The Durrells and Larry's Black Book

28th April 2016

ITV's The Durrell's

This year’s marvellous run of Sunday evening drama includes the current ITV series “The Durrells.” The series is based on Gerald Durrell’s “My Family and Other Animals,” and gives a sunny, olive grove strewn view of this literary family. In the tv series the older brother, Larry (Lawrence Durrell) is depicted as an aspiring writer living in the family home. In fact when the Durrell family moved to Corfu in 1935 Larry was already married to Nancy Myers, lived in a village house nearby and had a publishing deal for his first novel, Pied Piper of Lovers. 

The Young Lawrence Durrell

However, it wasn’t until his third novel, The Black Book that Durrell felt his inner voice began to emerge in his writing. Written when he was just 24, The Black Book is often referred to as the original angry young man novel, with autobiographical undertones, themes of sexual repression, obscenity and often savagery.

Having come across a copy of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer in a secondhand bookshop in Corfu Durrell became a huge fan and the influence of Miller’s writing is evident in the prose of The Black Book. 

Upon completion Durrell sent the manuscript of The Black Book to Henry Miller, suggesting that he should read it and then “throw it in the Seine.” Miller however believed the novel showed promise and recommended Durrell send it on to T.S. Eliot, at the publishing house Faber & Faber.

T.S .Eliot received the typescript in 1937 and he wrote a book report to colleagues advising: 

"This man has some ability … another 10 years growing up, and working away with the language and literary form, would help.” Eliot recommended that Faber publish the book, though in a heavily censored version. 

Refusing to allow the book to be bowdlerised Durrell approached Miller’s publisher the Obelisk Press in Paris under whose imprint the novel was published in its entirety the following year. The Obelisk Press first edition of the book was printed as cheaply as possible, in traditional Parisian style with paper wrappers (paperback) and in a short print run, although it did not sell out at the time. Due to its fragility surviving copies are few and far between. 


  First edition, published by Obelisk Press


Seen here is an even greater rarity, an inscribed copy presented to a close friend and inscribed on two different occasions. It was a gift to Peter Bull, an English actor who in his early 20’s had forged a friendship with Nancy Myers, Durrell’s first wife. Bull described as “short with a disproportionately large head, he had a Wykehamist slow drawl and a rich dark voice” is probably best known for his role as the Russian Ambassador, Alexi de Sadesky, in the film Dr. Strangelove.,(1964). Bull and Durrell met in both Paris and Greece, where Bull also owned a home and their friendship continued for many decades as can be witnessed by the two inscriptions on the title page, the first written neatly at the time of the book’s publication in Paris, 1938 and the latter in a large and artistic manner, “Inscribed for Peter Bull, from his old friend Larry Durrell,” in 1973.


 A rare signed copy

The novel’s obscenity was considered so great that it was not was not published in Britain until 1973. Later in his career Durrell reflected that The Black Book’s obscenity and savagery were too explicit, blaming them on the inexperience and over exuberance of youth. However, he did  consider it a crucial turning point in his writing, believing it to be the moment in which he heard his inner voice beginning to emerge in print.


Books by The Durrell's 

Keywords: The Durrells, Lawrence Durrell, Angry Young Men, Banned Books, Keeley Hawes, ITV


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