The setting for Shakespeare's "Tempest" is the Greek island of Corfu, argues one of the characters in this book, expounding on a deeply held belief of its author. The 'presiding genius' of Corfu, or as it was once called, Corcyra, is none other than Zeus Pantocrator.
For the readers of his island books, the genius of place is Lawrence Durrell.
According to the introduction by Carol Peirce (University of Baltimore, 1996), "Durrell composed "Prospero's Cell" as if it were a journal or diary of a year and a half on [Corfu]..." from April 1937 to September 1938, with a somber postscript from 1941 where he writes of friends already dead in the war. The war is a flat gray shadow, throwing the brilliance of Durrell's landscapes and dazzling Greek villages into intense relief. Reflections of a lost time are collected and focused through the genius of place--Durrell, himself.
Some of his most beautiful passages in "Prospero's Cell," indeed in all of his island books, take place under water. Here, the author goes carbide fishing one night:
"Presently the carbide lamp is lit and the whole miraculous under-world of the lagoon bursts into a hollow bloom...Transformed, like figures in a miracle, we gaze down upon a sea-floor drifting with its canyons and forests and families in the faint undertow of the sea--like a just-breathing heart."
Bright surfaces. Submerged longings. As Durrell floats in the blood-warm sea, he thinks, "One could die like this and wonder if it was death. The density, the weight and richness of a body without a mind or ghost to trouble it." This book is partly the landscape of Corcyra, and partly a landscape of dreams. There are stories of vampires, saints, and 'kallikanzaros,' which is a Greek term for little cloven-hooved satyrs, who cause mischief of every kind.
"Prospero's Cell" is one of a series of 'landscape books' that Durrell wrote about his pre- and post-war experiences in and around the Mediterranean. The other books in this series are "Reflections on a Marine Venus: A Companion to the Landscape of Rhodes," "Spirit of Place: Letters and Essays on Travel," "Bitter Lemons," and "Sicilian Carousel."
Ultimately, these island books defy categorization. Durrell wrote about the peculiar genius of a place, not bound by any moment in time, but for all time.