Jul 20 2007

Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet

Published by at 4:11 pm under English Literature

The American Scholar has an interesting new article about the fiftieth anniversary of Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet.  Durrell has always been one of the very few 20th century novelists whose work I have always appreciated.  Certainly he has his weaknesses—he doesn’t know Alexandria the way Joyce knew Dublin or Proust knew Paris, he wastes too much energy playing the antiquated Victorian game of épater le bourgeois (yawn), and by the last volume of his saga it’s obvious that he has run of ideas about what to do with his characters.  But his prose is rich and luminous, his poetry is is first rate, and his ideas make you think.  I also find much to admire in his use of the four primal elements as the underlying metaphysic of the series.  Justine is the fire novel, the saga of passion and spirit, Balthazar is a thoughtful intellectualization of everything that has gone before, Mountolive gives us seasonal cycles and the rhythms of the earth, and Clea shows us both death and rebirth through the power of water.  Fire, air, earth, water—Empedocles would have approved.  The Quartet mesmerizing has its flaws, but compared to the nothingness of most post-modern fiction, it can be very rewarding.

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