[ilds] ILDS Digest, Vol 66, Issue 2_The Guardian on Durrell (Denise Tart & David Green)

Denise Tart & David Green dtart at bigpond.net.au
Fri Oct 19 14:46:09 PDT 2012

Books/re-reading/24Feb: Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet (996)GUARDIAN 
NEWS SERVICE(DURRELL)By Jan MorrisSTANDFIRST: Lawrence Durrell, whose 
centenary falls this month (FEB), is best known for The Alexandria Quartet, 
a study of modern love with a plot full of surprises - there are shocks 
around every dusty corner, writes Jan MorrisNOTE: Photograph(s) linked to 
this article may be made available to clients through a separate 
negotiation. Clients are invited to contact the picture syndication manager 
at the Guardian News Service, Mary Andrews (mary.andrews at guardian.co.uk), to 
inquire about availability.

David Green
Civil Celebrant A8807
16 William Street
Marrickville NSW 2204
+61 2 9564 6165
0412 707 625

From: "Sumantra Nag" <sumantranag at gmail.com>
Sent: Friday, October 19, 2012 5:30 PM
To: <ilds at lists.uvic.ca>
Cc: <dtart at bigpond.net.au>
Subject: Re: ILDS Digest, Vol 66, Issue 2_The Guardian on Durrell (Denise 
Tart & David Green)

