Lawrence Durrell: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Lawrence Durrell
Durrell stands proud at a podium, gazing at the crowd as he addresses them. He wears a suit over a white shirt with a striped tie, and holds his left arm at his side, with his elbow bent upwards as if to shake his fist. A caption runs below the image that reads "Lawrence Durrell, 1986 - photo courtesy R. Rubrecht."
Durrell in 1986
Born 27 February 1912(1912-02-27)
Jalandhar, British India
Died 7 November 1990 (aged 78)
Sommières, France
Occupation Biographist; poet; playwright; novelist
Nationality British
Period 1931 - 1990
Notable work(s) The Alexandria Quartet
Official website

Lawrence George Durrell (27 February 1912 – 7 November 1990) was an expatriate British novelist, poet, dramatist, and travel writer, though he resisted affiliation with Britain and preferred to be considered cosmopolitan. It has been posthumously suggested that Durrell never had British citizenship,[1] though more accurately, he became defined as a non-patrial in 1968 due to the amendment to the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962. Hence, he was denied the right to enter or settle in Britain under new laws and had to apply for a visa for each entry. His most famous work is the tetralogy The Alexandria Quartet.


Life and work

Durrell was born in Jullundur, British India, the son of Indian-born British colonials Louisa and Lawrence Samuel Durrell. His first school was St Joseph's College, North Point, Darjeeling. At the age of eleven, he was sent to England where he briefly attended St Olave's Grammar School before being sent to St Edmund's School, Canterbury. His formal education was unsuccessful and he failed his university entrance examinations, but he began seriously writing poetry at the age of 15 and his first collection of poetry, Quaint Fragment, was published in 1931.

On 22 January 1935, he married Nancy Isobel Myers, the first of his four marriages.[2] Durrell was always unhappy in England and in March of that year he persuaded his new wife, his mother, and his siblings (including brother Gerald Durrell, later to be a major British wildlife conservationist and popular writer), to move to the Greek island of Corfu, where they might live more economically and escape both the English weather and stultifying English culture - what Durrell called "the English death" [3]

In the same year, Durrell's first novel, Pied Piper of Lovers, was published by Cassell. Around this time, he chanced upon a copy of Henry Miller's 1934 novel Tropic of Cancer, and wrote to Miller, expressing intense admiration for his novel. Durrell's letter sparked an enduring friendship and mutually-critical relationship that spanned 45 years. The two got on well, as they were exploring similar subjects, and Durrell's next novel, Panic Spring was heavily influenced by Miller's work[4], and after that The Black Book abounded with "four-letter words... grotesques,... [and] its mood equally as apocalyptic" as Tropic.

In Corfu, Lawrence and Nancy lived together in bohemian style in a number of large houses, notably the 'White House' on the coast at Kalami. Henry Miller was a guest in 1939. The period is somewhat fictionalised in Durrell's lyrical account in Prospero's Cell, which may be instructively compared with the accounts of the Corfu experience published by Gerald Durrell, notably in My Family and Other Animals. Gerald describes Lawrence as living with his mother and siblings—Nancy is not mentioned at all—whereas Lawrence's account makes few references to the fact that his mother and three siblings were also resident on Corfu. The accounts do cover a few of the same topics; for example, both Gerald and Lawrence describe the role played by the Greek doctor, scientist and poet Theodore Stephanides in their lives on Corfu.

In August 1937, Lawrence and Nancy travelled to the Villa Seurat in Paris, to meet Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin. Together with Alfred Perles, Nin, Miller, and Durrell "began a collaboration aimed at founding their own literary movement. Their projects included 'The Shame of the Morning' and the 'Booster', a country club house organ that the Villa Seurat group appropriated for their own artistic...ends."[5] They also started the Villa Seurat Series in order to publish Durrell's Black Book, Miller's Max and the White Phagocytes, and Nin's Winter of Artifice, with Jack Kahane of the Obelisk Press as publisher.

Durrell's first novel of note, The Black Book: An Agon, was heavily influenced by Miller and was published in Paris in 1938. The mildly pornographic work only appeared in Britain in 1973. In the story, Lawrence Lucifer struggles to escape the spiritual sterility of dying England, and finds Greece's warmth and fertility.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Durrell's mother and siblings returned to England, while he and Nancy remained on Corfu. In 1940 he and his wife Nancy had a daughter, Penelope Berengaria. After the fall of Greece, Lawrence and Nancy escaped via Crete to Alexandria in Egypt, where he described Corfu and their life on "this brilliant little speck of an island in the Ionian" in the poetic book Prospero's Cell.

