Sunday, 20 May 2018

Lawrence Durrell's Later Poetry Newly Collected
























The Fruitful Discontent of the Word, to be published on 25 May, for the first time brings together Lawrence Durrell's later poetry, the poems he embedded in his novel cycle The Avignon Quintet set in Provence and Egypt, his writings on place such as Sicilian Carousel and Caesar's Vast Ghost, and also poems found in Spirit of Place, a collection of his letters, articles and short pieces.

Click on the image below to learn more and how to order.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Orson Welles' Underpants

Orson Welles in 1955.



My aunt Ann Rogers was Orson Welles' private secretary and all-round fixer from 1955 until 1979.  

An extremely discreet woman, she worked quietly and invisibly behind the scenes (though sometimes telling me good stories about OW's adventures), proud to devote herself to his genius.

Orson Welles in 1983.



So I was a bit surprised when someone drew my attention to her name in print in this newspaper article which highlights a new book about Welles by Dorian Bond. My aunt, whose methods Bond describes as like 'working for the SOE, sending agents off on deadly missions', has been briefly exposed in the pages of the Daily Mail.

Which has reminded me of one of her most covert operations, forwarding underpants to Orson Welles.  She wrapped them in a large parcel and gave it to my father who was passing through London on his way to California where Welles was living at the time.  

But my father (my aunt's younger brother) was an unreliable agent.  He could not resist peeping inside.  And kept a pair of OW's underpants as a souvenir.  Afterwards my brother tried them on with the result you see below.

My brother Anton, left, and his friend Tom, trying on Orson Welles' underpants in 1983.

Friday, 4 May 2018

The Crusader Armies


Before anyone reads or writes another book about the Crusades they should read Steve Tibble's The Crusader Armies.

I was asked by Yale University Press to read the book in proof and offer comments in advance of publication this coming July.  I found it exciting and refreshing.  

For one thing it overturns the tired old prejudices that the West was the aggressor, that events were driven by religious fanatics, and draws a broader, more profound and complex picture of events - but always readable.  

Tibble presents the latest scholarly and archaeological research, much of which has not yet entered the public consciousness (nor a good deal of academic thinking) , to make his case that climate change on the Asian steppes drove the mass migration of nomadic horsemen who created havoc among the settled peoples of the Middle East, Christian and Muslim alike.  This and not religion nor Western intervention was the determining factor behind the crusades.

It affected strategy, tactics and the composition of armies - with often Muslims and Christians fighting as allies or even within one another's ranks.  

It also affected the outcome.  Ultimate victory went to those who could draw on the greatest reserves of nomads, which favoured the Muslims in the East who had Turkic nomads moving into their hinterlands.  But that was not the case in the West where Portugal, Spain and France were saved for Europe.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Lawrence Durrell's First School in England


Lawrence Durrell was born in India and came to England when he was ten.  From 1924 to 1926, when Durrell was eleven to thirteen years old, he was a student at St Olave's and St Saviour's Grammar School in Tooley Street on the south bank of the Thames near Tower Bridge in Bermondsey, London.  The school has since moved to Orpington in Kent, but the building Larry knew remains - transfigured into an Indian-run luxury boutique hotel.



The original dining hall of the school is now the hotel restaurant.

To get a sense of the neighbourhood you can click on Google Street View.  The new bulbous London Mayor's building is straight ahead beyond the school.  Turn left for the Shard, the tallest building in Europe.  Turn right and then left for Tower Bridge.

The Lalit is an Indian-run hotel. The elephant was not here in Durrell's time but it would have been a welcome sight: Durrell was born in India.














After leaving St Olave's Durrell continued his education at St Edmund's in Canterbury.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Sham el Nessim

Families fill city parks at Sham el Nessim.

