The Alexandria Quartet – Lawrence Durrell (1957-1960)


The Alexandria Quartet, Lawrence Durrell‘s celebrated tetralogy from the 1950s, was defined by its author as ‘an investigation of modern love’, but has often been regarded by its readers more as an evocation of a city – the Greco-Arab, multi-ethnic Alexandria of its title. Almost infinite variations of love are certainly explored in its 1,000-odd pages, and the presence of Alexandria certainly permeates the work, but I think the legendary fascination of the quartet is essentially existential. The work itself is greater than its themes, and casts a spell that is neither precisely emotional nor specifically topographic. It is actually neither specific nor precise about anything. It was an experimental novel of its day, perhaps related to the work of Durrell’s friend Henry Miller, perhaps to Ulysses. It was based on the premise that people and events seem different when considered from different angles and periods, and that they can best be recorded, as Durrell himself put it, stereoscopically. The four volumes concern the same characters, but each of the several narrators tell the novels’ complex tales from their own viewpoint, and they write at different times. It is a device, Durrell claimed, amounting to a new concept of reality, reflecting the ideas of Freud and Einstein and a convergence of western and eastern metaphysics.  … The several narrators of the Quartet are certainly enslaved by Alexandria’s genii loci, and readers are likely to be entrapped too, because the work, so opaque is other contexts, is clear enough when it deals with the city. We soon learn the geography of the place, from the handsome Rue Fuad to the meshed Arab backstreets, from the elegance of L’Etoile or the Cecil Hotel to the hashish cafés of the slums or the sandy approaches to the Western Desert. We see inside the mansions of rich cosmopolitans and diplomats, we visit stifling attic bedrooms, brothels and pleasure pavilions by the sea. … The four books of the tetralogy originally appeared separately – Justine in 1957, Balthazar and Mountolive in 1958, Clea in 1960. They were immediately recognised as remarkable works of art, but the verdict on the whole work, while always respectful, was mixed. French critics adored it. Americans lapped it up. English reviewers were not so sure. …”
Guardian – Rereading: The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell
W – The Alexandria Quartet, W – Justine, W – Balthazar, W – Mountolive, W – Clea
Pseudo-Intellectual Reviews – Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive, Clea
Revisiting Lawrence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet — Paul M. Curtis
Guardian: Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria – in pictures
NY Times: It Happened in Alexandria,
Intrigue Is the Way of Life, Alexandria Revisited , Books of The Times
amazon: The Alexandria Quartet

About 1960s: Days of Rage

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