The Alexandria Quartet is the story of the life and loves of a young British man, Darley, who lives in Egypt during World War II. Darley has love affairs with three women: Justine, the sensuous Jewish wife of a rich Egyptian banker, Nessim; Melissa, a dancer in a cabaret who develops tuberculosis and dies; and Clea, a beautiful artist who eventually becomes Darley’s soulmate.
The central topic of the The Alexandria Quartet is “an investigation of modern love.” Durrell believed in the idea, whose origin is in Platonism, that by studying and experiencing the varieties of love, one can ascend from raw physical contact to higher forms of spiritual connection. In an interview, Durrell describes the role of love:The sexual act becomes identified with all knowledge, all knowing; and the act . . . seems a sort of biological contraption whose object is not only the race’s survival, but also the awakening of the psychic forces latent in the human being.
Thus Eros is the “motive force in man,” a “vibration” that is meant “to wake some of the engines of understanding” in men and women. Each of the major characters in The Alexandria Quartet embodies one or more aspects of Western love. Justine represents the power of sexual passion, and Melissa, charitable affection. In keeping with Durrell’s view that Western love is bankrupt, the characters seek but fail to find passionate love relationships that will...
(The entire section is 492 words.)