Lawrence Durrell

Infobox Writer
name = Lawrence Durrell

imagesize = 200px
caption = Lawrence Durrell
pseudonym =
birthdate = birth date|1912|2|27|mf=y
birthplace = Jalandhar, British India
deathdate = death date and age|1990|11|7|1912|2|27|mf=y
deathplace = Sommières, France
occupation = Biographist; poet; playwright; novelist
nationality = British
period = 1931 - 1990
genre =
subject =
movement =
notableworks = "The Alexandria Quartet"
influences = Henry Miller, Oscar Wilde, Joseph Conrad, Friedrich Nietzsche, Constantine P. Cavafy, T. S. Eliot, George Seferis
influenced = Julio Cortazar, Thomas Pynchon, Susan Swan, David Gascoyne, Dylan Thomas, M. G. Vassanji
website =

Lawrence George Durrell (February 27, 1912 – November 7, 1990) was an expatriate British novelist, poet, dramatist, and travel writer, though he resisted affiliation with Britain and preferred to be considered cosmopolitan. It has been posthumously suggested that Durrell never had British citizenship, [cite news
last = Ezard
first = John
title = Durrell Fell Foul of Migrant Law
publisher = The Guardian
date = 2002-04-29
url =,,706830,00.html
accessdate = 2007-01-30
] though more accurately, he became defined as a non-patrial in 1968 due to the amendment to the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962. Hence, he was denied the right to enter or settle in Britain under new laws and had to apply for a visa for each entry. His most famous work is the tetralogy "The Alexandria Quartet".

Life and work

Durrell was born in Jullundur, British India, the son of Indian-born British colonials Louisa and Lawrence Samuel Durrell. His first school was St Joseph's College, North Point, Darjeeling. At the age of eleven, he was sent to attend St Edmund's School Canterbury in England — a country in which he was never happy, and which he left as soon as possible. Although his formal education was unsuccessful and he failed his university entrance examinations, Durrell had started writing poetry at the age of fifteen: his first collection, "Quaint Fragment", was published in 1931.

On January 22, 1935, Durrell married Nancy Isobel Myers, the first of his four marriages. [cite book
first=Ian S.
title=Lawrence Durrell: A Biography
publisher=Faber and Faber
id=ISBN 0-571-17248-2
p. xiii.
] In March that year Durrell, Nancy, his mother, and his siblings (including brother Gerald Durrell, later to be a major British wildlife conservationist and popular writer) moved to the Greek island of Corfu.

In the same year his first novel, "Pied Piper of Lovers", was published by Cassell; he also wrote to Henry Miller expressing intense admiration for his novel "Tropic of Cancer", which sparked an enduring friendship and mutually critical relationship. The two got on well as they had similar subjects at the time: Durrell's next novel, "Panic Spring" was heavily influenced by Miller's work [Karl Orend, "New Bibles", "Times Literary Supplement" 22 August 2008 p 15] , and after that "The Black Book" abounded with "four-letter words... grotesques,... [and] its mood equally as apocalyptic" as "Tropic".

In Corfu, Lawrence and Nancy lived together in bohemian style in a number of large houses, notably the 'White House' on the coast at Kalami. Henry Miller was a guest at the house in 1939. The period is somewhat fictionalised in Durrell's lyrical account of it in "Prospero's Cell". It is interesting to compare it with the accounts by his brother Gerald, most notably in My Family and Other Animals , which describes the same period. In Gerald's accounts of the period, Lawrence is described as living with the rest of his family, and Nancy is not mentioned at all. Lawrence's account makes few references to the fact that his mother and three siblings were also resident on Corfu. The accounts do cover overlapping topics, for example both Gerald and Lawrence describe the role played by the Greek doctor, scientist and poet Theodore Stephanides in their life on Corfu.

