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South Wind

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  210 ratings  ·  45 reviews
South Wind depicts a group of eccentric and even scandalous characters wiling away their time in a sunny Mediterranean resort. The novel takes place on Nepenthe, Douglas's thinly veiled version of Capri, an island retreat for pleasure-seekers since Roman times. In classical mythology, “nepenthe” was a medicine that caused one to forget melancholy and suffering; Douglas' ...more
Paperback, 356 pages
Published November 3rd 2006 by Hard Press (first published 1917)
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Imagine this scene: A beautiful house with lots of windows facing south. In a recently vacated bedroom on the first floor, the drawers and wardrobe lie open and empty, their contents packed up and gone. The only traces of the former occupant, the faint whiff of her perfume and the abandoned book on the dressing-table, its pages rustling in the breeze from the open windows.
The title of the book is 'South Wind'.

I came across that scenario in Elizabeth Bowen’s The Last September and became
Vit Babenco
Aug 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The onset of the twentieth century, the humankind is on the edge of the intellectual and sensual awakening, the tumultuous twenties are just around the corner, Norman Douglas catches the moment and his South Wind is one of the earlier fine instances of black comedy.
A kind of merry nightmare. Things happened. There was something bright and diabolical in the tone of the place, something kaleidoscopic – a frolicsome perversity. Purifying, at the same time. It swept away the cobwebs. It gave you a
Dec 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Gilbert & Sullivan on Capri where the little-known author lived. Volcanic eruptions, an earthquake, a funeral and a festival keep the multi-cast pondering sex, religion, life. Advisories: 'Get rid of conventional notions, if you value your health' and 'The secret of happiness is curiousity.' The denizens include a scholar who can't decide if a relic is the thigh bone of a saint or the
tibia of a cow; a Wildean lady who wanders into polite murder; a teenage poet who laments that he has nothing
Andrew Schirmer
Feb 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Nabokovians, eccentrics
Note: This is the longest review I've yet composed on Goodreads, but this is such an astounding work of genius, of learning and writer's craft, I feel it should be better-known. What follows is my small attempt to bring this about.

"... I glanced too, at the books; they were numerous, untidy, and miscellaneous. But one shelf was a little neater than the rest and here I noted the following sequence which for a moment seemed to form a vague musical phrase, oddly familiar: Hamlet, La Morte
Collier Brown
Jul 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: home-inventory
When I read reviews, I usually go to the negative ones first (more entertaining). And from what I can tell, those who dislike South Wind dislike it strongly, and for the following reasons: 1.) the language is difficult, 2.) the story lacks plot, and 3.) both the language and whatever passes for plot seems antiquated. People who love reading will shrug these off immediately. Difficult language? Ah, says the reader, the joy of learning new words, new languages, new innuendos! Besides, no one would ...more
Oct 10, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lobstergirl by: Panos Tserpes
Shelves: own, fiction
This is a really odd book. I think the fact that it was published in 1917 redeems it somewhat; it seems ahead of its time, and if it had been released after 1955 I probably would have hated it. It would have seemed more like Kingsley Amis or David Lodge than Evelyn Waugh. It is resolutely comical and transgressively clever, rather than nakedly reprobative. The author, Norman Douglas, was mainly a travel writer, and apparently a bit of a pederast, occasionally fleeing scandal and the authorities. ...more
Douglas's most famous novel, although almost unknown today, was popular when published in 1917. It was the first to exploit, using literary satire, the sensual pleasure island of Capri, here transparently disguised as the island of Nepenthe, named for the "drug of forgetfulness" from Greek mythology.

The real island has a very long recorded history. In AD 20, the Emperor Tiberius decided to leave Rome forever and to build a palace in Capri, and, according to Suetonius, "at last gave vent to all
Mark Desrosiers
According to the resident expert who pressed this into my hand, this was one of Vlad Nabokov's favorite novels, and I can see why: there are some snarky scholarship and annotation parodies involving "Saint Dodekanus" and the fictional island of Nepenthe (i.e. Capri) which clearly inspired Pale Fire. But, wow, has this novel dated terribly... the prose is wooden, the "humor" is droll and pretentious, and all the moral/political/religious (mostly religious) targets of Douglas's wit are, y'know, ...more
Alex Sarll
Aug 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A wonderful tale of life among the disreptutable expats on the Mediterranean island of Nepenthe (commonly believed to represent Capri, but possibly the ideal of which Capri is a reflection). There is a plot, of sorts, but the attraction is more in "a frolicsome perversity", in spending a few days on the beaches and taverns with these drunks and monomaniacs, hearing their grand schemes and thoughts on life, spying on the minutiae of their many sins - obliquely though they are often described. ...more
Sep 05, 2017 marked it as to-read
Recommended to Bettie by: Fionnuala

Read for free at Gutenberg

OpeninG: The bishop was feeling rather sea-sick. Confoundedly sea-sick, in fact.