Today is Sham el Nessim, an ancient spring festival celebrated in Egypt since pharaonic times.  Falling on the Monday after Coptic and Greek Orthodox Easter but rooted in the religion of the Old Kingdom, Sham el Nessim is a picturesque national holiday when the entire population, Christian and Muslim and until recently Jews too, goes out into the fields or to the Nile to eat in the open air and greet the zephyrs of spring.                                                                           

A young girl at the spring flower show at Ismailia.

Edward William Lane, in his Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, described the Sham el Nessim he knew in  the 1830s.  

'A custom termed "Shemm en-Neseem" (or the Smelling of the Zephyr) is observed on the first day of the Khamaseen. Early in the morning of this day, many persons, especially women, break an onion, and smell it ; and in the course of the forenoon, many of the citizens of Cairo ride or walk a little way into the country, or go in boats, generally northwards, to take the air, or, as they term it, smell the air, which, on that day, they believe to have a wonderfully beneficial effect. The greater number dine in the country, or on the river. This year (1834), they were treated with a violent hot wind, accompanied by clouds of dust, instead of the neseem ; but considerable numbers, notwithstanding, went out to "smell " it.  The 'Ulama have their "shemm en-neseem " at a fixed period of the solar year; the first three days of the spring-quarter, corresponding with the Persian "Now-r6z," called by the Arabs "N6rooz."'

Lawrence Durrell used Lane's book to provide himself with background for his Alexandria Quartet in which the two Hosnani brothers are called Nessim and Narouz.

Jewish families of Alexandria celebrate Sham el Nessim
on the beach in 1912.

Rose Tuby, the future wife of Baron Edmund de Menasce,
was a friend of Constantine Cavafy
and later of Lawrence Durrell.















































[The sepia photographs in this post are from Michael Haag's Vintage Alexandria published by The American University in Cairo Press.  The colour photographs are from Egypt Today magazine.]

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

A Somewhat Belated Review of Michael Haag's The Durrells of Corfu

An old postcard from Corfu.

A somewhat belated review of The Durrells of Corfu - and a particularly interesting one for its remarks on Kathryn Hughes' strange review a year ago in The Guardian.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Henry Miller in Full Frontal Meeting with the Durrells

Henry Miller as depicted in London in The Durrells.

In episode three of the third series of The Durrells, broadcast last night, Louisa and Larry go to London where they meet Henry Miller. It is true that Louisa went to London but with Gerry and Margo to see about a hormone problem that was making Margo fat.  Gerry tells the story in My Family and Other Animals.

That was in 1937, and no sooner had Louisa, Margo and Gerry returned than Larry and his wife Nancy left Corfu for Paris where they met Henry Miller.  But there is no account if him being naked at the time.

But Miller and Louisa never met in London.
Miller naked in London is an invention of Simon Nye, The Durrells' scriptwriter.  Miller never lived there, naked or otherwise. Instead he lived in Paris throughout the 1930s where he wrote and published Tropic of Cancer, his ebullient and erotic depiction of underground life in the city.  The  novel was banned for obscenity in Britain and America, but Larry managed to get hold of a copy in Corfu and shot off an admiring and enthusiastic letter to Miller who replied 'Your letter is so vivid, so keen, that I am curious to know if you are not a writer yourself'. This exchange, in 1935, marked the beginning of a lifetime friendship between the two.

Louisa had left Corfu by the time Miller, shown here
in a future episode, arrived there.
In 1939, just before the outbreak of the war, Miller did come to Corfu where he joined Nancy and Larry in their habit of stripping off.  'I hadn't been in the water for twenty years', said Miller, in contrast to Larry and his wife who were 'like a couple of dolphins'.  At the nearby shrine of St Arsenius overlooking the crystal blue Ionian, 'We baptised ourselves in the raw'.  By that time Louisa had returned to England; she never did meet Henry Miller.

First edition Colt Press 1941.
Miller goes unmentioned in Gerry's Corfu books and in Larry's Prospero's Cell.  But you will find something about his time in Corfu in The Colossus of Maroussi, the best book Miller ever wrote, which was published in 1941 after his return to America from Greece.

