Lawrence Durrell Long Fiction Analysis
Lawrence Durrell’s first novel, Pied Piper of Lovers, is a story of life among the bohemians at Bloomsbury. It was sufficiently dismal to provoke a publisher to advise him to offer Panic Spring under the pseudonym of Charles Norden, so that the latter, a slightly better book, would not be associated with its predecessor. Panic Spring has been described as being influenced by, even imitative of, the works of Aldous Huxley; even as it was published, Durrell was writing an apology to Henry Miller for his “new and facile novel.” In essence, Durrell’s early career was characterized by a search for a paradigm or form for his talent, a search that ended with his discovery of Tropic of Cancer.
The Black Book
The impact of Miller’s novel on the young Durrell was enormous. A comparison of his earlier works with his third novel, The Black Book, reveals a dramatic transformation. His creative impulses have been freed. As he described it in 1959, The Black Book is “a two-fisted attack on literature by a young man in the thirties,” taking its aggressive intent from Miller’s all-out assault on the literary establishment. The narrator, Lawrence Lucifer, recounts his experiences in a seedy London hotel from the perspective of his life on Corfu. In the hotel he finds the diary of Herbert Gregory, which relates experiences that overlap with his own. There are numerous other characters and much obscurity as to the details of time and event. There is a great deal of erotic content, both homosexual and heterosexual, as the characters betray and cuckold one another. The novel’s themes are revealed not through a carefully constructed plot but through a series of scenes, reminiscences, and vignettes.
Durrell later wrote the following in the 1959 introduction to the second edition of The Black Book: With all its imperfections lying heavy on my head, I can’t help being attached to it because in the writing of it I first heard the sound of my own voice, lame and halting, perhaps, but nevertheless my very own.
In this work, the reader finds the first cry of Durrell’s literary voice, his exotic characters, his sensual and sensuous prose, and his experiments withnarrative time. When it was published, T. S. Eliot (among others) was perspicacious enough to recognize the voice of a major new talent. Had Durrell ended his career with The Black Book, it would most likely be forgotten. Burdened with an excessively baroque style, it is of interest chiefly because of its place in his career.
The Dark Labyrinth
Cefalû, Durrell’s next novel (reissued as The Dark Labyrinth after Justine had assured Durrell a place in twentieth century literature), can be viewed in much the same way as The Black Book. In it, Durrell seems to be discovering himself, experimenting, finding the form and style that would achieve maturity in The Alexandria Quartet. One also sees a tugging away from Miller’s influence—only a few years later, Durrell would write a scathing indictment of Miller’s Sexus (1949)—and a reversion to the influence of Aldous Huxley that had been so apparent in Panic Spring. The Dark Labyrinth has extensive allegorical elements, reminiscent of Huxley: The characters are trapped in a labyrinth in Crete, and each finds in the maze that for which he or she has been looking. The book was written quickly—which was not unusual for Durrell—and seems rather derivative in structure, though the writing itself often attains his characteristic brilliance.
The Alexandria Quartet
The four novels that compose The Alexandria Quartet are collectively one of the greatest achievements in the modern novel. Like many modern works, The Alexandria Quartet often seems to be about the creation of fiction. Darley, the narrator of Justine and Balthazar , is a novelist, as are two other characters. Diversity in point of view is regularly exploited through the use of diaries, letters, and recounted experiences. Truth becomes subjective and layered. The characters’ knowledge is limited to what...
(The entire section is 2,551 words.)