> Will it be possible please, to get a link or reference to the The Guardian 
> article which is quoted here?
> Regards
> Sumantra Nag
> ----- Original Message ----- 
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> Subject: ILDS Digest, Vol 66, Issue 2
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>>   1. The Guardian on Durrell (Denise Tart & David Green)
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>> Date: Thu, 18 Oct 2012 17:26:27 +1100
>> From: "Denise Tart & David Green" <dtart at bigpond.net.au>
>> To: "Durrel" <ilds at lists.uvic.ca>
>> Subject: [ilds] The Guardian on Durrell
>> Message-ID: <8C44CD7E62B84E17B9E1815132C30342 at DenisePC>
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>> The Alexandria Quartet, Lawrence Durrell's celebrated tetralogy from the 
>> 1950s, was defined by its author as ''an investigation of modern love'', 
>> but has often been regarded by its readers more as an evocation of a 
>> city - the Greco-Arab, multi-ethnic Alexandria of its title. Almost 
>> infinite variations of love are certainly explored in its 1,000-odd 
>> pages, and the presence of Alexandria certainly permeates the work, but I 
>> think the legendary fascination of the quartet is essentially 
>> existential. The work itself is greater than its themes, and casts a 
>> spell that is neither precisely emotional nor specifically topographic. 
>> It is actually neither specific nor precise about anything. It was an 
>> experimental novel of its day, perhaps related to the work of Durrell's 
>> friend Henry Miller, perhaps to Ulysses. It was based on the premise that 
>> people and events seem different when considered from different angles 
>> and periods, and that they can best be recorded, as Durrell himself put 
>> it!
>> , stereoscopically. The four volumes concern the same characters, but 
>> each of the several narrators tell the novels' complex tales from their 
>> own viewpoint, and they write at different times. It is a device, Durrell 
>> claimed, amounting to a new concept of reality, reflecting the ideas of 
>> Freud and Einstein and a convergence of western and eastern metaphysics. 
>> If that sounds over-blown, well, the Quartet itself is not without 
>> pretension, in concept as in performance. As has generally been admitted, 
>> it is often ornate and over-written, sometimes to an almost comical 
>> degree. The high ambition of its schema can make its narratives and 
>> characters inexplicably confusing, and its virtuoso use of vocabulary can 
>> be trying (''pudicity''? ''noetic''? ''fatidic''? ''scry''?). But if 
>> there are parts of the work that few readers, I suspect, will navigate 
>> without skipping, there are many passages of such grand inspiration that 
>> reaching them feels like emerging from choppy seas into marvell!
>> ously clear blue Mediterranean waters. For it is true that the city of 
>> Alexandria does colour the entire work. Durrell lived and worked in the 
>> city from 1942 to 1945, and he believed strongly in the effect of place 
>> on human temperament. Alexandria's peculiar Levantine character, as it 
>> existed during Durrell's time there, is insistently summoned into these 
>> pages. His responses to the place were moulded partly by EM Forster's 
>> elegant Alexandria, A History and Guide, first published in 1922, and 
>> more especially by the greatest of Alexandrine poets, Constantin Cavafy - 
>> who had died in 1933, but whose drifting presence in the books is almost 
>> as haunting as the presence of the city itself. It was Cavafy who wrote 
>> of Alexandria ''There's no new land, my friend, no / New sea; for the 
>> city will follow you, / In the same streets you'll wander endlessly ...'' 
>> One of this work's narrators goes further still: ''Man is only an 
>> extension of the spirit of place,'' says Nessim (I think it is) in 
>> Justine. The several narrators of the Quartet are certainly ensla!
>> ved by Alexandria's genii loci, and readers are likely to be entrapped 
>> too, because the work, so opaque is other contexts, is clear enough when 
>> it deals with the city. We soon learn the geography of the place, from 
>> the handsome Rue Fuad to the meshed Arab backstreets, from the elegance 
>> of L'Etoile or the Cecil Hotel to the hashish cafes of the slums or the 
>> sandy approaches to the Western Desert. We see inside the mansions of 
>> rich cosmopolitans and diplomats, we visit stifling attic bedrooms, 
>> brothels and pleasure pavilions by the sea. Much of all this is factual. 
>> Durrell based much of his fiction on personal experience, reminiscence 
>> and tittle-tattle, which gave the Quartet, for his contemporaries, 
>> something of the allure of a roman-a-clef, not least in its sexual 
>> allusions. In fact a general sensuality is the most Alexandrine aspect of 
>> the Quartet, but it does shows itself, too, in somewhat hazy 
>> illustrations of individual sex - ''modern love'', as Durrell put it. 
>> These ''!
>> dark blue tides of Eros'' are far from pornographic. Sometimes, it is 
>> true, we are unsure who is loving whom, and now and then there are 
>> homosexual and cross-dressing deviations, but mostly the love elements 
>> are straightforward and moving, and really do dominate, as Durrell 
>> implied, the devious goings-on of the plot. Which is full of surprises. 
>> Some, I dare say, really are Freudian or Einsteinian in origin, or 
>> metaphysically intercultural, but they seem to me more like twists in a 
>> skilful thriller, closer to Le Carre than to James Joyce, and sometimes 
>> embroiled in melodrama - ''the slime of plot and counterplot'', as 
>> another of Durrell's characters defines it. He was particularly admired 
>> for his descriptive writing, and these books are rich in masterly 
>> set-pieces, but he was also a fine storyteller, adept in techniques of 
>> suspense and deception. Reader, watch out! Shocks are always around the 
>> dusty corner. The four books of the tetralogy originally appeared 
>> separately - Justine in 1957, Balthazar and Mountolive in 1958, Clea in 
>> 1960. They were!
>>  immediately recognised as remarkable works of art, but the verdict on 
>> the whole work, while always respectful, was mixed. French critics adored 
>> it. Americans lapped it up. English reviewers were not so sure. Durrell, 
>> a lifelong expatriate, never was an admirer of English culture, and his 
>> elaborate prose did not greatly appeal to more austere litterateurs such 
>> as Angus Wilson, who called it floridly vulgar. Its pretensions were 
>> mocked, its avant-garde excesses parodied, and although the books were 
>> commercial triumphs, he wrote nothing so publicly successful again. But 
>> the whole thing itself, this immense imaginary construction, has stood 
>> the tests of time and taste, and has never been out of print - probably 
>> never will be. Half a century after its completion, those florid 
>> vulgarities, those modernist pretensions, seem no more than incidental to 
>> its unique flavour, which lingers in the mind long after its labyrinthine 
>> plots (for they are myriad, and muddling) have been forgo!
>> tten. Note: The Alexandria Quartet is published by Faber. Copyright: 
>> Guardian News & Media 2012
>> Denise Tart - designing ceremonies
>> Civil Celebrant A8807
>> 16 William Street
>> Marrickville NSW 2204
>> +61 2 9564 6165
>> 0412 707 625
>> www.denisetart.com.au
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