And then there is Margo's recollection of Henry as reported in The Durrells of Corfu.  This was after the family had left the island but Margo had impulsively returned from England to face the approaching war shoulder to shoulder with her Corfiot friends.  Henry was also there, enjoying the last moments of peace. 'A wonderful period of solitude set in', Miller recalled. 'It was the first time in my life that I was truly alone.’
Not quite alone, according to Margo. ‘Lawrence asked me to look after him, and he said, “Don’t let anybody swindle him”, which I thought was a typical Lawrence remark at that point. I did look after Henry, and I found him very charming. He did use a lot of bad language, but then, you know, I was used to that language. He just was very genial. He came swimming, and was absolutely like a grandfather. Lawrence said I was safe because I was one of the family.’

Friday, 30 March 2018

Sex Worker Mary Magdalene in Time Magazine














Today, Good Friday, Time magazine mentions my book, The Quest for Mary Magdalene, in one of those splendid examples of political correctness in which prostitutes are sex workers, evangelicals are Christians, and academics find feminism at the heart of the Church.  My view is that Jesus and Mary Magdalene would be turning in their graves if they knew the ways in which they have been twisted, distorted and abused by all such good and correct people now and for thousands of years.

Monday, 26 March 2018

The Christian Message


Michael Haag Interviewed by O Globo in Brazil about Maria Madelena

O Globo, the leading Brazilian newspaper, published this interview with me today about my new book Maria Madelena, the Portuguese Brazilian translation of The Quest for Mary Magdalene.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

The Durrells Third Series Begins This Weekend







Almost by stealth, though eagerly awaited, the third series of The Durrells has suddenly been announced to begin this Sunday evening on ITV.

The year is now 1937 in Corfu. For full biographical background on the family during this period read The Durrells of Corfu.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Mary Magdalene Film: Article by Michael Haag in The Times




How faithful to the Bible is the film Mary Magdalene?
Michael Haag, author of The Quest for Mary Magdalene, examines Garth Davis’s film

This film presents Mary Magdalene as a young woman who leaves her fishing village on the shore of the Sea of Galilee to join Jesus, who teaches forgiveness and love in his mission to bring about the Kingdom of God. With the disciples she follows Jesus to Jerusalem, where he cleanses the Temple of money lenders, declaring that the Kingdom of God is not to be bought and sold. Fearing that Jesus’s actions will incite a popular insurrection, the authorities arrest and crucify him. “You are my witness,” Jesus has told her, and Mary, alone of the disciples, stands at the cross till the end. But it is not the end, as Mary understands when she goes to the tomb on the third day and finds it empty.

Yet, although Mary Magdalene stands at the heart of one of the great spiritual stories, she was sidelined and ignored by the new religion promoted by the 12 male disciples and for 1,500 years the Church even slandered her as a whore.

It is a story, the film-makers say, that sheds light on contemporary issues of equality and feminism. Going back to the original texts, the canonical gospels and also the gnostic gospel of Mary Magdalene and reading them afresh, the film-makers have set about getting closer to Jesus’s message by retelling events from the female perspective of Mary Magdalene.

Yet much is down to how the sources are interpreted, the film-makers admit; and they are storytellers after all, not theologians. That leaves the question: is their version of the story well-founded and believable, and does it succeed in rescuing the lives and spiritual quest of Jesus and Mary Magdalene from centuries of denial and distortion?

Mary Magdalene is a spiritual film, not a religious one; the spiritual sense is immediately conveyed by the landscapes and the silences. It is a gentle, understated, sometimes slow-motion film, its characters moving against a vast and dramatic landscape, shot in Sicily. This is also a love story of a kind, which is maybe why people prefer to think of Mary Magdalene as a slip of a girl and not a matron decades older, which is quite possible; the gospels do not say.