In August 1937 Lawrence Durrell and Nancy travelled to the Villa Seurat in Paris, to meet Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin. Together with Alfred Perles, Nin, Miller and Durrell "began a collaboration aimed at founding their own literary movement. Their projects included 'The Shame of the Morning' and the 'Booster', a country club house organ the Villa Seurat group appropriated for their own artistic...ends." [cite book
first=Mary V.
title=The Happiest Man Alive: A Biography of Henry Miller
publisher=Touchstone Books
id=ISBN 0-671-77982-6
p. 192 and picture insert captions.
] They also started the "Villa Seurat" Series in order to publish Durrell's "Black Book", Miller's "Max and the White Phagocytes", and Nin's "Winter of Artifice", with Jack Kahane of the Obelisk Press as publisher.

Durrell's first novel of note, "The Black Book: An Agon", was heavily influenced by Miller and was published in Paris in 1938. The mildly pornographic work only appeared in Britain in 1973. In the story, Lawrence Lucifer struggles to escape the spiritual sterility of dying England, and finds Greece's warmth and fertility.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, his mother and siblings returned to England, while Durrell and Nancy remained on Corfu. In 1940 he and his wife had a daughter, Penelope Berengaria. After the fall of Greece, Lawrence escaped via Crete to Alexandria in Egypt, where he wrote about Corfu and their life on "this brilliant little speck of an island in the Ionian" in the poetic "Prospero's Cell".

During the war, Durrell served as a press attaché to the British Embassies, first in Cairo and then Alexandria. After the war he held various diplomatic and teaching jobs. It was in Alexandria that he met Eve (Yvette) Cohen, who was to become the model for the character Justine in the Alexandria Quartet.

Durrell separated from Nancy in 1942. In 1947 he married Yvette Cohen and in 1951 they had a daughter, Sappho Jane, named after the legendary Ancient Greek poetess Sappho. Sappho Durrell committed suicide by hanging in 1985, leaving behind writings that some interpret as implying an incestuous relationship. [cite book
author=Hamer, Mary
title=Incest: A New Perspective
The book, unfortunately, makes several biographical errors and fails to cite its sources.

In 1947 he was appointed director of the British Council Institute in Córdoba, Argentina, where for the next eighteen months he gave lectures on cultural topics. [Interview with Marc Alyn, published in Paris in 1972, translated by Francine Barker in 1974; reprinted in Earl G. Ingersoll, "Lawrence Durrell: Conversations", Associated University Presses, 1998. ISBN 0-8386-3723-X. p. 138.] He returned to London in the summer of 1948, around the time that Marshal Tito broke ties with Stalin's Cominform, and Durrell was posted to Belgrade, [Alyn, "op. cit." Ingersoll, page 139.] where he was to remain until 1952. This sojourn gave him material for his book "White Eagles over Serbia" (1957). In 1952 he moved to Cyprus, buying a house and taking a position teaching English literature at the Pancyprian Gymnasium to support his writing, followed by public relations work for the British government there during agitation for union with Greece. He wrote about his time in Cyprus in "Bitter Lemons", which won the Duff Cooper Prize in 1957. In 1954, he became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

In 1957, he published "Justine", the first part of what was to become his most famous work, "The Alexandria Quartet". "Justine", "Balthazar" (1958), "Mountolive" (1959) and "Clea" (1960) deal with events before and during the Second World War in Alexandria. The first three books tell essentially the same story but from different perspectives, a technique Durrell described in his introductory note to "Balthazar" as "relativistic". Only in the final part, "Clea", does the story advance in time and reach a conclusion.

The Quartet impressed critics by the richness of its style, the variety and vividness of its characters, its movement between the personal and the political, and its exotic locations in and around the city which Durrell portrays as the chief protagonist: "... the city which used us as its flora - precipitated in us conflicts which were hers and which we mistook for our own: beloved Alexandria!" The "Times Literary Supplement" review of the Quartet stated: "If ever a work bore an instantly recognizable signature on every sentence, this is it." There was some suggestion that Durrell might be nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature, but this did not materialize.

