Lawrence Durrell – Clea, 1960


It is the first serious letter I have attempted, apart from short notes, with my new hand: this strange accessory-after -the-fact with which the good Amaril has equipped me! I wanted it to become word-perfect before I wrote to you. Of course I was frightened and disgusted by it at first, as you can imagine. But I have come to respect it very much, this delicate and beautiful steel contrivance which lies behind me so quietly  on the table in its green velvet glove! Nothing falls out as one imagines it. I could not have believed myself accepting it so completely – steel and rubber seem such strange allies for human flesh. But the hand has proved itself almost more competent even than an ordinary flesh-and-blood member! In fact its powers are so comprehensive that I am a little frightened of it. It can undertake the most delicate of tasks, even turning the pages of a book, as well as the coarser ones. But most important of all – ah! Darley I tremble as I write the words – IT can paint!

“I have crossed the border and entered into the possession of my kingdom, thanks to the Hand. Nothing about this was premeditated. One day it took up a brush and lo! pictures of truly troubling originality and authority were born. I have five of them now. I stare at them with reverent wonder. Where did  they come from? But I know that the Hand was responsible. And this new handwriting is also one of its new inventions, tall and purposeful and tender. Don’t think I boast. I am speaking with the utmost objectivity, for I know that I am not responsible. It is the Hand alone which as contrived to slip me through the barriers into the company of the Real Ones as Pursewarden used to say. Yet it is a bit frightening; the elegant velvet guards its secret perfectly. If I wear both gloves a perfect anonymity is preserved! I watch with wonder and a certain distrust, as one might a beautiful and dangerous pet like a panther, say. There is nothing, it seems, that it cannot do impressively better than I can. This will explain my silence and I hope excuse it. I have been totally absorbed in this new hand-language and the interior metamorphosis it has brought about. all the roads have opened before me, everything seems now possible for the first time.

Lawrence Durrell. 1912-1990. The Alexandria Quartet. Clea, 1960.  Book 4.

Image: Tahia Halim, Face of a Nubian girl, oil on board. 50 x 50 cm.

Author: jeh

Jeremy Hunt is Director of the AAJ Press (Art & Architecture Journal / Press) – a writer and consultant on art and public space

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