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!
BBC Radio 4 is set to broadcast a programme on Thursday (Jan 3) about Lawrence Durrell. It should be available online at the link above.
This year Lawrence Durrell is or would have been 100. Tim Marlow sleeps beneath a special shelf above his bed which holds his collection of first editions of Durrell. He is a devotee. What does Durrell and those bright covered novels of The Alexandria Quartet once read by every open-minded reader mean today? Can his reputation extend beyond his surviving fans and the occasional leftovers of scandal? Should new readers pick him up, what would they find? With archive recordings and new interviews a reassessment of a revolutionary writer in danger of being forgotten. Producer: Tim Dee
- Durrell on Desert Island Discs (whitemetropolis.wordpress.com)
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.
Al-Riyadh is technically an independent newspaper, but it is pro-government.
- داريل في مصر (whitemetropolis.wordpress.com)
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.
At the end of July 1987, Gerald and his wife Lee flew out to Corfu to watch the filming of the BBC ten-part series of My Family and Other Animals.
Douglas Botting refers to the trip towards the (rather rushed) latter section of his (rather good apart from the rather rushed latter section) biography of Durrell, noting that the BBC had some problems with filming because Corfu had changed so much since Gerald’s idyllic childhood there in the 1930s.
On this trip, Gerald appears to have been so upset about the changes – something he remarked on during previous visits to Corfu (known colloquially as “Cor, Phew” in Britain in the late 1980s, if my childhood memories serve)- that he was moved to write an article about the devastating effect of tourism on the island and its wildlife for the Sunday Times newspaper, published as part of its Impressions in the Sand travel series, around July 1987.
Historian and writer Michael Haag has a very interesting blog post about Lawrence Durrell’s supposed Irish ancestry. I’d recommend popping over and having a read and also a look at the photos, and while you’re there do peruse his archives for more Durrell-related stuff!
But the truth about Durrell is that he had good English roots on both sides of his family.
Haag is writing a biography about Durrell, which given his past work both on Durrell and on Alexandria looks set to be rather fascinating.