(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Prospero’s Cell is a fine example of Durrell’s metaphysical speculations and a precursor to The Alexandria Quartet. Durrell, believing that “we are the children of our landscape,” tries to capture the essence of Greece in this book of his travels. Written in the 1930’s, when Durrell was just starting out as a writer, the book is more like a portrait of the artist as a young man than a conventional travel guide. He records the learning process that he has to undergo in order to become a writer, rather than listing the typical tourist attractions.

The process begins when, like a child, Durrell examines the building blocks of reality: “rock, air, sky—and all the elementals . . . white house, white rock, friends, and a narrow style of living.” Greece, at this stage of his creative development, provides the raw materials for his inspiration; he tries to manipulate its images into art. His challenge is to capture in words the multifaceted nature of reality.

In Prospero’s Cell, he finds that Corfu’s reality, which to him is always changing and receding, still seems touched by the wand of William Shakespeare’s magician, Prospero. The book, written in the form of a journal, mixes history and metaphysical speculations about life, geology, biography, folk customs, and peasant remedies, reflecting the narrator’s difficulty in capturing the island’s spirit. The primary quality of Durrell’s Corfu is...

(The entire section is 497 words.)