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...
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