Who is Leslie Durrell?
No matter what happened to Leslie Durrell. Gerald Durrell writes about Leslie in such a compelling way in the Corfu trilogy that it is impossible not to wonder what happened to the hunting, shooting and fishing crazy brother who so kindly built young Gerry a boat in Corfu.
Although all the other three Durrell siblings – even Margaret – wrote about their lives, Leslie did not, and never looked for the public spotlight and it can be imagined that he would be amazed at the interest in his life.
Leslie is actually the only Durrell brother who mentions Lawrence in his Corfu memoir, Prospero’s Cell, and Margo mentions him many times in her own considerably less famous memoir, What Happened to Margo?
Born in 1918, Leslie was Durrell’s second oldest brother. When the Durrells moved from India to England after their father’s death, Leslie went to an English school, but was apparently not happy there (nor were his brothers). On Corfu, though, Leslie felt at home, drank with the local farmers and hunted local game.
Leslie returned to England with his mother, Gerald, Margaret and the Corfiot family’s maid, Maria Kondos when World War II broke out. (Margaret, of course, shortly afterwards went back ‘home’ to Corfu.) Durrells settled in Bournemouth and Leslie tried to enlist in the army but was rejected on the grounds of ill health, which was a setback for him. Instead he worked in an RAF factory.
Shortly after the family returned to England, Leslie had a brief romance with the Corfiot family’s friend and live-in maid, Maria Kondos, that produced a son, Anthony. However, the romance was short-lived.
While living at home, he had an affair with his mother’s Greek maid, Maria Kondos, who was ten years older. He was already in a relationship with Doris Hall, the young exploiting the off-license where his mother bought her gin. In September 1945, Maria had a baby from Leslie, in whom he was not interested. The decision would shatter the life of Anthony Kondos, as the boy was called, who grew up knowing nothing about his father. “My biggest regret in life is that I never knew my father,” he once said. For years I felt extreme animosity towards him and the rest of the family. . Now I only grieve that I am not one of them, the family. . . And strangely, I’m proud to be a Durrell, albeit nameless. ”
Leslie, meanwhile, married Doris Hall, off license, in 1952, and they moved to Kenya to run a hunting reserve.
Lawrence also cut Leslie out of his life: On one occasion, Leslie went to visit his brother, but Lawrence’s wife refused him entry, fearing he wanted to borrow money.
In 1968 Leslie and Doris returned to England from Africa, penniless, and ended up as caretakers for an apartment block near Marble Arch. By the time he died in 1983, while drinking at a 65-year-old Notting Hill pub, he still had not reunited with his siblings and no one attended his funeral.
Although Margo’s life was also far from glamorous, she stayed closest to Leslie and was married twice, first to Gerry Breeze, a pilot with whom she traveled around Africa and had two sons. Her second short marriage was to a trombone player named Max Duncan.
Divorced twice and with two young children, she used her little inheritance to open a guest house in Bournemouth where ‘lodgers would mark my life as milestones’. These included jazz trumpeters, an abused woman and a Maltese transsexual. She later wrote, “My dream of wealth building up on the couch was forgotten when I came face to face with reality.” She remained in Bournemouth until her death, aged 87, in 2007.
Leslie also had the Durrell artistic streak – he was a painter. That’s how Margo describes him in her memoir, Whatever Happened to Margo ?:
Leslie, that squat, Rabelaisian figure gushing oils on canvas or sunk deep in the intricacies of guns, boats, beer and women
Margo refers to Leslie as having “the hint of an entrepreneur,” and he sure tried his hand at several companies, but was unlucky. When he came of age and received the inheritance his father left him, he used it to set up a boat company, which spent all his money on a fishing boat that sadly sank before his maiden voyage out of Poole Harbor, accordintg to Margo.
Leslie and Margo were close, with Margo recalling some of their childhood antics in her memoir. Leslie was a generous brother – Margo also tells the story of how he saved a puppy from sleeping and brought it to live with Margo.
In 1952 Leslie married his longtime girlfriend Doris Maire Hall * (see note below about Doris Irene Wheeler 1905-1990) b. Jan 5, 2015, whose family ran an off-license in Bournemouth. Doris, “big-hearted, big-hearted, laughing,” was older than Leslie, and the relationship was a happy one. Shortly after the couple got married, they left England to start a new life in Kenya, where they wanted to run a farm. Unfortunately, though, that business didn’t work and Leslie and Doris were forced to return to England in 1968.
Leslie got a job in London as a janitor at a smart Marble Arch hotel. In 1983 he died of heart failure in a Notting Hill pub. It is quite tragic that none of Leslie’s siblings attended his funeral.
The Durrell family included:
Lawrence Samuel Durrell (1884-1928), an Anglo-Indian engineer, his wife Louisa Florence Durrell (1886-1964) and their children:
Lawrence Durrell (1912-1990), a diplomat and writer, best known for writing The Alexandria Quartet, in addition to travel literature.
Leslie Durrell (1918-1983), second eldest brother. He is described in Gerald Durrell’s Corfu Trilogy – My Family and Other Animals, Birds, Beasts and Relatives and The Garden of the Gods – as having interests in guns, hunting and sailing, and according to his sister book Whatever Happened to Margo ?, was interested in painting.
Margaret Durrell (1920-2007), ran a boarding house in Bournemouth. Her account of that experience, Whatever Happened to Margo? Was published in 1995, about 40 years after she wrote it.
Gerald Durrell (1925-1995), a popular naturalist, conservationist, television host and author, is credited with redefining the modern zoo. Founder of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.
His first wife, Jacquie Durrell (° 1929), author, naturalist and television host
His second wife, Lee McGeorge Durrell (° 1949), author, naturalist and honorary director of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust
Lawrence Samuel Durrell, Louisa Durrell and their children were all born in India during the British Raj as was Louisa Durrell’s father. After Lawrence Samuel Durrell’s death in 1928, Durrell and her three younger children moved to the United Kingdom, where Lawrence had already been sent to be educated. In 1935 they moved to Corfu, after Lawrence’s earlier move there with his wife Nancy. They stayed in Corfu until 1939, when the outbreak of World War II forced most of them to return to England. Gerald’s autobiographical Corfu Trilogy and several short stories capture the family’s time in Corfu in a heavily fictionalized way.
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