This annoyed him. For he disapproved of sickness in every shape or form. His own state of body was far from satisfactory at that moment; Africa—he was Bishop of Bampopo in the Equatorial Regions—had played the devil with his lower gastric department and made him almost an invalid; a circumstance of which he was nowise proud, seeing that ill-health led to inefficiency in all walks of life.
Apr 26, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Early that morning, he had tried his hand at poetry once more, after a long interval. Four words--that was all the inspiration which had come to him.
"Or vine-wreathed Tuscany . . ."
A pretty turn, in the earlier manner of Keats. It looked well on the snowy paper. "Or vine-wreathed Tuscany." He was content with that phrase, as far as it went. But where was the rest of the stanza? How easily, a year or two ago, could he have finished the whole verse. How easily everything was accomplished in those
Aug 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
South Wind is a unique novel. Rather than presenting a traditional plot it seems like an olio or mixture of lectures and observations on various, often obscure, aspects of geology, climatology, history, morality, religion, and folklore, among other topics. The author's use of articulate characters confined to a restricted setting allows for ample airing of views and recalls the methods of English novelist Thomas Love Peacock, whose country house novels were once very popular.

South Wind’s setting
Jan 11, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Before beginning: In a review of one of Douglas's later novels, Waugh wrote that in SOUTH WIND he had "achieved, with superb facility, the only great satirical novel of his generation." So let's just see what we've got.

A third of the way through: the chapters are organized casually, as is, occasionally, the narration ("Napoleon, or somebody, once remarked 'L'etat, c'est moi.'"). But the story has a definite shape; we meet various characters in conversation with others, then (eventually) get
Eddie Clarke
Deducting stars for excessive length - Douglas clearly does not believe brevity is the soul of wit, a big problem when he’s trying to ape Oscar Wilde’s epigrammatic style. He loves the sound of his own voice and simply cannot write a single sentence where 22 paragraphs will do just as well. I reckon the book would have been vastly improved if 100-150 pages were cut. As it was up until the last 90 pages I was going to award this two stars.

It’s a satire on Victorian attitudes - especially towards
Sheri Horton
Feb 09, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A beautifully written book about nothing. Think of it as a classical Seinfeld.
Perry Whitford
Oct 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Vices. My dear bishop! Under a sky like this."

Yes, under a sky like that. Vices, vices, and more vices. That azure sky, assisted by the restless winds of the sirocco, the Mediterranean mentality, and a community of morally dubious ex-patriated residents made the island of Capri a hothouse for vice in the early 20th century.

It was also a hothouse for high culture and the finer things in life. Artists, duchesses, poets and counts, they came from all over Europe to the playground of Tiberius.
Mark Miano
Sep 10, 2018 rated it liked it
I first heard about SOUTH WIND, by Norman Douglas, in the early 1990s. My grandmother was turning 80 years old and she decided to celebrate the milestone by renting a house on the island of Capri, in Italy. I took a leave of absence from work and stayed the entire month with her, traipsing over every square inch of one of the most historic, trendy, and beautiful islands in the world.

When I was preparing for that trip, my Uncle Lou gave me several guidebooks for the island and a copy of this
Jul 08, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lit
I looked into this because Nabokov mentioned admiring it some of his letters to his wife (though he later reported that he heard Douglas was a "malicious pederast"). I can imagine N appreciating the carefully crafted world of characters, each with their relationships with one another, all being subtly moved around. It also reads like the anti-Magic Mountain which I'm sure amused him (N loathed Mann), with characters endlessly engaged in long-winded philosophical discussions, only here Douglas is ...more
Scott Pomfret
Jan 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a lost classic in which Douglas invents an island in the Mediterranean called Nepenthe on which gather a collection of vacationing and or expatriate foreigners who interact with the natives and each other in comic ways while interrogating philosophy, art, and murder.

Douglas has a knack for absurdity. In a series of curiously amoral conversations among the island dwellers, temporary and otherwise, we learn of a scirocco that brings out the worst in everybody; a saint who took her vows
Mar 13, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novel-uk
I have gone back and forth with my rating of this book between 2 and 3 stars. This book, about expatriates and natives on the Island of Nepenthe (really Capri), contains numerous funny set pieces involving a wide variety of "characters." Douglas also provides excellent descriptions of the scenery.

The book was written in 1917, and given the times (WWI) I can see why it was popular and escapist. In that sense, it reminds me of Hilton's Lost Horizon, in setting forth an paradise free from the
A tale of a mediterranean island and various foreigners who have ended up there. Its a veritable paradise although with a dark edge. The climate induces a relaxation of the morals and many people who come there are fleeing their past.
As the story progresses we learn more about each of these characters and their background aswell as the rather bloody history of the island itself.
The author really captures that sense of freedom, change and unreality you tend to get when you go on holiday.
Kurt Johnson
Sep 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Returning from Africa, the Anglican Bishop of Bompopo detours to the little island of Nepenthe, where he finds some charming natives and an assortment of interesting and eccentric expatriates. As the Nepenthean year slides gently along, the expatriates go on about their lives, living in a dreamland, and maintaining illusions that keep them happy about themselves.

