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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1206

Justine. A young Anglo-Irish writer, L. G. Darley, reflects on his life in Alexandria, Egypt, around the time of World War II, and on his three great loves: Melissa, Justine, and Clea. Darley resides on a Greek island, writing and gaining perspective on his love affairs.

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He first recalls Melissa, a poor cabaret dancer who sometimes engaged in prostitution. They begin their love affair as “fellow bankrupts”: He is a writer who cannot write, and she is a dancer with no talent. They have nothing in common, except that they have both been through Alexandria’s “winepress of love.”

While living with Melissa, Darley meets his second great love, Justine, who attends one of his lectures on Alexandria’s famous poet, Constantine Cavafy. Justine, “solitary student of the passions and the arts,” is a modern incarnation of Cleopatra. She captivates men with her esoteric searchings into the nature of knowledge and with her magnificent body. After the lecture, Justine invites Darley to her home, so that he can meet her husband, Nessim, a fabulously wealthy Coptic banker, who also shares in her metaphysical speculations.

Although Darley respects Nessim, he cannot refrain from falling into an affair with Justine. She rules his mind to such an extent that Darley seeks insight into her nature from the novel Moeurs, written by Justine’s ex-husband, Arnauti. In Moeurs, Arnauti created an emotionally complex character like Justine, who was sexually abused by an uncle. Arnauti fails to unravel Justine’s secrets, and Darley, too, is tormented by the decline in Justine’s affections and by his belief that Nessim learns of the affair. Tensions reach a climax at a duck shoot that Nessim arranges at Lake Mareotis. Darley fears that he will be murdered by the jealous husband. Instead, another body is found floating in the lake. The corpse turns out to be Capodistria, the relative who abused Justine. When the hunters return to shore, they discover that Justine fled. Darley feels as if the whole city crashes around his ears. Later, Darley hears through Clea that Justine is working on a Jewish kibbutz in Palestine and that Capodistria is still alive.

Darley takes a job teaching English at a school in Upper Egypt for two years and keeps in only limited contact with Melissa, who is in a clinic to cure her tuberculosis. Melissa dies before Darley can see her for a last time. He agrees to adopt her child, who is the issue of Melissa’s brief liaison with Nessim after Justine’s departure.

By the end of the novel, Darley draws closer to Clea, a lovely artist who is recovering from a lesbian affair with Justine. Together Clea and Darley analyze the events that have transpired, recalling the wisdom of their enigmatic literary friend, Percy Pursewarden, who recently committed suicide.

Balthazar. On the Greek island, Darley completes his manuscript, presumably Justine, and mails it to his friend, Balthazar. Balthazar knows the secrets of his fellow Alexandrians. After reading Darley’s book, Balthazar travels to the island to set Darley straight and present him with his own commentary—the Interlinear—penned between the lines of Darley’s manuscript. The Interlinear provides Darley with new information regarding the characters about whom he wrote. One revelation is that Justine’s true love is Pursewarden. Darley is stunned, forced to take a new perspective on his reality, an essential task for one who aspires to be a writer. After Balthazar departs, Darley picks up an old photograph and stares at the images of his friends. He is ready to begin the torturous process of reassessment by examining the many facets of his friends’ personalities.

There is a wild carnival attended by Narouz Hosnani, Nessim’s brother. Narouz, a rough-hewn religious fanatic, manages the family’s country...

(The entire section contains 1206 words.)

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