Given the complexity of the work, it was probably inevitable that George Cukor's 1969 attempt to film the Quartet ("Justine") simplified the story to the point of melodrama, and was poorly received.

Durrell separated from Eve Cohen in 1955, and was married again in 1961 to Claude-Marie Vincendon; she died of cancer in 1967.

Durrell settled in Sommières, a small village in Provence, France, where he purchased a large house standing secluded in its own extensive walled grounds on the edge of the village. Here he wrote "The Revolt of Aphrodite", comprising "Tunc" (1968) and "Nunquam" (1970), and "The Avignon Quintet", which attempted to replicate the success of "The Alexandria Quartet" and revisited many of the same motifs and styles to be found in the earlier work. Although it is frequently described as a quintet, Durrell himself referred to it as a "quincunx". The middle book of the quincunx, "Constance, or Solitary Practices", which portrays France under the German occupation, was nominated for the Booker Prize in 1982 and the opening novel, "Monsieur, or the Prince of Darkness", received the 1974 James Tait Black Memorial Prize. In 1974, Durrell was the Andrew Mellon Visiting Professor of Humanities at the California Institute of Technology. [cite book
editor=Andrews, Deborah. (ed).
title=The Annual Obituary 1990
p. 678.

Durrell's poetry has been overshadowed by his novels. Peter Porter, in his introduction to a "Selected Poems", [cite book
editor=Porter, P. (ed).
title=Lawrence Durrell: Selected Poems
publisher=Faber and Faber
] writes of Durrell as a poet: "one of the best of the past hundred years. And one of the most enjoyable." He goes on to describe Durrell's poetry as "always beautiful as sound and syntax. Its innovation lies in its refusal to be more high-minded than the things it records, together with its handling of the whole lexicon of language." [Porter, "op. cit.", p. xxi.]

Durrell also spent several years in the service of the Foreign Office. He was senior Press Press Officer to the British Embassies in Athens and Cairo, Press Attache in Alexandria and Belgrade, Director of the British Institutes in Kalamata, Greece, and Cordoba, Argentina. He was also Director of Public Relations in the Dodecanese Islands and on Cyprus.

His fourth and final marriage was in 1973 to Ghislaine de Boysson, whom he divorced in 1979.

Durrell suffered from emphysema for many years. He died of a stroke at his house in Sommières in November 1990.

Major works


* "Pied Piper of Lovers" (1935)
* "Panic Spring", under the pseudonym Charles Norden (1937)
* "The Black Book " (1938; republished in the UK on January 1, 1977 by Faber and Faber)
* "Cefalu" (1947; republished as "The Dark Labyrinth" in 1958)
* "White Eagles Over Serbia" (1957)
* "The Alexandria Quartet" (1962)
** "Justine" (1957)
** "Balthazar" (1958)
** "Mountolive " (1958)
** "Clea" (1960)
* "The Revolt of Aphrodite" (1974)
** "Tunc" (1968)
** "Nunquam" (1970)
* "The Avignon Quintet" (1992)
** "" (1974)
** "" (1978)
** "" (1982)
** "" (1983)
** "" (1985)


* "Prospero's Cell: A guide to the landscape and manners of the island of Corcyra" (1945; republished 2000) (ISBN 0-571-20165-2)
* "Reflections on a Marine Venus" (1953)
* "Bitter Lemons" (1957; republished as "Bitter Lemons of Cyprus" 2001)
* "Blue Thirst" (1975)
* "Sicilian Carousel" (1977)
* "The Greek Islands" (1978)
* "Caesar's Vast Ghost" (1990)


* "Quaint Fragments" (1931)
* "Ten Poems" (1932)
* "Transition: Poems" (1934)
* "A Private Country" (1943)
* "Cities, Plains and People" (1946)
* "On Seeming to Presume" (1948)
* "Selected Poems: 1953–1963" Edited by Alan Ross (1964)
* "The Ikons" (1966)
* "The Suchness of the Old Boy" (1972)
* "Collected Poems: 1931–1974" Edited by James A. Brigham (1980)
* "Selected Poems of Lawrence Durrell" Edited by Peter Porter (2006)