This 1917 book is the work of George Norman Douglas (1868-1952), Scottish author and diplomat, and is considered by some to be his
Feb 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
This social satire, set on an imaginary Italian island, was on my reading list for some time until a copy fell into my hands. It took a couple goes to get through. There are quite a few characters to track and most of the book consists of conversation as an Anglican Bishop eventually lets loose his moral compass--or resets it--and finds himself approving of murder.
Phil Barker
Character sketches and anecdotes about a mixture of ex-pats, tourists and locals on an Italian island c.a. 1910. Mostly pointless.
Edwin Lang
Jun 28, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2014

Norman Douglas noted that ‘Madame Steynlin (unmarried but incurably romantic and a minor character) called (her lover, another minor character) her Little Peter, or in his more expansive moments, Peter the Great’ and that served to define what we were reading here: on Nepenthe, during the spring when the south winds blows strongly, nothing is sacred, especially reputations and as Keith, polyglot (and ironically, afraid of growing old and of death) chastises Mr. Heard saying “It strikes me that
Christopher (Donut)
This took me a long time to read (six years? Yep.), by which time I was no longer amused.

Parts of it were pretty good, though.
Brad Hodges

"Viewed from the clammy deck on this bright morning, the island of Nepenthe resembled a cloud. It was a silvery speck upon that limitless expanse of blue sea and sky. A south wind breathed over the Mediterranean waters, drawing up their moisture which lay couched in thick mists abut its flanks and uplands." So writes Norman Douglas in his 1917 novel South Wind. The island of Nepenthe is a stand-in for Capri, and Douglas' novel is full of oddball characters, affected by the sirocco coming up from
Monty Milne
Jan 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this a great deal. I didn't know much about the author except that when the cookery writer Elizabeth David encountered him living in exile n Capri she thought him amusing company (for a waspish old pederast). Well, this is certainly waspish: the satire has a cruel edge (as effective satire must), and it is frequently laugh-out-loud witty (though sometimes teetering into absurdity).

It's also old - that is to say, in style and spirit it is clearly the kind of thing from a different age.
Count of the   Saxon Shore
"Goth and Latin?"

"One does not always like to employ such terms; they are so apt to cover deficiency of ideas, or to obscure the issue. But certainly the sun which colours our complexion and orders our daily habits, influences at the same time our character and outlook. The almost hysterical changes of light and darkness, summer and winter, which have impressed themselves on the literature of the North, are unknown here. Northern people, whether from climatic or other causes, are prone to
Lots of Douglas's ideas, occasionally expressed in playfully subversive and ostentatiously exaggerated manner by several idiosyncratic characters, oftentimes retorting if not contradicting each other, appeal to me to a large extent. A point could be made that I've only skin-deep, if any, acquaintance with the antique literature, and thus am easily led astray by anything even remotely resembling rhetoric and pith of ancient wisdom related in succinct, slightly streamlined style. Without a doubt ...more
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Norman Douglas was born in Thüringen, Austria (his surname was registered at birth as Douglass). His mother was Vanda von Poellnitz. His father was John Sholto Douglas (1845-1874), manager of a cotton mill, who died when Norman was about six. Norman was brought up mainly at Tilquhillie, Deeside, his paternal home. He was educated at Uppingham School England, and then at a grammar school in ...more
“History deals with situations and figures not imaginary but real. It demands therefore a combination of qualities unnecessary to the poet or writer of romance - glacial judgment coupled with fervent sympathy. The poet may be an uninspired illiterate, the romance-writer an uninspired hack. Under no circumstances can either of them be accused of wrongdoing or deceiving the public, however incongruous their efforts. They write well or badly, and there the matter ends. The historian, who fails in his duty, deceives the reader and wrongs the dead.” 2 likes
“I grow more intolerant of fools as the years roll on. If I had a son, I was saying, I would take him from school at the age of fourteen, not a moment later, and put him for two years in a commercial house. Wake him up; make an English citizen of him. Teach him how to deal with men as men, to write a straightforward business letter, manage his own money and gain some respect for those industrial movements which control the world. Next, two years in some wilder part of the world, where his own countrymen and equals by birth are settled under primitive conditions, and have formed their rough codes of society. The intercourse with such people would be a capital invested for life. The next two years should be spent in the great towns of Europe, in order to remove awkwardness of manner, prejudices of race and feeling, and to get the outward forms of a European citizen. All this would sharpen his wits, give him more interest in life, more keys to knowledge. It would widen his horizon. Then, and not a minute sooner, to the University, where he would go not as a child but a man capable of enjoying its real advantages, attend lectures with profit, acquire manners instead of mannerisms and a University tone instead of a University taint.” 2 likes
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