Lawrence Durrell Durrell, Lawrence (Vol. 13)

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Durrell, Lawrence 1912–

Durrell is an English novelist, poet, short story writer, playwright, travel writer, editor, and translator. Though considered a masterful craftsman of several genres, his reputation rests mainly on the monumental Alexandria Quartet. In these four novels, Durrell experiments with an Einsteinian perspective of space and time, rejecting philosophical absolutes and exploring the elusive nature of truth. His style is rich and sensuous, often evoking place and character with the lyricism of poetry. Durrell's fiction has been strongly influenced by James Joyce, his poetry by Robert Browning and Walter Savage Landor. In its contempletiveness and spirituality, his poetry also reflects the influence of Eastern thought. Durrell has written under the pseudonyms of Charles Norden and Gaffer Peeslake. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 4, 6, 8, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)

G. S. Fraser

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The one genre of writing in which Durrell … has not achieved either popular or critical success, is the verse play…. Though full of beautiful passages of lyrical and meditative verse, [Sappho, his first play in this genre,] perhaps lacks the tensions and confrontations that are proper to drama; it is more like a versification of one of Landor's Imaginary Conversations. In his next verse play, Acte, Durrell took this lesson to heart, and it is a melodrama in the style of Corneille, about honour and self-sacrifice, in which the language … is noticeably more rhetorical than is usual in Durrell's verse.

The best of Durrell's verse plays seems to me to be An Irish Faustus, a morality play in nine scenes, alternately farcical and frightening. His Faustus is somewhat reminiscent of Prospero, a magician who throws away his wand…. I think that Durrell's verse plays, like those of Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, Browning, Tennyson, have suffered from his thinking of the verse play as primarily literature: he has never thought much of the problems of production, of timing, of the control of the audience, that 'great beast'. (p. 10)

In Durrell, fiction is consciously fictive; it is always transforming itself from the transcription of what life is like to an attempt to create the myth, myth rather than allegory, of what life is. Perhaps the home-keeping writer whom Durrell most resembles is Iris Murdoch, who, like Durrell, enjoys playing (almost as in a logical game with truth-tables) with the permutations and combinations of possible sexual relationships, who enjoys both the violent and the improbable, and who likes to show sexual and religious drives improbably and grotesquely fusing. [There] are those who would describe both of them as brilliant frauds. Both, perhaps, as prose-writers, are in the tradition of something that we might call romance or fantasy rather than in the tradition of the 'straight' novel. But this genre has its own distinction and validity. (pp. 13-14)

The poems are still, it seems to me, the part of his writings where Durrell is most his natural self. In the 1930s, a period of much polemical political verse, these poems did not harangue. Compared, also, with the prose of The Black Book … they did not strike me as too highly coloured, congested, over-spiced. Durrell's poems have from their beginnings been beautifully modulated; by the word 'modulation' I mean the way in which a really skilful poet can move gently from the expression of one mood at the beginning of a poem to that of a contrasting, contrary, or more fully inclusive mood at the end of a poem, without any effect like that of a motor-car abruptly and crashingly changing gears. (p. 16)

Durrell's tone in poetry I would call one of quiet amenity, of controlled poignancy…. The poetic personality that came across to me when I read those early poems which appeared so fugitively in the 1930s was one gentle, compassionate, temperamentally sad but quirkily humorous, essentially lonely. I thought these early poems also (as I think the later poems) the work of a religiously-minded man. (p. 17)

(The entire section is 6,137 words.)