display | more...

I structure this around place names, because I think that places are one of the two most important parts of Durrell's work, the other one being people


Lawrence George Durrell was born on February 27, 1912, in Jullundur in northern India, near Tibet.
Both his father and his mother had also been born in India.
From his birth, one can see that he was destined to become a bridge between cultures.


Durrell was shipped to England at age eleven to be formally educated (this happened, earlier and with similar results,to Rudyard Kipling as well).
England made him unhappy: this he attributed to the lifestyle, which he termed "the English death." He explains: "English life is really like an autopsy. It is so, so dreary."
Deeply alienated, he refused to adjust himself to England and resisted the regimentation of school life, failing to pass university exams.

He decided to be a writer, overcoming initial difficulties. His first novel Pied Piper of Lovers is dated 1935 and his second one Panic Spring (1937) came out under the pseudonym Charles Norden.


In 1935 he persuaded his mother, siblings, and wife, Nancy Myers, to move to Corfu, Greece, to live more economically and to escape the English winter.
A large part of The Alexandria Quartet is, not incidentally, set in a Greek island.
While in Greece, he wrote a plan for The Book of the Dead (there is a well-known religious Tibetan book of the same title) which was an ancestor to The Alexandria Quartet.
In the same year Durrell read Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer (1934) and wrote Miller a fan letter.
Thus began a forty-five-year friendship and correspondence based on their love of literature, their fascination with the Far East, and their comradeship in the face of personal and artistic setbacks.


After six years in Corfu and Athens, Durrell and his wife were forced to flee the country in 1941, due to its impending invasion by the Germans.
They settled together in Cairo, along with their baby daughter Penelope Berengaria, who had been born in 1940 - a disappeared infant theme runs through all of The Alexandria Quartet.
In 1942, separated from his wife, Durrell moved to Alexandria of Egypt, and became press attaché in the British Information Office.
At this point in history, British intelligence in the Near East was most important, due to the Jewish nationalist movements (see the Balfour Declaration) and the desert war against Nazi Germany (see Rommell).
In Alexandria, Durrell intensely observed the people, the city and its strange mixture of cultures (Copts, Arabs, Jews, Bedouins) and religions.
He also met Eve Cohen, a Jewish woman from Alexandria, who was to become his model for Justine.
Durrell married her in 1947, after his divorce from Nancy Myers.

Greece and diplomacy

In 1945 Durrell returned to Greece, and spent the following two years in Rhodes as director of public relations for the Dodocanese Islands. He left Rhodes to become the director of the British Council Institute in Cordoba, Argentina, from 1947-48. He then moved to Belgrade, Yugoslavia, where he was press attaché from 1949-52.
In 1951, his daughter Sappho Jane was born.


In 1952 Durrell bought a stone house in Cyprus and earned a living teaching English literature.
In these years, war broke out among the Cypriot Greeks who desired union with Greece, the British (who were still attempting to control Cyprus as a crown colony), and the Turkish Cypriots (who favored partition). Currently Cyprus is split between a Greek and a Turkish part, and remains a pain in the butt of NATO and a constant source of tension between Greece and Turkey.
Durrell at this point was working as the British public relations officer in Nicosia.
He found himself a target for terrorists. Bitter Lemons (1957) is Durrell's account of these troubled years.
While in Cyprus, Durrell began writing Justine, the first volume of The Alexandria Quartet, considered by some his best book.

France and the end

After being forced out of Cyprus, Durrell finally settled in Sommières, in the south of France.
Here he completed the Quarted, publishing it between 1957 and 1960: the book was a huge commercial and critical success.
He produced two more cycles of novels: The Revolt of Aphrodite, comprising Tunc (1968) and Nunquam (1970), and The Avignon Quintet (1974-1985) but these cycles did not achieve the success of The Alexandria Quartet.
Durrell also wrote poetry, and his Collected Poetry appeared in 1980.

Durrell married two more times, in 1961 and 1973. His third wife, Claude-Marie Vincendon died of cancer in 1967.
Lastly, he married with Ghislaine de Boysson in 1973, but the marriage ended in 1979.

His daughter Sappho-Jane (born of Eve Cohen) committed suicide in 1985.
His last book, Caesar's Vast Ghost, was published in 1990.

Lawrence Durrell died on November 7, 1990.

Parts of this writeup come from "Lawrence Durrell" by Anna Lillios, reproduced from Magill's Survey of World Literature, volume 7, pages 2334-2342. Copyright © 1995, Salem Press, Inc.

The International Lawrence Durrell society has a web site at http://www.cas.ucf.edu/durrell/

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.