Lawrence Durrell Biography


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Born in India, Lawrence George Durrell led a wandering life that profoundly influenced all his work. His formal education was adequate but limited; ironically, he could never gain admission to Cambridge, which may have motivated his half-jesting claim that he became a writer “by sheer ineptitude.” In any event, he managed to acquire an astonishing fund of knowledge, becoming competent as a painter, a jazz pianist, a race-car driver, a teacher, and a diplomat. In his turbulent career, he lived and worked in London, Paris, Cairo, Belgrade, Beirut, Athens, Cyprus, Argentina, and Provence. Naturally enough, he also became an accomplished linguist, particularly in Greek. Many of the places mentioned above are familiar to readers as settings of his novels or travel books; they are also prominent in his poems.

Durrell’s personal life was no less an odyssey than his career. Married three times, he went through two divorces and became a widower in 1967. His friendships proved more lasting, in particular his evolving relationship with Henry Miller. Beginning as Miller’s disciple and admirer, Durrell virtually turned the tables. Even so, the two remained close and mutually stimulating friends, as evidenced by Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller: A Private Correspondence (1963).

After many years of working at odd jobs, teaching, and representing his country in various diplomatic posts, Durrell settled in Provence in 1957 and devoted his full time to writing. Always a rapid worker—he completed the monumental The Alexandria Quartet in less than a year of actual writing time—he published many novels, dramas, and collections of poetry from the 1960’s to the 1980’s. By the late 1970’s, his wanderlust seemed cured; he stirred only reluctantly. In his late seclusion, Durrell was perhaps like Prospero, from William Shakespeare’s The Tempest (pr. 1611), a favorite character of his—he worked his magic and recalled his life at court. Both his poems and his prose reveal the fruits of an extraordinary life at many Mediterranean “courts.” Durrell died in Sommières, France, in 1990.

Lawrence Durrell Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Lawrence George Durrell was born in Julundur, India, on February 27, 1912, to Lawrence Samuel Durrell, an English engineer who built the Tata Iron and Steel Works, and Louise Florence “Dixie” Durrell, of Irish heritage. Both his parents’ families had been in India for some time. When the boy was very young, the Durrells moved to Kurseong, near the Himalayas, so that the elder Durrell could accept a three-year contract on a mountain railway to Darjeeling. The sight of the mountains made a strong impression on the boy, so much so that he once described his childhood in a letter to Henry Miller as “a brief dream of Tibet.” While in Darjeeling, he began his education at the College of St. Joseph and received the first encouragement for his writing from a Belgian priest, Father Joseph De Guylder.

At twelve, Durrell was sent to England with his brother Leslie “to get the hall-mark,” as his father said, of a public school education. He attended St. Olave’s and St. Saviour’s Grammar School, where he developed his lifelong interest in Elizabethan writers, and later entered St. Edmund’s School in Canterbury. Despite several attempts, he was never admitted to Cambridge University and would later write of his life in England, “That mean shabby little islandwrung my guts out of me and tried to destroy anything singular and unique in me.”

The death of his father left Durrell with a small income, which he used to move to Bloomsbury in order to become a writer. During his Bloomsbury years, Durrell held a number of odd jobs, including jazz pianist and composer, race-car driver, and real estate agent. During this period he also met his first wife, Nancy Myers, a student at the Slade School, with whom he ran a photo studio for a time. At nineteen, he met John Gawsworth in a café after fleeing from an upstairs window during a police raid on the Blue Peter nightclub, where Durrell was playing piano. Awed by Gawsworth’s personal knowledge of many famous authors, Durrell became his friend, and though they often disagreed on literary matters—Gawsworth was a very conservative poet who admired the literature of the 1890’s and had little respect for W. H. Auden and Stephen Spender—Gawsworth helped Durrell to get his first poems published. Ten Poems was published in 1932 under the pseudonym “Gaffer Peeslake” by Caduceus Press, founded by Durrell, his wife, and George Wilkinson.

Durrell began his first novel, Pied Piper of Lovers, while he and Nancy lived for a year in a Sussex cottage with George and Pam Wilkinson. After the Wilkinsons emigrated to Corfu, Greece, Durrell lived with his mother, sister, and two brothers in Bournemouth, where they received glowing letters from the Wilkinsons. Excited by the idea of the warm climate, Durrell left his novel under consideration at Cassell’s and departed for Corfu. When the rest of his family followed a few weeks later, they bore the news that the book had been accepted, confirming Durrell...

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Lawrence Durrell Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Lawrence George Durrell (DUR-uhl) was born on February 27, 1912, in Julundur in northern India, near Pakistan and Tibet. His Irish father, Lawrence Samuel Durrell, and his English mother, Louisa Florence Dixie, had also been born in India. This mix of nationalities marked Durrell’s creative imagination. He would claim in later years that he had “a Tibetan mentality.”

Durrell’s “nursery-rhyme happiness” came to an end when he was shipped to England at age eleven to be formally educated. The immediate discomfort he felt in England he attributed to its lifestyle, which he termed “the English death.” He explained: “English life is really like an autopsy. It is so, so dreary.” Deeply alienated, he refused to adjust himself to England and resisted the regimentation of school life, eventually refusing to pass university exams.

Instead, he resolved to be a writer. At first he had difficulty finding his voice in words, either in verse or in fiction. Eventually, he invented a pseudonym, Charles Norden, and produced two novels, Pied Piper of Lovers (1935) and Panic Spring (1937), for the mass market.

Two fortunate events occurred in 1935 that changed the course of his career. First, he persuaded his mother, siblings, and wife, Nancy Myers, to move to Corfu, Greece, to live more economically and to escape the English winter. Life in Greece was a revelation; Durrell felt it reconnected him to India. While in Greece, he began working on what may be his greatest accomplishment as a writer, The Alexandria Quartet (1957-1960; 1962). Second, Durrell chanced upon Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer (1934) and wrote Miller a fan letter. Thus began a forty-five-year friendship and correspondence based on their love...

(The entire section is 730 words.)

Lawrence Durrell Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Lawrence Durrell spent more than fifty years writing novels, plays, poetry, letters, and essays that “interrogate human values” and experiment with language. In his first serious novel, The Black Book, he states his belief that “art must no longer exist to depict man, but to invoke God.” He dedicated his life’s work to this problem. His two greatest works of art, The Alexandria Quartet and The Avignon Quintet, offer “an honest representation of the human passions” and explore the depth of spirituality possible in a chaotic age of relativity and skepticism.

Lawrence Durrell Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Lawrence George Durrell (DUR-uhl) is widely regarded as one of the more important British writers of the twentieth century, his fame in both Europe and America deriving primarily from the four novels of The Alexandria Quartet—namely, Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive, and Clea.{$S[A]Norden, Charles;Durrell, Lawrence}

Durrell was born to an Anglo-Indian family living on the fringe of the Himalayas. Young Durrell spent his first ten years in India and the rest of his childhood in England; he immediately disliked his new home, seeing it as a gloomy and emotionally repressive place compared to the East. Rejecting university education and other conventional, middle-class...

(The entire section is 743 words.)