Mary Magdalene at the Last Supper
It comes as a surprise in the film to see Mary Magdalene sitting with Jesus at the Last Supper.

In each of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) Jesus shares the Last Supper with “the twelve”, while the Gospel of John mentions the disciples without giving a number. In none of the gospels is there mention of anyone else being there, but there may have been more, and there would have been servants bringing the food and wine. There is no reason why women should not have been partaking of the dinner along with other followers of Jesus; this would be entirely normal for a Passover Seder, at which women would be expected to play the same role as men and additionally light the candles.

This is a reminder that if the gospels fail to mention Mary Magdalene at a scene it does not mean that she is not there. And here at the Last Supper and elsewhere in the story there are very strong reasons why Mary Magdalene should be there.


Who was Mary Magdalene?
Probably in a bid to make a contemporary point about women’s oppression, the film opens with Mary Magdalene, a young woman from a simple fishing village, accused by her family of bringing shame on them and being possessed by demons for refusing to marry.

“If there is any demon in me,” says Mary Magdalene in the film, “it has always been there.” But Jesus tells her otherwise: “There are no demons here.” And to her family’s demand that “God made you to be a mother”, Mary Magdalene replies: “I’m not made for that life.” Instead, Jesus tells her, gently baptising her in the waters of the Sea of Galilee, “you’ll do God’s will”.

But the Gospel of Luke tells us she was anything but a poor bullied village girl. From the beginning she was a great benefactor of the Jesus movement.
Many in those days believed that the moment of judgment was near. But now Herod Antipas, who was ruler of Galilee and Perea, had just cut off John the Baptist’s head, the event that impelled Jesus to take up John’s cause and preach his ministry of universal salvation through baptism. Bypassing the rituals of the Temple in Jerusalem and its priests, who were widely seen as substituting religiosity for an authentic relationship with God, baptism meant a new start, a rebirth. Baptism was an innovation for all, especially for women, who were treated as marginal by the Temple and the Torah.

Mary Magdalene, who had once been afflicted by seven demons, suggesting a severe spiritual crisis, devoted herself to this cause. Jesus and the 12 disciples had to be fed and cared for as they travelled around Galilee, and it was Mary Magdalene, along with Joanna, the wife of Chuza, steward of Herod Antipas, and a number of other women who, as Luke’s Gospel says, “provided for them out of their own resources”.

So Mary Magdalene, who is always mentioned first among the women, was wealthy and probably high-born and certainly independent and kept company with Joanna, a Galilean aristocrat who had defected from the court of Herod Antipas, and the like. Together they had sufficient means to keep Jesus’s mission on the road and to help to maintain an unknown number of wives, children, aged parents and other dependent relatives left behind when the disciples “followed him”.

Rivalry between Peter and Mary Magdalene
Peter, who left his wife and mother-in-law behind when he followed Jesus, was one of those disciples who depended on Mary Magdalene’s support. But it is not for that reason that throughout the film Peter demonstrates an antipathy towards her. It is her favoured relationship with Jesus, a spiritual communion.
Much of the story in the film is told in silences. “Is that what it feels like to be one with God?” Mary Magdalene asks Jesus. In the silence you can hear God, Jesus tells her.

But Peter is more down to earth and also he is jealous. “It is not right that he has raised you up to lead us,” Peter says to Mary Magdalene.

This intimacy between Mary Magdalene and Jesus, and Peter’s rivalry, is barely evident in the canonical gospels. It is found in gospels of similar date and known as gnostic gospels, among them the gospel of Mary Magdalene, that took a radically different view of Jesus and salvation; it was neither his death on the cross nor his resurrection that mattered, rather his teachings, which he instilled in Mary Magdalene.

Jesus comes to Jerusalem and attacks the Temple
What mattered to Jesus was not the Roman garrison stationed in Jerusalem during Passover by Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea, rather the practices at the Temple and the behaviour of its priesthood. According to the three synoptic gospels, Jesus went to the Temple straightaway where he violently cast out the money lenders and others who were selling there; they had turned this “house of prayer”, said Jesus, into a “den of thieves”, reports the Gospel of Matthew.