* "Bromo Bombastes", under the pseudonym Gaffer Peeslake (1933)
* "Sappho: A Play in Verse" (1950)
* "An Irish Faustus: A Morality in Nine Scenes" (1963)
* "Acte" (1964)


* "Esprit de Corps" (1957)
* "Stiff Upper Lip" (1958)
* "Sauve Qui Peut" (1966)
* "Antrobus Complete" (1985), a collection of short stories, previously published in various magazines, about life in the diplomatic corps.

Letters and essays

* "A Key to Modern British Poetry" (1952)
* "Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller: A Private Correspondence" (1962) edited by George Wickes
* "Spirit of Place: Letters and Essays on Travel" (1969) edited by Alan G. Thomas
* "Literary Lifelines: The Richard Aldington—Lawrence Durrell Correspondence" (1981) edited by Ian S. MacNiven and Harry T. Moore
* "A Smile in the Mind's Eye" (1982)
* "Letters to T. S. Eliot." (1987) "Twentieth Century Literature" vol. 33 no. 3 pp. 348-58.
* "The Durrell-Miller Letters: 1935–80" (1988) edited by Ian S. MacNiven
* "Letters to Jean Fanchette" (1988) edited by Jean Fanchette

Editing and translating

* "Wordsworth; Selected by Lawrence Durrell" (1973) edited by Durrell
* "New Poems 1963: A P.E.N. Anthology of Contemporary Poetry" (1963) edited by Durrell
* "The Best of Henry Miller" (1960) edited by Durrell
* "The Curious History of Pope Joan" (1954) by Emmanuel Royidis, translated by Durrell
* "The King of Asine and Other Poems" (1948) by George Seferis, translated by Durrell, Bernard Spencer, and Nanos Valaoritis
* "Six Poems From the Greek of Sekilianos and Seferis" (1946) translated by Durrell

Cultural references

*"Lawrence Durrell" - song by Mick Thomas
*"Stranger Than Fiction" - "The Alexandria Quartet" is briefly referred to in a scene between Dustin Hoffman and Will Ferrell in the movie "Stranger Than Fiction" (2006). The following is written on the chalkboard behind them: "Mountolive's ear aches, Liza's blindness, Clea's amputated hand, Leila's smallpox, Justine's stroke, Pombal's gout." This juxtaposed against Harold Crick's (Farrell) impending, 'literary' doom.
*"Flirting" - A paperback copy of Durrell's "Justine" sits on her vanity while Thandi Newton smokes at her mirror, echoing a scene in "Justine".


Further reading

Biography and Interviews
*Bowker, Gordon. "Through the Dark Labyrinth: A Biography of Lawrence Durrell". New York: St. Martin’s, 1997.
*Chamberlin, Brewster. A Chronology of the Life and Times of Lawrence Durrell. Corfu: The Durrell School of Corfu, 2007
*Durrell, Lawrence. "The Big Supposer: An Interview with Marc Alyn". New York: Grove, 1974.
*Haag, Michael. "Alexandria: City of Memory". London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004. Intertwined biographies of Lawrence Durrell, E M Forster and Constantine Cavafy in Alexandria.
*MacNiven, Ian. "Lawrence Durrell - A Biography". London: Faber and Faber, 1998.
*Todd, Daniel Ray. "An Annotated, Enumerative Bibliography of the Criticism of Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet and his Travel Works". Diss. Tulane University. 1984.
*Ingersoll, Earl. "Lawrence Durrell: Conversations". Cranbury, NJ: Ashgate; 1998.

