Bizarre use of 'once' in Clea by Durrell

Hello there!

I’m kind of new to this forum, so I hope I won’t do any mistake.
I have to do a literary translation into French of an extract of Clea by Lawrence Durrell for tomorrow and there is a sentence of which grammar I don’t really understand.

“Familiar”, yes! For once one had left the semi-circle of the harbour nothing had changed whatsoever."

I do understand that, since he’s left Alexandria, the city hasn’t changed a bit, but what I do not understand is that use of “once”. At first I linked it to “For”, but it didn’t make any sense when I read the rest of the sentence. So I settled with “For” being an equivalent of because and “once” of since, but I still don’t get why Durrell would use “once” here. It doesn’t even seems grammatically correct but I figure the man knew how to write, with him being a well-know, respected author and all. Plus I’m not a native English speaker, so what do I know?

Anyway, I was kind of hoping someone could enlighten me on this particular topic, so if you know something about this type of use of “once” please let me know!


Hello and welcome to our forum. I think “once” here has the meaning of “as soon as”. In other words, there were some changes that took place inside the semicircle of the port, but not outside this very limited space.

Let’s see what our native speakers have to say…


Yes, whatever happened in the harbor had no effect on the outside world.


Oh my! Yes, I can see it now, and it makes much more sense. Thanks to you and @Arinker for your quick response and your time!


It is very often the case that we do not recognize things ourselves, which someone then explains to us in a new way and which suddenly make sense after this explanation and we do not understand afterwards why we did not recognize this ourselves from the beginning.


Late to reply but for me the use of ‘once’ here means simply. - the moment that … as soon as. Once I had taken the tablet, I felt better.


It’s understandable why this gave you a hard time. The sentence is somewhat archaic, it’s overly formal, and it’s cumbersome. It’s an older style of writing.


He only did it once.
one time

Stop doing that at once.

Once the temperature drops below freezing, it might snow.
This one is tricky. It might seem like it’s related to time, but it’s not really. It means closer to:

If the conditions are met”, it might snow.

If it’s currently 5 degrees, it will take time to drop below 0 degrees. It’s not really about time. It’s about meeting the conditions.

*Once you have seen the aurora borealis you will remember it the rest of your life.
This is both a condition and temporal.

once one had left the semi-circle of the harbour nothing had changed whatsoever
This is like the aurora. It is both a condition and temporal. It means “at any time after the condition is met