During the war, Durrell served as a press attaché to the British Embassies, first in Cairo and then Alexandria. It was in Alexandria that he met Eve (Yvette) Cohen, a Jewish woman and native Alexandrian who was to become his model for the character Justine in the Alexandria Quartet.

Durrell's house in Rhodes features yellow-painted stucco or plaster walls, with Mediterranean architecture. It is situated alongside an asphalt street, with two cars parked parallel to it. The house is surrounded by several trees, shrubbery, roses and flowering bushes.
Lawrence Durrell's home in Rhodes from 20 May 1945 until 10 April 1947

Durrell separated from Nancy in 1942. In 1947 he married Eve Cohen and in 1951 they had a daughter, Sappho Jane, named after the legendary Ancient Greek poetess Sappho. Sappho Durrell committed suicide by hanging in 1985.

In 1947 Durrell was appointed director of the British Council Institute in Córdoba, Argentina, where for the next eighteen months he gave lectures on cultural topics.[6] He returned to London in the summer of 1948, around the time that Marshal Tito broke ties with Stalin's Cominform, and Durrell was posted to Belgrade, Yugoslavia [7] where he was to remain until 1952. This sojourn gave him material for his book White Eagles over Serbia (1957). In 1952 he moved to Cyprus, buying a house and taking a position teaching English literature at the Pancyprian Gymnasium to support his writing, followed by public relations work for the British government there during agitation for union with Greece. He wrote about his time in Cyprus in Bitter Lemons, which won the Duff Cooper Prize in 1957. In 1954, he became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Durrell left Cyprus in July 1955 after problems on the island and his British government position led to him being made a target of assassination attempts[8]

In 1957, he published Justine, the first part of what was to become his most famous work, The Alexandria Quartet. Justine, Balthazar (1958), Mountolive (1959) and Clea (1960) deal with events before and during the Second World War in Alexandria. The first three books tell essentially the same story but from different perspectives, a technique Durrell described in his introductory note to Balthazar as "relativistic". Only in the final part, Clea, does the story advance in time and reach a conclusion.

The Quartet impressed critics by the richness of its style, the variety and vividness of its characters, its movement between the personal and the political, and its exotic locations in and around the city which Durrell portrays as the chief protagonist: "... the city which used us as its flora - precipitated in us conflicts which were hers and which we mistook for our own: beloved Alexandria!" The Times Literary Supplement review of the Quartet stated: "If ever a work bore an instantly recognizable signature on every sentence, this is it." There was some suggestion that Durrell might be nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature, but this did not materialize.

Given the complexity of the work, it was probably inevitable that George Cukor's 1969 attempt to film the Quartet (Justine) simplified the story to the point of melodrama, and was poorly received.

Durrell separated from Eve Cohen in 1955, and was married again in 1961 to Claude-Marie Vincendon; she died of cancer in 1967. His fourth and final marriage was in 1973 to Ghislaine de Boysson, whom he divorced in 1979.

Durrell settled in Sommières, a small village in Languedoc, France, where he purchased a large house standing secluded in its own extensive walled grounds on the edge of the village. Here he wrote The Revolt of Aphrodite, comprising Tunc (1968) and Nunquam (1970), and The Avignon Quintet, which attempted to replicate the success of The Alexandria Quartet and revisited many of the same motifs and styles to be found in the earlier work. Although it is frequently described as a quintet, Durrell himself referred to it as a "quincunx". The middle book of the quincunx, Constance, or Solitary Practices, which portrays France under the German occupation, was nominated for the Booker Prize in 1982 and the opening novel, Monsieur, or the Prince of Darkness, received the 1974 James Tait Black Memorial Prize. In 1974, Durrell was the Andrew Mellon Visiting Professor of Humanities at the California Institute of Technology.[9]

Durrell suffered from emphysema for many years. He died of a stroke at his house in Sommières in November 1990.



Durrell's poetry has been overshadowed by his novels. Peter Porter, in his introduction to a Selected Poems,[10] writes of Durrell as a poet: "one of the best of the past hundred years. And one of the most enjoyable." He goes on to describe Durrell's poetry as "always beautiful as sound and syntax. Its innovation lies in its refusal to be more high-minded than the things it records, together with its handling of the whole lexicon of language."[11]

Work with the British government

Durrell also spent several years in the service of the Foreign Office. He was senior Press Officer to the British Embassies in Athens and Cairo, Press Attache in Alexandria and Belgrade, Director of the British Institutes in Kalamata, Greece, and Córdoba, Argentina. He was also Director of Public Relations in the Dodecanese Islands and on Cyprus.

