Landscape and Character in 20th Century "Big Books" - Louisville Conference (Feb. 20-22, 2014)

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International Lawrence Durrell Society
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The Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900
Louisville, KY | 20-22 February 2014

In what ways has literature and our understanding of it been shaped by our relationship to landscape—or by landscape's relation to books we read? For his part, Durrell appreciated "big" books for the importance they afford place: "What makes 'big' books is surely as much to do with their site as their characters and incidents." When "ordinary novels," he indicated in his essay on "Landscape and Character," are "well and truly anchored in nature they usually become classics. One can detect this quality of 'bigness' in most books which are so sited from Huckleberry Finn to The Grapes of Wrath."

Among Durrell's own works, we might consider The Alexandria Quartet as remarkable for treatment of place as for plots or people. Across the breadth of the Quartet, characters from around the Mediterranean and across Europe slowly synchronize, shifting attitudes as with desert sands to arrive at similar symptoms and maladies in that work's final volume. In The Avignon Quintet, too, people from across Europe, most notably displaced Jews and gipsies, exhibit customs and qualities marked by landscape. Durrell's concern for the personal characteristics inhering in landscape is informed by the time he spent articulating British interests abroad. In this new poetics, "landscape" takes its place with Aristotle's "incident" and "character" to augment and ultimately supplant "thought."

In light of the upcoming conference on "Durrell and Place," scheduled in Vancouver, papers for this session of the 2014 Louisville Conference sponsored by the International Lawrence Durrell Society should address the effects of landscape on character and action in fictional "big" books published since 1900. The twentieth century offers a wealth of texts, "big" in Durrell's sense, in whose good company his writings and comments may be considered. Fictional places that invite analysis—on their own or in conjunction with Durrellian locales—include (but are not limited to):

  • James Joyce's Dublin
  • Anne Rice's New Orleans

  • Sholem Asch's St. Petersburg, Warsaw, and Moscow
  • The Paris of Walter Benjamin or Ernest Hemingway

  • Freya Stark's western Iran
  • The Kashmir of Salman Rushdie
  • The Balkans of Olivia Manning
  • Extraterrestrial places in work by authors like Carl Sagan
  • William Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County
  • J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle Earth

Please send a 250-word abstract to James Clawson, International Lawrence Durrell Society, ( by Oct. 1, 2013. Final presentations should be limited to 20 minutes in length.