“God’s kingdom is not to be bought and sold,” cries Jesus in the film.

After his symbolic cleansing of the Temple, Jesus taught there daily, and crowds of people came to hear him. But by what authority did he teach, the priests wanted to know, to which Jesus gave them to understand that his authority, like that of John the Baptist, came directly from Heaven; he was asserting direct communion with God, a free worship of the heart unmediated by the priesthood and their rituals.

He was talking of that vision of the divine that he would share with Mary Magdalene in the gnostic gospel of that name. “You are my witness,” Jesus tells Mary Magdalene in the film, speaking of his love of God that would condemn him to death.

And then the gospels tell us that “the chief priests and the scribes the same hour sought to lay hands on him” and “sought how they might kill him”.

Resurrection
Were it not for the Gospel of Luke, where he mentions those women who travelled with Jesus around Galilee and financed his ministry, we would not have heard of Mary Magdalene until the day of his death. She seems to appear in the gospels out of nowhere, the chief witness to the crucifixion of Jesus and to the events that follow, after the 12 disciples have run away. But the film rightly makes clear that Mary Magdalene has been there all along, witness to the ministry of Jesus and his closest companion.

“And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun.” This is Mark’s Gospel telling about Mary Magdalene and the other women visiting the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. But they found the tomb empty and “they trembled and were amazed”.

And there at Mark 16:8 is where the original version of Mark’s Gospel ends. The oldest of the canonical gospels ends with nobody seeing the risen Jesus; Mary Magdalene and her companions see only the empty tomb. That is the amazing and frightening event.

But 200 years or so later the gospel was extended and 12 verses were added. This is the version of Mark found in Bibles today. The extended version ends with Jesus appearing before his disciples and telling them to “go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”

This command by the resurrected Jesus is known as the Great Commission; it is the basis for the dispersal of the apostles from Jerusalem to found the apostolic sees and with it the principle of apostolic succession, which is the fundamental building block of the hierarchy of the Church.

This was not the message that Mary Magdalene knew, not the love and forgiveness that led to the Kingdom of God. For Mary Magdalene, in the original version of Mark, the amazement and fear she felt in the empty tomb was the awe one feels in the presence of the divine. No appearance of Jesus, no palpable resurrection, no touching of wounds, no ascension into heaven, no sitting on the right hand of God, no Church hierarchy nor threat of damnation was required. Jesus had said, and Mary Magdalene understood, that the Kingdom of God is all around us; it is waiting for us to enter if we know how. As Jesus says in the Gospel of Mark: “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand.”

In the film, when Mary Magdalene tells the disciples about the empty tomb, Peter says they will now go into the world and preach the word. To which Mary Magdalene replies, “I will speak his words” — his words of forgiveness and love. Her reward has been to be denounced by the Church as a whore.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Durrell Family Book Covers

Originally The Durrells of Corfu had two different covers, one for Profile books showing photographs of the family, another for Waterstones bookshops designed like a 1930s travel poster.

From now on there will be only one cover, the blue vintage-style travel poster design.

Now the only cover version.








As it happens the cover of Margo Durrell's book Whatever Happened to Margo, which is published later this month by Penguin, has now likewise been given a vintage 1930s feel.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

The Real Mary Magdalene

Rooney Mara as Mary Magdalene in the film to be released before Easter.


The real Mary Magdalene was wealthy, high born and prominent among the disciples - so why was she portrayed as a fallen woman for 14 centuries? 

