[ilds] the review itself

Suni Rafa sunirafa at gmail.com
Thu Sep 4 17:00:05 PDT 2008

That is a most interesting letter, well worth the space given to it by the
TLS.  Thank you for posting it.

Suni Rafa

On Fri, Sep 5, 2008 at 12:43 AM, william godshalk <godshawl at email.uc.edu>wrote:

> *Sources for the 'Alexandria Quartet'
> *Sir, – Peter Porter has written an interesting article on Lawrence
> Durrell and the writing of the Alexandria Quartet (Commentary, August 22 &
> 29), which is to appear as the introduction to a new edition of the Quartet
> to be published by the Folio Society. As he has kindly acknowledged my
> history of the cosmopolitan city and its writers (Alexandria: City of
> memory, 2004), from which he drew some of his information, I feel I ought to
> set the record straight on a few misleading and factually incorrect
> statements made in an otherwise illuminating piece.
> Porter describes The Black Book (1938) as Durrell's first piece of fiction,
> but he has misunderstood Durrell who called it "my first real book", the one
> in which "I first heard the sound of my own voice". There were, as Durrell
> implies, earlier fictional works, including two full-length novels, Pied
> Piper of Lovers (1935) and Panic Spring (1937), but he did not regard them
> as authentic literary works and their interest is confined to those wanting
> to trace Durrell's first footsteps. He would not allow them to be
> republished, but they have been recently resurrected by an academic press
> and, as chance would have it, they were reviewed by Karl Orend in the same
> issue of the TLS as Peter Porter's piece.
> After writing The Black Book Durrell began what would become his greatest
> achievement and to which he gave the working title "The Book of the Dead".
> This eventually emerged as Justine (1957), which was followed by those
> brilliant improvisations, Balthazar (1958), Mountolive (1958) and Clea
> (1960), which grew into the Alexandria Quartet.
> It is true, as Porter notes, that Durrell had not intended to write a
> quartet, though he later liked to say he had conceived one from the start.
> He had not thought beyond Justine, and it was this one volume alone that he
> described, even as he was writing it in Cyprus, as "4-dimensional". The
> woman who changed everything was Claude Vincendon, of the Jewish Alexandrian
> banking family Menasce (not Menasche). But it was not because she imposed
> order on his notes; Justine was all but complete when she and Durrell met in
> Cyprus in 1955, but she provided the information and inspiration to turn a
> single volume into a quartet.
> Durrell and Claude had not previously met in Alexandria, but he had known
> members of her family there during the war, and when she walked into his
> life in Nicosia she revealed to him that they had been secretly pursuing
> Zionist activities in Egypt, which included financing immigration and arms
> to Palestine under the noses of the British. Durrell, who had been working
> at the British Information Office in Alexandria in the rue Toussoun (not rue
> Chérif Pasha) and who was close to people in British intelligence, might
> have been expected to know about this Palestine plot, but he did not, and
> the revelation overturned his impressions of Alexandrian reality (just as
> Darley's sense of reality alters through the volumes that succeed Justine)
> and led Durrell to conceive the notion of using Claude's uncle George de
> Menasce and other Zionist members of her family as models for the fictional
> Nessim Hosnani and his family, whom Durrell implausibly portrays as
> pro-Zionist Copts in the Quartet.
> Durrell was not the "son of colonial officials in India"; his father, a
> self-made man, was an exceptionally enterprising civil engineer who built
> everything from bridges and railways to hospitals, steel mills and model
> towns across the length and breadth of the Raj.
> After leaving Alexandria, Durrell worked as an information officer in
> Rhodes, which had been liberated by the British from a brutal German
> occupation. He lived there with Eve Cohen, a young Alexandrian who was his
> secretary and became his second wife, and he began Reflections on a Marine
> Venus (1953) there but did not complete it until several years later while
> he was press officer at the British embassy in Belgrade. His mother did not
> come to Rhodes, but while writing Justine in Cyprus, Durrell relied on her
> help in caring for his daughter Sappho after her mother, Eve, the model for
> Justine, had a mental breakdown and was recuperating in England. Justine was
> written against the background of EOKA bombings, and Durrell hardly had time
> to find relaxation there by writing Bitter Lemons (1957); that was written
> near Donhead St Andrew in Dorset where Durrell and Claude spent the winter
> of 1956–7, after they had left Cyprus and before they settled in France –
> where Durrell wrote the remainder of the Alexandria Quartet and immortalized
> that "ambiguous white metropolis".
> 81A Belsize Lane, London NW3.
> ***************************************
> W. L. Godshalk           *
> Department of English         *
> University of Cincinnati            Stellar disorder  *
> Cincinnati OH 45221-0069      *
> 513-281-5927
> ***************************************
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