Major works



  • Prospero's Cell: A guide to the landscape and manners of the island of Corcyra[Corfu] (1945; republished 2000) (ISBN 0-571-20165-2)
  • Reflections on a Marine Venus (1953)
  • Bitter Lemons (1957; republished as Bitter Lemons of Cyprus 2001)
  • Blue Thirst (1975)
  • Sicilian Carousel (1977)
  • The Greek Islands (1978)
  • Caesar's Vast Ghost (1990)


  • Quaint Fragments (1931)
  • Ten Poems (1932)
  • Transition: Poems (1934)
  • A Private Country (1943)
  • Cities, Plains and People (1946)
  • On Seeming to Presume (1948)
  • Selected Poems: 1953–1963 Edited by Alan Ross (1964)
  • The Ikons (1966)
  • The Suchness of the Old Boy (1972)
  • Collected Poems: 1931–1974 Edited by James A. Brigham (1980)
  • Selected Poems of Lawrence Durrell Edited by Peter Porter (2006)


  • Bromo Bombastes, under the pseudonym Gaffer Peeslake (1933)
  • Sappho: A Play in Verse (1950)
  • An Irish Faustus: A Morality in Nine Scenes (1963)
  • Acte (1964)


  • Esprit de Corps (1957)
  • Stiff Upper Lip (1958)
  • Sauve Qui Peut (1966)
  • Antrobus Complete (1985), a collection of short stories, previously published in various magazines, about life in the diplomatic corps.

Letters and essays

  • A Key to Modern British Poetry (1952)
  • Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller: A Private Correspondence (1962) edited by George Wickes
  • Spirit of Place: Letters and Essays on Travel (1969) edited by Alan G. Thomas
  • Literary Lifelines: The Richard Aldington—Lawrence Durrell Correspondence (1981) edited by Ian S. MacNiven and Harry T. Moore
  • A Smile in the Mind's Eye (1982)
  • "Letters to T. S. Eliot." (1987) Twentieth Century Literature vol. 33 no. 3 pp. 348–58.
  • The Durrell-Miller Letters: 1935–80 (1988) edited by Ian S. MacNiven
  • Letters to Jean Fanchette (1988) edited by Jean Fanchette

Editing and translating

  • Wordsworth; Selected by Lawrence Durrell (1973) edited by Durrell
  • New Poems 1963: A P.E.N. Anthology of Contemporary Poetry (1963) edited by Durrell
  • The Best of Henry Miller (1960) edited by Durrell
  • The Curious History of Pope Joan (1954) by Emmanuel Royidis, translated by Durrell
  • The King of Asine and Other Poems (1948) by George Seferis, translated by Durrell, Bernard Spencer, and Nanos Valaoritis
  • Six Poems From the Greek of Sekilianos and Seferis (1946) translated by Durrell

Cultural references

  • Lawrence Durrell - song by Mick Thomas
  • Stranger than Fiction - The Alexandria Quartet is briefly referred to in a scene between Dustin Hoffman and Will Ferrell in the movie Stranger Than Fiction (2006). The following is written on the chalkboard behind them: "Mountolive's ear aches, Liza's blindness, Clea's amputated hand, Leila's smallpox, Justine's stroke, Pombal's gout." This is juxtaposed against Harold Crick's (Farrell) impending, 'literary' doom.
  • Flirting - A paperback copy of Durrell's Justine sits on her vanity while Thandi Newton smokes at her mirror, echoing a scene in Justine.
  • Wonder Boys - In the novel by Michael Chabon, one of the characters is said to carry a photo of Lawrence Durrell in her wallet.