;Book-length Criticism
*Alexandre-Garner, Corinne, ed. "Lawrence Durrell Revisited : Lawrence Durrell Revisité". Confluences 21. Nanterre, France: Université Paris X, 2002.
*Alexandre-Garner, Corinne, ed. "Lawrence Durrell: Actes Du Colloque Pour L'Inauguration De La Bibliothèque Durrell". Confluences 15. Nanterre, France: Université Paris-X, 1998.
*Alexandre-Garner, Corinne. "Le Quatuor D'Alexandrie, Fragmentation Et Écriture : Étude Sur Lámour, La Femme Et L'Écriture Dans Le Roman De Lawrence Durrell". Anglo-Saxon Language and Literature 136. New York: Peter Lang, 1985.
*Begnal, Michael H., ed. "On Miracle Ground: Essays on the Fiction of Lawrence Durrell". Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1990.
*Cornu, Marie-Renée. "La Dynamique Du Quatuor D'Alexandrie De Lawrence Durrell: Trois Études". Montréal, QU: Didier, 1979.
*Fraser, G. S. "Lawrence Durrell: A Study". London: Faber and Faber, 1968.
*Friedman, Alan Warren, ed. "Critical Essays on Lawrence Durrell". Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987.
*Friedman, Alan Warren. "Lawrence Durrell and "The Alexandria Quartet": Art for Love's Sake". Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970.
*Herbrechter, Stefan. "Lawrence Durrell, Postmodernism and the Ethics of Alterity". Postmodern Studies 26. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1999.
*Hoops, Wiklef. "Die Antinomie Von Theorie Und Praxis in Lawrence Durrells Alexandria Quartet: Eine Strukturuntersuchung". Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1976.
*Isernhagen, Hartwig. "Sensation, Vision and Imagination: The Problem of Unity in Lawrence Durrell's Novels". Bamberg: Bamberger Fotodruck, 1969.
*Kaczvinsky, Donald P. "Lawrence Durrell’s Major Novels, or The Kingdom of the Imagination". Selinsgrove: Susquehanna UP, 1997.
*Lampert, Gunther. "Symbolik Und Leitmotivik in Lawrence Durrells Alexandria Quartet". Bamberg: Rodenbusch, 1974.
*Lillios, Anna, ed. "Lawrence Durrell and the Greek World". London: Associated University Presses, 2004.
*Moore, Harry T., ed. "The World of Lawrence Durrell". Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1962.
*Morrison, Ray. "A Smile in His Mind's Eye: A Study of the Early Works of Lawrence Durrell". Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005.
*Pelletier, Jacques. "Le Quatour D'Alexandrie De Lawrence Durrell" Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet. Paris: Hachette, 1975.
*Pine, Richard. "Lawrence Durrell: The Mindscape". Corfu: The Durrell School of Corfu, revised edition 2005.
*Pine, Richard. "The Dandy and the Herald: Manners, Mind and Morals From Brummell to Durrell". New York: St. Martin's, 1988.
*Raper, Julius Rowan, et al., eds. "Lawrence Durrell: Comprehending the Whole". Columbia: U of Missouri P, 1995.
*Rashidi, Linda Stump. "(Re)constructing Reality: Complexity in Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet". New York: Peter Lang, 2005.
*Ruprecht, Walter Hermann. "Durrells Alexandria Quartet: Struktur Als Belzugssystem. Sichtung Und Analyse". Swiss Studies in English 72. Berne: Francke Verlag, 1972.
*Sajavaara, Kari. "Imagery in Lawrence Durrell's Prose". Mémoires De La Société Néophilologique De Helsinki 35. Helsinki: Société Néophilologique, 1975.
*Sertoli, Giuseppe. "Lawrence Durrell". Civilta Letteraria Del Novecento: Sezione Inglese - Americana 6. Milano: University of Mersia, 1967.

*Potter, Robert A., and Brooke Whiting. "Lawrence Durrell: A Checklist". Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles Library, 1961.
*Thomas, Alan G., and James Brigham. "Lawrence Durrell: An Illustrated Checklist". Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1983.

