On 21 September 1984, Sappho Durrell, the second daughter of the novelist Lawrence Durrell, visited her neighbour and friend Barbara Robson. She wanted Barbara Robson’s help in preparing a will and asked if she would act as her executrix. She also asked her to accept several carrier bags of her writings. These included journals, a play about Emily Brontë, dream notebooks and correspondence, mainly between Sappho Durrell and her father. The writings, according to Barbara Robson, were to be kept away from the family, and she was to use her best efforts to see that they were published after the deaths of both Sappho Durrell and her father. Four months later, on 31 January 1985, Sappho Durrell committed suicide. Five years later Lawrence Durrell died.
Lawrence Durrell was married four times, and Sappho, born in 1951 in Oxford, was a daughter of the second marriage. After the birth the family eventually returned to Cyprus, where the mother, Eve Cohen, had a nervous breakdown and asked Lawrence Durrell’s mother to move in to look after Sappho. Two years later Eve and Lawrence Durrell separated. Sappho Durrell moved to England with her mother but continued to visit her father regularly and developed a close relationship with his new wife, Claude, especially after they settled in France. In 1967, Claude unexpectedly died of cancer. Sappho was sixteen.
Durrell’s novels are, like many authors’, autobiographically informed, and parallels can be found between his own life and the characters in his fiction. Sappho believed that she was the inspiration for at least one of Durrell’s characters, Livia, from the novel of the same name published in 1978. Livia is a changeling, a monster created by a bad sperm that passed between an occidental and an oriental (Sappho’s mother Eve was an Alexandrian Jew), who grew up to be an androgyne and Sapphist. She is said to have been a girl forged from a boy, who dreamed she had sex for the first time with a man who resembled her father and later became a lesbian. Livia dies by suicide: she hangs herself.