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Who is Lawrence Durrell?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Lawrence Durrell is a British novelist, poet, journalist, and travel writer who was born in Jalandhar, India in 1912. Although British by nationality, Lawrence Durrell preferred to be thought of as cosmopolitan, as he loathed Britain and traveled all over the world during the course of his life, which ended at his home in France in 1990. Lawrence Durrell is probably best known for his Alexandria Quartet, about life in Egypt before the Second World War, although he has a very large and accomplished body of work.

The parents of Lawrence Durrell were both Indian-born British, and they sent Durrell to England at the age of 11 to pursue his education, a practice very common in that era. Lawrence Durrell came to dislike Britain very much, as he had been sent far from the home and family he had always known, and he escaped as quickly as he could. Lawrence Durrell started writing poetry at the age of 15, publishing Quaint Fragment at the age of 19. He failed his University entrance exams at around the same time and decided not to pursue higher education.

In 1935, Durrell married Nancy Isobel Myers, and shortly thereafter, the family moved to the island of Corfu, in Greece. Pied Piper of Lovers, Durrell's first novel, was published at around the same time. Durrell's life in Greece was filled with a constantly fluxing group of artists and writers, who took the opportunity to visit Greece and escape from the looming war in Europe.

Lawrence Durrell also began a lifelong friendship with Henry Miller while living in Greece, when he wrote to Miller expressing admiration for Tropic of Cancer. Both Henry Miller and Lawrence Durrell wrote books which were daring for their era, challenging readers to handle mature content and difficult ideas. In 1937, the men met in France, where Miller was living with Anais Nin, and founded the Villa Seurat Series in order to publish their work, which was not being accepted by other publishers.

Returning to Corfu, Lawrence Durrell stayed there throughout the length of the war while his family returned to England. He escaped to Egypt after the fall of Greece. He wrote passionately about his time in Greece in Prospero's Cell (1945) and worked in a variety of journalistic positions during the war to support himself.

In Alexandria, Durrell met his next wife, Yvette Cohen, whom he married in 1947. Shortly thereafter, he was appointed to the British Council Institute in Cordoba, Argentina, where he worked and taught for the next 18 months. Upon his return, he was sent to Belgrade for journalism work, where he lived until 1952. His time in Belgrade was the basis of White Eagles over Serbia (1957), a spy thriller in the vein of John Le Carre.

In 1952, Lawrence Durrell moved to Crete, where he taught and wrote Bitter Lemons (1957). While living in Crete, he also published Justine (1957), the first book in the Alexandria Quartet. Balthazar, the second book, was published in 1958, and in 1959, the third, Mountolive, followed. The fourth book in the quartet, Clea, was published in 1960.

The Alexandria Quartet is somewhat experimental, with the story being told from three different points of view in the first three books. Only in Clea does the story reach a resolution. The quartet was well received and remains Durrell's most printed and discussed work.

In 1968, Lawrence Durrell settled in in Sommieres, France, where he lived out his life. During his time in France, he wrote The Avignon Quartet, which never achieved the literary stardom that The Alexandria Quartet did. He also wrote a number of travel books, including Blue Thirst (1975) and Caesar's Vast Ghost (1990).

Lawrence Durrell is most famous for his novels, especially The Alexandria Quartet, but he also wrote a substantial amount of poetry, later published in a complete volume spanning 1931-1974. In addition, he was a playwright, authoring Sappho (1950), An Irish Faustus: A Play in Nine Scenes (1963) and Acte (1964). Several collections of his letters and essays have been put into print as well. `

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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