External links

* [ Durrell Celebration in Alexandria]
* [ The International Lawrence Durrell Society]
* [ Lawrence Durrell Library (Nanterre - France)]
* [ The Durrell School of Corfu]
* [ Critical Materials on Lawrence Durrell: A Bibliographic Checklist]
* [ Lawrence Durrell Bibliography] from [ Inventions of Spring]
* [ Lawrence Durrell (1912-1990)]
* [ Biography] from the [ Lawrence Durrell Archive]
* [ Photos] from [ Find a Grave]
* [ Songs of Blue and Gold] by Deborah Lawrenson - a fictional work set in Corfu losely based on Durrell's life

*cite web
title=Lawrence Durrell: The Art of Fiction No. 23 (interview)
coauthors=Mitchell, Julian
publisher=The Paris Review

*cite web
title=Lawrence Durrell: Text, Hypertext, Intertext
publisher=Agora: An Online Graduate Journal

*cite web
title= Forgetting A Homeless Colonial: Gender, Religion and Transnational Childhood in Lawrence Durrell's Pied Piper Of Lovers
publisher=Jouvert: A Journal of Postcolonial Studies

* [ "Lawrence Durrell in the ambiguous white metropolis"] : an essay on the "Alexandria Quartet" from [ TLS] , August 27 2008.

NAME= Durrell, Lawrence
ALTERNATIVE NAMES= Durrell, Lawrence George
SHORT DESCRIPTION= Biographer; poet; playwright; novelist
DATE OF BIRTH= February 27, 1912
PLACE OF BIRTH= Jalandhar, British India
DATE OF DEATH= November 7, 1990
PLACE OF DEATH= Sommières, France

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Lawrence Durrell — Lawrence George Durrell (Jalandhar, India, 27 de febrero de 1912 – Sommières, Francia, 8 de noviembre de 1990) fue un escritor británico, hermano del también escritor y zoólogo Gerald Durrell. Escribió biografías, poesía, obras de teatro, de… …   Wikipedia Español

  • Lawrence Durrell — (Gedenktafel in Korfu (Stadt) Durr …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Lawrence Durrell — (27 de febrero de 1912 – 7 de noviembre de 1990) fue un escritor británico. Nació en 1912. Se dio a conocer como poeta y novelista en la década de los treinta y obtuvo el primer gran éxito de crítica con El Libro Negro, escrito en París en 1938.… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Lawrence Durrell — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Durrell. Lawrence Durrell, écrivain et voyageur britannique, né le 27 février 1912 à Jalandhar (Indes Britanniques) et mort le 7 novembre 1990 à Sommières (France). Sommaire …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Lawrence Durrell — noun English writer of Irish descent who spent much of his life in Mediterranean regions (1912 1990) • Syn: ↑Durrell, ↑Lawrence George Durrell • Instance Hypernyms: ↑writer, ↑author * * * Lawrence Durrell …   Useful english dictionary

  • Lawrence Durrell — ➡ Durrell (II) * * * …   Universalium

  • Lawrence Durrell Collection — The Lawrence Durrell Collection is a special collection of books and periodicals by, about or associated with the novelist and poet Lawrence Durrell, donated to the British Library by Alan G. Thomas.External links*… …   Wikipedia

  • Lawrence Samuel Durrell — (September 23, 1884 April 16, 1928) was a British Indian subject and engineer, and is best remembered as the father of novelist Lawrence Durrell and naturalist Gerald Durrell. He was an Anglo Indian in the sense that he was an Englishman born and …   Wikipedia

  • Lawrence George Durrell — (* 27. Februar 1912 in Darjiling, Indien; † 7. November 1990 in Sommières, Département Gard, Frankreich) war ein anglo indischer Schriftsteller. Inhaltsverzeichnis 1 Leben 2 Werke 2.1 …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • DURRELL (L.) — DURRELL LAWRENCE (1912 1990) Irlandais comme James Joyce, né aux Indes comme Rudyard Kipling, diplomate comme Saint John Perse, Lawrence Durrell est à la fois un romancier et un poète. C’est aussi un essayiste. Il abandonne ses études à dix sept… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.