Friday 7 January 2011

Brother of the More Famous Larry

If he were alive, the author, naturalist and zoo keeper extraordinaire Gerald Durrell would be celebrating his 85th birthday today (he made it to just shy of 70, despite a heroic alcohol intake). I've always had a soft spot for him since his books were among the first to get me into the habit of reading, and he was one of the first authors whose works I actually sought out and collected. As a child, I was a sporadic and haphazard reader, once in a while finding something that really fired me up, then lapsing into long periods of reading nothing. I had two relatives - one a cousin of my father's, the other a great uncle - who would from time to time send well chosen books as gifts, and it was the cousin who, when I was nine or ten, sent Gerald Durrell's Encounters With Animals. I remember the book fondly - a Rupert Hart-Davis hardback, with excellent illustrations by Ralph Thompson. As a budding young naturalist, I leapt on it, relished every page, and set about finding other Durrell books. Over the next few years, I must have read a dozen or so, including of course My Family And Other Animals, which I reread several times. I wouldn't care to revisit those books now (except perhaps My Family...) as I fear they would seem terribly glib and facetious. But Durrell - brother of the more famous author Lawrence - never claimed to be much of a writer: 'To me it's simply a way to make money which enables me to do my animal work, nothing more.' As Samuel Johnson remarked, 'No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.' And at least Durrell helped to make a reader of me - perhaps of many another nature-mad boy - and for that I'll always be grateful.


  1. Mary Scriver (Prairie Mary), another of my favorite bloggers, is also a fan of Gerald Durrell's.

    You might enjoy her on "GERALD DURRELL by Douglas Botting":;


  2. Thanks Dave - good to know he's not forgotten - he was indeed in a way ahead of his time, as a zookeeper if not as a writer.

  3. I've got a copy of 'encounters with animals' waiting to be read on my bookshelf..might have to dig it out

  4. Durrell certainly was a favourite here too. Though I didnt discover him until I got to secondary school where My Family... was, I think, the first book we were handed in 1st Year English. I still have it somewhere.

    Yes the school copy.

    As another budding naturalist I was fascinated and deeply jealous. Where were the scorpions and lizards in my garden? Slugs and woodlice seemed somehow disappointing.

  5. Banished To A Pompous Land20 January 2011 at 18:11

    Incidentally, I now have the lizards if not the scorpions. So I'll see your scorpion Gerald and raise you a Mantis and 3 species of swallowtail butterfly.