Lawrence Durrell Durrell, Lawrence (George)

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Lawrence (George) Durrell 1912–

(Also wrote under the pseudonyms Charles Norden and Gaffer Peeslake) British novelist, poet, playwright, short story writer, travel writer, translator, editor, and critic.

Durrell is one of the most acclaimed novelists of the twentieth century. Continuing in the tradition of James Joyce and D. H. Lawrence, he has experimented with the structure of the novel while also probing the human psyche. His work is infused with observations on the nature of reality and sexuality, based in part on the ideas of Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud. Durrell's rich, sensual style of writing is highly praised, especially for his vivid description of landscape, which evokes the spirit of a place and reflects it in the characters. In his novel Justine, for example, the exotic qualities of Alexandria, Egypt, are seen in the title character.

Born in India to Anglo-Irish parents, Durrell was sent away from the Himalayan region of his childhood at age eleven for schooling in England. He never felt comfortable there and eventually abandoned England for the Greek island of Corfu. He has lived and worked in various other areas within the Mediterranean world and now lives in southern France.

Durrell's early novels, of which The Black Book (1938) is deemed the most accomplished, rebelled against the sterility of English society, which he termed "the English death." Although his early novels met with little success, he developed through them the techniques which won him acclaim and recognition with The Alexandria Quartet (1957–1960). Composed of Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive, and Clea, the tetralogy offers several perspectives on events which involve essentially the same characters. The protagonist Darley, a novelist like many of Durrell's protagonists, attempts through art to rework reality in order to find patterns of significance and meaning. The Alexandria Quartet ranks among the major novelistic achievements of the twentieth century.

Durrell had originally planned to be a poet, but his voluminous output of verse has met with mixed critical reaction. His poetry blends the sensuousness of the Mediterranean world with the traditional form found in much British poetry in an attempt, in his words, to "match passion and clarity." Durrell's Collected Poems 1931–1974 (1980) has prompted further study of his poetry.

Recent work by Durrell includes the three published novels of his proposed "quincunx": Monsieur, or The Prince of Darkness (1975), Livia, or Buried Alive (1978), and Constance, or Solitary Practices (1983). Set in southern France following the outbreak of World War II and echoing the successful strategy of The Alexandria Quartet, the novels and characters of The Avignon Quintet will be interrelated.

(See also CLC, Vols. 1, 4, 6, 8, 13; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.; and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 15.)

Mary Warnock

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[A Smile in the Mind's Eye] must have been fun to write. Can it also be said to be fun to read? It is supposed to be for the smile of the title is partly the sign of an amused and detached attitude to life, while the 'mind's eye' suggests not only the images of memory, but the unity of mind and body, without which there can be no pleasure or enjoyment. It is a very short book, like the essence of a diary, kept with acute observation, and covering three weekends. It describes the swift flowering of two friendships, one with a Chinese Taoist, the other, chronologically earlier, with a French-woman, interested in Nietzsche. The link is a series of related recollections, themselves part of a lifelong but sporadic reflection on Tao.

Lawrence Durrell was born in India and was fascinated early by various forms of Buddhism. But he is not a religious man so much as an old-fashioned Thinker. Of course to write about a form of thought whose point is to be ineffable makes for difficulties. Like Kierkegaard, and indeed like Nietzsche himself, he hates theories, systems and the pretensions of science; and what emerges from these pages...

(The entire section is 7,464 words.)