My Family and Other Animals


Gerald Durrell

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My Family and Other Animals Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Gerald Durrell

Gerald Durrell was the fifth and final child of the Durrell family (an older sister died in infancy). His father was an engineer in India, and both his parents were born there. The family moved to London not long before Gerald Durrell's father died. After his death, Mrs. Durrell moved Gerald, his sister Margo, and brother Leslie to the Greek island of Corfu to join her eldest son, Lawrence (Larry in the novel), who already lived there with his wife. Though My Family and Other Animals is semi-autobiographical and many of the characters were real people, it does leave out important facts (such as Larry's marriage and the fact that Theodore Stephanides was also married with a daughter, whom the families hoped would actually marry Gerald). The Durrell family left Corfu as World War Two began, and in 1943, Durrell served the war effort by working on a farm. In 1947, he began conducting wildlife collecting expeditions. His collection practices differed significantly from common practices of the time: he never over-collected and didn't cater to animal collectors. After marrying Jacquie Sonia Wolfenden in 1951, both began writing books to fund Durrell's expeditions and his conservation efforts. In the mid-fifties, as Durrell became increasingly disenchanted with the way zoos were run, he began planning to open his own zoo and finally did in 1959 in Jersey. The zoo became a leading force in captive breeding of endangered species. Durrell and Wolfenden divorced in 1979 and soon after, Durrell married his second wife, Lee McGeorge Durrell. They launched several conservation groups over the next decade, the most famous of which is now known as the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. Durrell died in 1995 after his health began deteriorating after a trip to Madagascar.
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Historical Context of My Family and Other Animals

Corfu's history goes back thousands of years: it was possibly described in Homer's Odyssey as the island Scheria where the Phaeacians lived, though there's no conclusive evidence for or against this. Corfu didn't come to be considered a part of Greece in the modern world until 1864, when the Treaty of London united the Ionian Islands with Greece. The Durrells left the island on the eve of World War Two and during the war, the island was occupied by Italian forces and then, from 1943 until the end of the war, by the Nazis. Many of the people Gerald Durrell describes in his novel were real people: his brother, Lawrence Durrell, was considered one of the most important British writers of the twentieth century, and Dr. Theodore Stephanides was a renowned scientist, writer, and poet. One of Stephanides' books on aquatic life was still a leading and guiding piece of research as of the early 21st century. It's easy to see how Gerald Durrell's time on Corfu influenced his later efforts in zoo keeping. He revolutionized how animals were kept in captivity, specifically promoting habitats for captive animals that mimic their natural habitats as closely as possible, something that occupies much of Gerry's time throughout the novel and is now an extremely common zoo practice.

Other Books Related to My Family and Other Animals

My Family and Other Animals is part of what's known as the Corfu trilogy, all of which are about Durrell's early experiences keeping animals and his family's time on the island. The other two in the trilogy are Birds, Beasts, and Relatives and The Garden of the Gods. All three, as well as many of Durrell's other books, were written as fundraising efforts for his zoo in Jersey and his conservation work. Other children's books written with a similar purpose include Anna Sewell's Black Beauty and Margaret Marshall Saunders' novel Beautiful Joe, though both novels take issue specifically with the mistreatment of domesticated animals rather than the care and keeping of wild ones. My Family and Other Animals is often grouped with books such as Dr. Doolittle and Swiss Family Robinson in their treatment of animals and traveling families. Durrell's brother Lawrence, who was actually a writer, also wrote about the family's time on Corfu in his novel Prospero's Cell. Finally, Durrell's novel can also be seen as sharing broad thematic similarities with Henry David Thoreau's Walden, as all promote a sense of reverence and respect for the natural world.
Key Facts about My Family and Other Animals
  • Full Title: My Family and Other Animals
  • When Written: 1956
  • Where Written: Bournemouth, England
  • When Published: 1956
  • Literary Period: Modern
  • Genre: Semi-autobiographical fiction
  • Setting: The Greek island of Corfu; 1935-37
  • Climax: The Durrells' Christmas party
  • Antagonist: Larry is the character who is the most negative about Gerry's love of animals, although he isn’t quite an antagonist
  • Point of View: First Person

Extra Credit for My Family and Other Animals

Should've Sent Him Away. Gerald Durrell's brother, Lawrence Durrell, a well-known author in his own right, has been quoted as saying that his brother's books are proof that children should be sent away to boarding school and not allowed to sit in on adult conversations and goings-on.

Naming Honors. Gerald Durrell and his second wife, Lee, have had a number of recently discovered animal species named in their honor. These include Ceylonthelphysa durelli, or Durrell's freshwater crab, Benthophilus durrelli, or Durrell's tadpole goby, and Kotchevnik durelli, a species of Russian moth.