  1. ^ Ezard, John (29 April 2002). "Durrell Fell Foul of Migrant Law". The Guardian.,,706830,00.html. Retrieved 30 January 2007. .
  2. ^ MacNiven, Ian S. (1998). Lawrence Durrell: A Biography. Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-17248-2.  p. xiii.
  3. ^ "Lawrence Durrell" by Anna Lillios, Magill's Survey of World Literature, volume 7, pages 2334-2342. Copyright © 1995, Salem Press, Inc.
  4. ^ Karl Orend, "New Bibles", Times Literary Supplement 22 August 2008 p 15
  5. ^ Dearborn, Mary V. (1992). The Happiest Man Alive: A Biography of Henry Miller. Touchstone Books. ISBN 0-671-77982-6.  p. 192 and picture insert captions.
  6. ^ Interview with Marc Alyn, published in Paris in 1972, translated by Francine Barker in 1974; reprinted in Earl G. Ingersoll, Lawrence Durrell: Conversations, Associated University Presses, 1998. ISBN 0-8386-3723-X. p. 138.
  7. ^ Alyn, op. cit. Ingersoll, page 139.
  8. ^ Anna Lillios, ed (2004). "Introduction". Lawrence Durrell and the Greek world. Rosemont Publishing and Priting Corp.. pp. 27. ISBN 1575910764, 9781575910765. 
  9. ^ Andrews, Deborah. (ed)., ed (1991). The Annual Obituary 1990. Gale.  p. 678.
  10. ^ Porter, P. (ed)., ed (2006). Lawrence Durrell: Selected Poems. Faber and Faber. 
  11. ^ Porter, op. cit., p. xxi.

Further reading

Biography and Interviews

  • Bowker, Gordon. Through the Dark Labyrinth: A Biography of Lawrence Durrell. New York: St. Martin's, 1997.
  • Chamberlin, Brewster. A Chronology of the Life and Times of Lawrence Durrell. Corfu: The Durrell School of Corfu, 2007
  • Durrell, Lawrence. The Big Supposer: An Interview with Marc Alyn. New York: Grove, 1974.
  • Haag, Michael. Alexandria: City of Memory. London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004. Intertwined biographies of Lawrence Durrell, E M Forster and Constantine Cavafy in Alexandria.
  • Haag, Michael. Vintage Alexandria: Photographs of the City 1860-1960. Cairo and New York: The American University of Cairo Press, 2008. With an introduction on the historical, social and literary significance of Alexandria, and extensively captioned photographs of the cosmopolitan city and its inhabitants, including Durrell and people he knew.
  • MacNiven, Ian. Lawrence Durrell - A Biography. London: Faber and Faber, 1998.
  • Todd, Daniel Ray. An Annotated, Enumerative Bibliography of the Criticism of Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet and his Travel Works. Diss. Tulane University. 1984.
  • Ingersoll, Earl. Lawrence Durrell: Conversations. Cranbury, New Jersey: Ashgate; 1998.
Book-length Criticism
  • Alexandre-Garner, Corinne, ed. Lawrence Durrell Revisited : Lawrence Durrell Revisité. Confluences 21. Nanterre, France: Université Paris X, 2002.
  • Alexandre-Garner, Corinne, ed. Lawrence Durrell: Actes Du Colloque Pour L'Inauguration De La Bibliothèque Durrell. Confluences 15. Nanterre, France: Université Paris-X, 1998.
  • Alexandre-Garner, Corinne. Le Quatuor D'Alexandrie, Fragmentation Et Écriture : Étude Sur Lámour, La Femme Et L'Écriture Dans Le Roman De Lawrence Durrell. Anglo-Saxon Language and Literature 136. New York: Peter Lang, 1985.
  • Begnal, Michael H., ed. On Miracle Ground: Essays on the Fiction of Lawrence Durrell. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1990.
  • Cornu, Marie-Renée. La Dynamique Du Quatuor D'Alexandrie De Lawrence Durrell: Trois Études. Montréal, QU: Didier, 1979.
  • Fraser, G. S. Lawrence Durrell: A Study. London: Faber and Faber, 1968.
  • Friedman, Alan Warren, ed. Critical Essays on Lawrence Durrell. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987.
  • Friedman, Alan Warren. Lawrence Durrell and "The Alexandria Quartet": Art for Love's Sake. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970.
  • Herbrechter, Stefan. Lawrence Durrell, Postmodernism and the Ethics of Alterity. Postmodern Studies 26. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1999.
  • Hoops, Wiklef. Die Antinomie Von Theorie Und Praxis in Lawrence Durrells Alexandria Quartet: Eine Strukturuntersuchung. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1976.
  • Isernhagen, Hartwig. Sensation, Vision and Imagination: The Problem of Unity in Lawrence Durrell's Novels. Bamberg: Bamberger Fotodruck, 1969.
  • Kaczvinsky, Donald P. Lawrence Durrell's Major Novels, or The Kingdom of the Imagination. Selinsgrove: Susquehanna UP, 1997.
  • Lampert, Gunther. Symbolik Und Leitmotivik in Lawrence Durrells Alexandria Quartet. Bamberg: Rodenbusch, 1974.
  • Lillios, Anna, ed. Lawrence Durrell and the Greek World. London: Associated University Presses, 2004.
  • Moore, Harry T., ed. The World of Lawrence Durrell. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1962.
  • Morrison, Ray. A Smile in His Mind's Eye: A Study of the Early Works of Lawrence Durrell. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005.
  • Pelletier, Jacques. Le Quatour D'Alexandrie De Lawrence Durrell Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet. Paris: Hachette, 1975.
  • Pine, Richard. Lawrence Durrell: The Mindscape. Corfu: The Durrell School of Corfu, revised edition 2005.
  • Pine, Richard. The Dandy and the Herald: Manners, Mind and Morals From Brummell to Durrell. New York: St. Martin's, 1988.
  • Raper, Julius Rowan, et al., eds. Lawrence Durrell: Comprehending the Whole. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 1995.
  • Rashidi, Linda Stump. (Re)constructing Reality: Complexity in Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet. New York: Peter Lang, 2005.
  • Ruprecht, Walter Hermann. Durrells Alexandria Quartet: Struktur Als Belzugssystem. Sichtung Und Analyse. Swiss Studies in English 72. Berne: Francke Verlag, 1972.
  • Sajavaara, Kari. Imagery in Lawrence Durrell's Prose. Mémoires De La Société Néophilologique De Helsinki 35. Helsinki: Société Néophilologique, 1975.
  • Sertoli, Giuseppe. Lawrence Durrell. Civilta Letteraria Del Novecento: Sezione Inglese - Americana 6. Milano: Mursia, 1967.
  • Potter, Robert A., and Brooke Whiting. Lawrence Durrell: A Checklist. Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles Library, 1961.
  • Thomas, Alan G., and James Brigham. Lawrence Durrell: An Illustrated Checklist. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1983.

