to do nothing but enjoy themselves. And Louisa, never the leader, sitting watching the entire thing with a gin bottle in her hand. Hardly any surprise, that the children will see their life in Corfu as a rose coloured cloud, each and every one of them, making it in to their dream and later when reality caught up with them, selling that dream to us, to keep it alive and themselves afloat. I could not look upon the last episodes of season two, with quite the same eyes. Just like that day in Austria, the awakening was rude and left me feeling sad.