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About Lawrence Durrell
Books by Lawrence Durrell

Lawrence Durrell

About Lawrence Durrell

An Interview with Lawrence Durrell

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A prolific and protean writer since the early 1930s, Durrell led a life as rich and varied as his writings. Born of Anglo-Irish parents in Himalayan India, Durrell attended school in England but spent most of his life abroad. Along with numerous odd jobs, he taught at the English Institute in Athens and at the Greek gymnasium on Cyprus; edited a witty and avant-garde magazine in Paris; founded and edited several poetry magazines; worked as press attache in Egypt and Yugoslavia; and lectured for the British Council in Argentina. The popular success of The Alexandria Quartet (1957-60) enabled him to live solely by writing. Durrell's first important work, The Black Book (1938), was greeted by T.S. Eliot as "the first piece of work by a new English writer to give me any hope for the future of prose fiction." In it, Durrell has said, "I first heard the sound of my own voice. . . . This is an experience no artist ever forgets." Appropriately, The Black Book was unavailable until 1962 in the English-speaking world that it attacked as smug, decadent, and cold. Durrell's fiction includes two apprentice novels, Pied Piper of Lovers (1935) and Panic Spring (1937); a psychological mystery set on Crete, The Dark Labyrinth (1947); The Revolt of Aphrodite (1974); and The Avignon Quintet (1974-85). Aphrodite, a not wholly successful satire of science fiction, Gothic romance, and business expose novels, concerns a young inventor's misadventures with modern technology and love. He is constrained to create an exact "living" replica of a beautiful, deceased Greek actress, but the machine, the perfect illusion, commits suicide rather than inhabit the world's harsh reality. The subject of much controversy, The Alexandria Quartet, is Durrell's major achievement. The Avignon Quintet shares the Quartet's aesthetic and thematic concerns. One of its narrators tells us that a quincunx is a form bearing mystical meaning derived from the pattern of trees in "an ancient Greek temple grove"---one at each corner of a square and one at the center. The mysticism expresses ancient Gnostic beliefs and relates to the Knights Templar (about whom one of the characters is writing a history), who were destroyed in the early fourteenth century but supposedly left a vast treasure buried at the quincunx's center. All of the characters, who are less vividly conceived than their Quartet counterparts, seek some metaphysical treasure or another. Durrell's other writings include three verse plays with ancient settings, a dozen books of poetry, including his Collected Poems (1956), five island books (the best of which, Bitter Lemons, 1959, won the Duff Cooper Prize), and several collections of "Sketches from Diplomatic Life."

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