Gerald Durrell - Dr. DR Ransdell

Gerald Durrell
My Family and Other Animals
1956. London: Penguin Books, 1987.
“The Gloriously Comical Adventures of
a Young Naturalist”
Lawrence Durrell’s younger brother
Became a renowned naturalist
Started trusts in several corners of the world
Went on expeditions to find animals
Worked to reform zoos
Wrote books to fund his projects
Jersey Zoo= most important project (breeding of
endangered species)
Zoo Reform (from The Stationary Ark)
• Zoo’s main purpose should be to help
endangered species survive
• A secondary purpose should be education
• Zoos shouldn’t be for entertainment; nonthreatened species should be returned to the
• Animals should be in zoos as a last resort
Corfu, 1935-39
• Family moves to the island from England on a
• It’s a perfect environment for Gerald
• He learns to interact with the locals
• Studies all the wildlife
• Writes My Family from the point of view of a
young son
• It’s not about Corfu but rather it’s bugs, birds,
and reptiles!
Humor as Technique
• From the beginning, he sets the tone. “This
[story] was originally intended to be a mildly
nostalgic account of the natural history of the
island, but I made a grave mistake by
introducing my family into the book in the first
few pages. Having got themselves on paper,
they then proceeded to establish themselves
and invite various friends to share the
• “… It was only with the greatest difficulty..
that I managed to retain a few pages here and
there which I could devote exclusively to
animals.” (9)
• In first chapter, thanks his family: “They, after
all, unconsciously provided a lot of the
material, and helped me considerably during
the writing of the book by arguing ferociously
and rarely agreeing about any incident on
which I consulted them.” (10)
• “Lastly, I would like to make a point of
stressing that all the anecdotes about the
island and the islanders are absolutely true.
Living in Corfu was rather like living in one of
the more flamboyant and slapstick comic
operas.” (10)
• As a young, curious English boy who begins to
learn the local language, he has access to the
island and its inhabitants in a way his other
family members never do
• The book is written in 1956, which is about 15
years after he left.
• He took lots of notes while he was there.
• His viewpoint is from a special point in time.
• He had no part in the decision to live in
Greece; nevertheless, he made good use of all
his time
Getting Started
• “July had been blown out like a candle by a biting
wind that ushered in a leaden sky. A sharp,
stinging drizzle fell, billowing into opaque grey
sheets when the wind caught it.” (15)
• “It was Larry, of course, who started it. The rest of
us felt too apathetic to think of anything except
our own ills, but Larry was designed by
Providence to go through life like a small, blond
firework, exploding ideas in other people’s minds,
and then curling up with a cat-like unctuousness
and refusing to take any blame for the
consequences.” (16)
• It’s Larry’s idea to pick up and go to Greece—
and they do: Mother, Larry, Leslie, Margo,
• We “fled from the gloom of the English
summer, like a flock of migrating swallows.”
• Note: What does it take to pick up and move
to another country, culture, language group?
Corfu Town
Colorful Character #1 Spiro
• They need to hire a car to find a house, but “the
taxi-drivers, perceiving our innocent appearance,
scrambled from inside their cars and flocked
round us like, each trying to out-shout his
compatriots.” (27)
• “Actually, we were being treated to the mildest of
mild altercations, but we were not used to the
Greek temperament, and to us it looked as
though we were in danger of our lives.”
• “’Yous wants someones who can talks your own
language.. The bastards.. If yous will excuses the
words… would swindles their own mothers.
Excuses me a minute and I’ll fix thems.’” (28)
• “He turned on the drivers a blast of Greek that
almost swept them off their feet.”
• “’They calls me Spiro Americano .. I spent eight
years in Chicago.. That’s where I learnt my goods
English. Wents there to makes moneys. Then
after eight years I says, ‘Spiros, yous mades
enough,’ sos I comes backs to Greece.’”
