Associated Press Writer
8 November 1990

PARIS (AP) — Lawrence Durrell, the British novelist who conveyed his love for Mediterranean life in “The Alexandria Quartet” and other lyrical works, died at his home in southern France, his family said Thursday. He was 78.

The cause of death Wednesday was not disclosed. Durrell had been fatigued for about two weeks, a family member said, and the author said in a 1986 interview that he suffered from emphysema.

“He was a very odd mixture of things,” said Philip Howard, literary editor of The Times of London, in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp.

“The thing he will be remembered for is the great tetralogy of novels, `The Alexandria Quartet,’ which were all the rage in the early ’60s, and were in many ways the most accessible thing in the modernist movement,” Howard said. “He was a real mixture of modernist structure and extreme romanticism.”

“The Alexandria Quartet” consists of four novels set in the Egyptian coastal city where Durrell served as press attache at the British Embassy in World War II. The works, written from 1957 to 1960, are “Justine,” “Balthazar,” “Mountolive” and “Clea.” They brought him the commercial success that had not accompanied his earlier literary acclaim.

The series — written in a lush, baroque prose style – took as its theme love as a means of self-discovery. It is a portrait of an English writer’s life amid the inhabitants of Alexandria.

“Classicism means becoming a spokesman for the cosmology of your time, and what the hell was the cosmology of our age if it wasn’t Einstein and Freud,” Durrell said in a 1982 interview with The Associated Press.

“So I used the theory of relativity, the four dimensions, as a kind of point of departure to make a classical frame in four volumes.”

Durrell was born in 1912 in central India and spent his boyhood in Darjeeling, near India’s border with Tibet. But it was the Mediterranean that caught his passion and where he spent his public and private life.

At the age of 18, he left India for London, where he dabbled in jazz and poetry without much success. In 1935, he first encountered Greece, the inspiration for some of his works.

Durrell moved to Corfu, an Ionian Island off the west coast of Greece.

It was from there that he began a nearly 50-year correspondence with American author Henry Miller.

Letters between them were published in two volumes in 1963 and 1988. Durrell described the letters as “full of of insight, full of fun.”

Two years ago, several love letters written by Miller to Hollywood actress Brenda Venus, part of Durrell’s personal papers, were sold at a London auction.

Durrell served in Britain’s diplomatic corps in Egypt, Greece and Yugoslavia, and as director of public relations for the British government in Cyprus.

Another acclaimed work, “Bitter Lemons” published in 1957, was an account of his years in Cyprus during the island’s independence struggle.

“I spent 25 years subsidizing myself by doing jobs I didn’t particularly like, but it was useful in the long run,” Durrell said in 1982. “I made notes. I learned from Stendahl, and by the time I really wanted to write books I had quite a well-furnished documentary library in my brain.”

He wrote “The Alexandria Quartet” in Nimes, southeastern France, and lived for the last 24 years in Sommieres, a nearby small town in the Provence region near the Mediterranean coast.

Four years ago he emerged briefly from his self-imposed privacy to accept an award of Commander of Arts and Letters bestowed by the local mayor.

Press Association, Britain’s domestic news agency, said Faber and Faber will publish a new Durrell book next week, “Caesar’s Vast Ghost: A Portrait of Provence.” Matthew Evans, managing director of Faber and Faber, said: “What he wanted to do was write a book which paid tribute to the part of France he lived in for so very many years.

“He knew it was his last book … and only recently saw the first copy.”

Durrell was married three times and had two daughters, according to Press Association. One wife and one daughter have died, it said.

No funeral plans were immediately announced.

His brother, Gerald Malcolm Durrell, who survives, is a zoologist and popular writer of nature books.

(Written by Terril Jones, Nov. 8, 1990)


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