Michael Haag explains in The Daily Telegraph.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Maria Madalena















Michael Haag's The Quest for Mary Magdalene is published this month by Zahar in Brazil.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

The Beast from the East

The Beast from the East passes gently through my garden.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

On and On and On with The Durrells

The Durrell family arrived in Corfu in 1935.
In an earlier post I suggested that The Durrells, which will broadcast its third series this spring, might run for five series in all.  This is because the Durrells arrived in Corfu in 1935, the new third series is set in 1937, and the family did not leave the island until the outbreak of the Second World War two years later in 1939 - therefore a series per year.

But now further publicity is hinting that The Durrells could continue beyond Corfu and well into the war and maybe well beyond that.

In fact Callum Woodhouse who plays Leslie says he sees no reason why The Durrells cannot 'carry on forever, really'.

'On and on and on and on', says Callum Woodhouse, who plays Leslie.












 
The whole story before, during and after Corfu.

Monday, 5 February 2018

The Alexandria Quartet: 'most beautiful prose of the twentieth century'

View across the Eastern Harbour by Michael Haag.

Irish novelist and Man Booker prize winner John Banville counts the Alexandria Quartet among the best books of the twentieth century.

'As fiction, these four novels — Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive, and Clea — are post-Romantic piffle, but as a celebration of a city and a distillation of the "spirit of place" they are without peer, with some of the richest, most beautiful prose written in the 20th century.'

Click here for more.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Bitter Lemons: A Good Read

A good read.

The position of the acropolis is admirably chosen, standing as it does above the road at the very point where it turns inland from the sea. Priest and soldier alike would be satisfied by it. From the summit the eye can travel along the kindlier green of a coast tricked out in vineyards and fading away towards the Cape of Cats and Curium. 

 - Lawrence Durrell, Bitter Lemons

Thursday, 18 January 2018

The Durrells: Third Season

A romantic moment between Louisa and Spiro.
ITV has begun promoting Season 3 of The Durrells. The broadcast date is not yet announced but on form its six episodes will start in late April, early May 2018 in Britain and autumn 2018 in America.

Intriguingly the link says ‘The Durrells writer Simon Nye has promised “some exotic new animals” in the upcoming third season, which will be set in 1937’.  But the Durrell family continued to live in Corfu throughout 1938 and well into 1939, so does this mean we can expect a fourth series and maybe even a fifth?

Friday, 12 January 2018

Mary Magdalene: Her Story Will Be Told


The film Mary Magdalene will be released in March this year, the advance poster announcing that 'Her story will be told'.  It is one of the great stories and I will be interested to see how it is told in the film.

Meanwhile I have told her story in my book The Quest for Mary Magdalene.

Here is the official trailer for the film.

And here is a review of my book in The Times.

The Quest for Mary Magdalene is published by Profile Books.


Monday, 8 January 2018

Life After Corfu: Whatever Happened to Margo?


Whatever Happened to Margo?, Margo Durrell's account of her life in Bournemouth after Corfu, will be published by Penguin on 26 April 2018.

Penguin blurb:

In 1947, returning to the UK with two young children to support, Margaret Durrell starts a boarding house in Bournemouth. But any hopes of respectability are dashed as the tenants reveal themselves to be a host of eccentrics: from a painter of nudes to a pair of glamorous young nurses whose late-night shifts combined with an ever-revolving roster of gentleman callers leading to a neighbourhood rumour that Margo is running a brothel. Margo's own two sons, Gerry and Nicholas, prove to be every bit as mischievous as their famous Uncle Gerald - and he himself returns periodically with weird and wonderful animals, from marmosets to monkeys, that are quite unsuitable for life in a Bournemouth garden.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Orthodox Christmas 2018

Coptic worshippers at Orthodox Christmas midnight mass last night
at the Cathedral of Christ's Nativity east of Cairo.
Last night the Orthodox Church round the world, in Greece, in Russia, Ethiopia, Egypt and elsewhere celebrated midnight mass on the eve of Christmas Day 7 January 2018.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

New Year's Eve Along the Jurassic Coast




New Year's Eve 2017 at Sidmouth along England's Jurassic Coast.