[ilds] One-Volume Alexandria Quartet

slighcl slighcl at wfu.edu
Fri Apr 25 16:50:53 PDT 2008

On 4/25/2008 3:26 PM, Bruce Redwine wrote:
> Charles?
Oh, I know better than to start on this topic, Bruce.  How to keep it 

Suffice to say, I think that Durrell found a rich imaginative resource 
in the tactile, sensual, material aspect of composition and creation.  
This discovery became prime in the decade-and-a-half period leading to 
the publication of the /Quartet/.  His /Quartet /notebooks are elaborate 
particolored--even pied!--palimpsests of prose and pictorial "sketches" 
in different inks and different styles, impressions laid down on top of 
impressions, recollecting a tangle of different times, places, and 

I think that there is a meaningful correspondence between how Darley 
luxuriates, temporizes, and struggles with his materials in the 
storytime moment and how Durrell luxuriated, temporized, and struggled 
with his materials in the real-time actuality.  And by materials I do 
not mean simply the "prose medium."  I mean that the whole (imagined) 
material dossier of collected documents seems to somehow correspond to 
the real and extant material dossier of notebooks and typescripts out of 
which Durrell quarried and cobbled and assembled his /Justine/. 

We have discussed it before here, but I will say it again.  As a young 
reader, I responded in a way that I still recall as thrilling to 
"bookishness" of the /Quartet/.  I found myself moving back and forth 
between these jewel-colored bindings, /Justine/, /Balthazar/, 
/Mountolive/, and /Clea/, assembling meaning and undoing meaning in that 
Janus-faced kind of readerly after-glancing and afterthought that 
certainly occurs in most literary texts but which seems to occur at a 
heightened frequency here.  And this was exciting because that seemed to 
be precisely what Darley was doing while he assembled and reshuffled his 
multiple documents within the story of the /Quartet/.

Then there was the excellence of the Faber production of the original 
cloth-covered issues.  Wolpe set the standard for mid-twentieth century 
house-style, and his team at Faber did much to make certain that the 
physical sensual aesthetic of Durrell's Alexandria found its tactile 
embodiment in the books as published 1957 - 1960.   As Pater said in the 
1880s, matter and spirit here are fused and blent, inextricably. 

I will include several images here that bring home this last point.  The 
first is the distinctive Centaur typeface that Wolpe selected for 
Durrell's first editions of /Justine/, /Balthazar/, /Mountolive/, and 

I will remark how the end punctuation studs the prose with little 
embossed diamond-cut emphases, while the commas run along like kites 
high-strung across the old harbour.

And then there also is the matter of oft-repeated exclamation markers in 
/Justine/--often literally, "Justine!" or "Melissa!"--which seem to ring 
out like struck scimitar when read in their original typographical 
format, which really does bring out the blade from the sheathe:

Finally, here are Durrell's books set out on a shelf with some of 
Wolpe's other designs.

Clearly Durrell had good fortune in finding such a designer.


Charles L. Sligh
Department of English
Wake Forest University
slighcl at wfu.edu

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