Egyptian Activist Calls To Save Durrell’s Alexandria Villa

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The Villa Ambron, where Lawrence Durrell lived and worked in Alexandria, is in a deplorable state according to this Facebook post by Ahmed Essam.

The terrible state of the historic villa has also been noticed by political activist Essam Fathallah, who has called for action to save the city of Alexandria and its heritage, as Egyptian outlet Al Youm 7 reports.

Durrell was not the only artist to live in the villa — Egyptian painters  Effat Nagy and Saad al-Khadem also resided there.

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(Lawrence) Durrell in Russia, and why Alexandria is like Odessa

I’d recommend heading over to Michael Haag’s blog here and reading his new post on Russian editions of the Alexandria Quartet, where he has shared has some lovely pictures of the covers as well as background on the Quartet in the former USSR.

Since we’re talking about the elder Durrell in Russia, Russian-speakers may be interested to read/watch this interesting round table chat on Durrell and the Alexandria Quartet from Radio Svoboda in 2011, at the time of the Egyptian Revolution.

I’ve translated a very small selection of interesting parts of the discussion below, which includes a comparison of Alexandria and Odessa!

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Reading Durrell in Riyadh

durrell with Fathi Elabiary

Durrell with Egyptian journalist and writer Fathi Elabiary in Alexandria

As part of this series of posts about Durrell in the Arabic-speaking world, here is a piece from Saudi daily newspaper al-Riyadh from last year on the Alexandria Quartet. It’s by Dr. Abdullah Ibrahim, who writes about literature for the paper (here is a piece he wrote about Nabokov’s Lolita.)

 

Ibrahim talks about how he was discussing Alexandria and its intellectual history, and was first reminded of the 2009 movie Agora, which is set in Alexandria in the late 4th century and which explores the life of Hypatia, and which includes dramatic scenes in the Alexandria library. Ibrahim then recalled the Alexandria Quartet, which he said Durrell created as a sort of fantasy through which he could explore his various characters’ destinies against the backdrop of the ancient city.

However, the Quartet gave rise to much criticism regarding Durrell’s portrayal of Alexandria, a controversy that stemmed from the question of whether the narrative should have portrayed the city’s history, society and development. Durrell’s critics did not see in the Quartet an image of the Alexandria they knew:

[they did not find] an Alexandria that matched their personal account of experiences, information and facts, and so accused the author of deception and forgery, clad in harlotry and alien to Egypt

 

The critics “did not take into account that Durrell had created an image narrative of Alexandria” and had created a Utopia compatible with his perspective and personal experiences. Durrell “slipped into the world of the city” almost two decades after leaving it, combining in his narrative a nostalgic colonial feel with lively fantasy elements. The Quartet’s characters “intertwined in mysterious relationships, wander the city’s alleyways and move through its streets, and all the while free of the city’s topography”. Durrell “borrowed the spirit of the place”, taking his memories of the city and using his imagination to create a world.

Ibrahim wrote a more detailed article about the Quartet previously for al-Riyadh, in 2007.

Notes:

Al-Riyadh is technically an independent newspaper, but it is pro-government.

Durrell in Egypt

Arabic copy of Justine from the library in Alexandria

Arabic copy of Justine from the library in Alexandria

I get a fair few visitors from the Arab world to this site, from Egypt as one might expect given the setting of the Alexandria Quartet but also from other countries including the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

Anyway,  I wanted to offer non-Arabic speakers a glimpse at recent comment and writing from the Arab world about Lawrence Durrell and the Alexandria Quartet, particularly around the Durrell Centenary celebrations.

This is hardly a comprehensive study, just a quick snapshot over a few posts. This post will focus on Egyptian views of Durrell.

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Notes on Durrell and the Symbolists

In 1958, a year after Durrell published Justine, Frey A. Stark published a review of his latest nonfiction work, Bitter Lemons, in the New York Times.

“One of the best English poets of our time, Lawrence Durrell, presents us, in his latest book, with a very notable achievement,” Stark writes. “It is not often that a topical subject gains by the handling of a poet. The emotional climate, to which poets are so sensitive, is damaging to the balance of reason.”

Durrell, the poet, published what is now his best-known book, Justine, as a novel – an odd state of affairs because in many ways it is a book of poems. John Press came close to recognizing this phenomenon when he wrote that the “best introduction to the Alexandria Quartet is the collected poems, just as the best gloss on his poems is the Alexandria Quartet”. In fact, large parts of Justine are not just prosified poetry, but read better as poems. Continue reading

Eve Durrell’s Alexandria

I would very much recommend reading this wonderful blog post about Eve Durrell, Lawrence Durrell’s second wife, and her home city of Alexandria.

The post is by writer Michael Haag, who is an expert on Alexandria and Egypt and has written several books about the city that inspired Durrell’s most famous novels. Eve, or Yvette, Cohen was the inspiration for Justine, the beautiful Jewish Alexandrian woman at the center of the Alexandria Quartet. Eve was the mother of Durrell’s second child, Sappho.

In the photograph of Eve and Michael in the blog post, Eve is aged 80 yet she still looks beautiful and one can imagine how absolutely stunning she must have been when she first met Durrell in Alexandria in the 1940s.

There is a lovely photograph of Eve as a schoolgirl here on Flickr. The lady who posted the photo is a relative of Eve, and explains that Eve’s sister Dolly is still alive and lives here in Israel. It would be wonderful to talk to her! Imagine what memories she must have.

Durrell famously wrote that “there are only three things to be done with a woman. You can love her, suffer for her, or turn her into literature” and it seems he did all three with Eve.

Eve passed away in London in 2004.