Knows everyone
Can get anything done
Looks out for the family
Becomes part of the family
The townspeople “respected his honesty, his
belligerence, and above all they adored his
typically Greek scorn and fearlessness when
dealing with any form of Governmental red
tape.” (33)
Love of Place
• “The bougainvillaea that sprawled luxuriously
over the tiny front balcony was hung, as
though for a carnival, with its lantern-shaped
magenta flowers.”
• “In the darkness of the fuchsia hedge a
thousand ballerina-like blooms quivered
expectantly. “ (31)
True Focus
• Bugs and such: lady-birds, carpenter bees,
hawk-moths, black ants.
• “At first I was so bewildered by this profusion
of life on our very doorstep that I could only
move about the garden in a daze, watching
now this creature, now that, constantly having
my attention distracted by the flights of
brilliant butterflies that drifted over the
hedge.” (38)
Peasant Girls
• Passed the garden every morning and evening
• In the evening, they would hold out gifts for
him: grapes, figs, water-melon
• Comes to understand them: “What had at first
been a confused babble became a series of
recognizable separate sounds.” (41)
• “Suddenly these took on meaning, and slowly
and haltingly I started to use them myself;
• ..then I took my newly acquired words and
strung them into ungrammatical and
stumbling sentences.” (41)
• “Our neighbours were delighted, as though I
had conferred some delicate compliment by
trying to learn their language.”
• “They would lean over the hedge, their faces
screwed up with concentration, as I groped
my way through a greeting or simple remark,
and when I had successfully concluded they
would beam at me, nodding and smiling, and
clap their hands.”
Absorbs Corfu as a Sponge
• Because he can speak to the peasant girls, he
learns all the gossip
• He and his dog Roger become known all
around the surrounding countryside
• Old Mrs. Agathi teaches him peasant songs
• “We would strike a mournful note and sing
‘Why are you leaving me?’ We were almost
overcome by this one, and would wail out the
long, soulful lyrics, our voices quavering.” (46)
Run of the Island
• Tries to decide where he should go for snacks:
• Leonora would give him figs and break but talk
his ears off
• Taki would be having his siesta but Gerald
could wake him up
• Christaki and his family would ask too many
• So he goes to wake up Yani instead! (72)
Dr. Theodore Stephanides
• Fellow naturalist, doctor, writer, poet
• Treats young Gerald as an adult
• They have Thursday afternoon excursions to
find insects and such around he island
• Becomes life-long friend of the whole family
• Writes a biological treatise on Corfu
• Three species are named for him
Naturalist as Danger
• Finds a mother scorpion with a mass of babies
clinging to it (136)
• Smuggles them into the house so he can
watch them grow up
• Carefully maneuvers them into a matchbox
• Is called into lunch
• After lunch, brother Larry picks up the
• Mother Scorpion crawls onto Larry’s hand
• “He uttered a roar of fright that made
Lugaretzia drop a plate and brought Roger out
from beneath the table, barking wildly.
• With a flick of his hand [Larry] sent the
unfortunate scorpion flying down the table,
and she landed midway between Margo and
Leslie, scattering babies like confetti as she
thumped on the cloth.” (137 )
• Larry: “’That bloody boy.. Every matchbox in
the house is a deathtrap….”
• Goes through a series of tutors and pets
• Pair of magpies are esp. notorious
• One day when Larry forgets to close his
window, they slip in and attack
• They “had been through the room as
thoroughly as any Secret Service agent
searching for missing plans.
• Piles of manuscript and typing paper lay
scattered about the floor like drifts of autumn
leaves, most of them with an attractive
pattern of holes punched in them.” (247)
Kosti: Colorful Character #56
• Prisoner, but allowed to go home on
• Gives Gerald a troublesome gull
• Kosti is in jail.. For killing his wife!
• Gull terrorizes the rest of the menagerie
• Mother and Gerald must return to England so
that Gerald can do high school
• Back up all their boxes, bags, and trunks
• The magpies squawk from their cages
• The Swiss customs official writes on their
form, under “Description of Passengers”:
• “One travelling Circus and staff”
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