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Lawrence George Durrell (27 February 19127 November 1990) is considered a British novelist, poet, dramatist and travel writer, even though it was discovered posthumously that he never actually held British citizenship. His most famous work is the Alexandria Quartet. His brother was Gerald Durrell.



  • Everyone loathes his own country and countrymen if he is any sort of artist.
  • Brazil is bigger than Europe, wilder than Africa, and weirder than Baffin Land.
  • Journeys, like artists, are born and not made. A thousand differing circumstances contribute to them, few of them willed or determined by the will—whatever we may think.
  • It's only with great vulgarity that you can achieve real refinement, only out of bawdry that you can get tenderness.
    • Interview in Writers at Work, Second Series, ed. George Plimpton (1963)
  • I'm trying to die correctly, but it's very difficult, you know.
    • Interview in the Sunday Times, 1988
  • Old age is an insult. It's like being smacked.
    • Interview in the Sunday Times, 1988
  • It's unthinkable not to love — you'd have a severe nervous breakdown. Or you'd have to be Philip Larkin.
    • Interview in The Observer, 1990
  • The appalling thing is the degree of charity women are capable of. You see it all the time ... love lavished on absolute fools. Love's a charity ward, you know.
    • Interview in The Observer, 1990

The Alexandria Quartet (1957 - 1960)

Justine (1957)

  • For us artists there waits the joyous compromise through art with all that wounded or defeated us in daily life; in this way, not to evade destiny, as the ordinary people try to do, but to fulfil it in its true potential—the imagination.
  • There are only three things to be done with a woman. You can love her, suffer for her, or turn her into literature.
  • Guilt always hurries towards its complement, punishment; only there does its satisfaction lie.
  • A woman's best love letters are always written to the man she is betraying.
  • A city becomes a world when one loves one of it's inhabitants.

Clea (1960)

  • Music was invented to confirm human loneliness.
  • Perhaps our only sickness is to desire a truth which we cannot bear rather than to rest content with the fictions we manufacture out of each other.
  • Like all young men I set out to be a genius, but mercifully laughter intervened.

Balthazar (1958)

  • No one can go on being a rebel too long without turning into an autocrat.

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:

Simple English

Lawrence Durrell
Born 27 February 1912(1912-02-27)
Jalandhar, British India
Died November 7, 1990 (aged 78)
Sommières, France
Occupation Biographist; poet; playwright; novelist
Nationality British
Writing period 1931 - 1990
Notable work(s) The Alexandria Quartet
Official website

Lawrence George Durrell (27 February 1912 – 7 November 1990) was an expatriate British novelist, poet, dramatist, and travel writer, though he resisted affiliation with Britain and preferred to be considered cosmopolitan.


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address