Lawrence Durrell: A Biography

October 31, 2020
Lawrence Durrell: A Biography

Lawrence Durrell, the oversexed, bad boy of mid-20th-centuryBritish letters is treated somewhat gingerly by biographer Ian S.MacNiven. He skims over the intense rivalry between Durrell and hisyounger brother, bestselling author, Gerald; avers that Durrell didnot abuse his daughter Sappho (who, at 33, hanged herself ),despite her claims to the contrary; and even asserts that Durrell'sinsatiable appetite for new sexual conquests and acrobatics aside,the novelist was "in his fashion" faithful to each of hiswives.MacNiven, the editor of The Durrell-Miller Letters,1935-80 knows his subject well, and he fills the book withbiographical detail about Durrell's lovers and friends—people suchas Teresa Epstein who may have been the original model for Justine.He explores Alexandria, Egypt, the key to Durrell's best-knownwork, and finds that the Alexandria of the Quartet moreclosely resembles the city his wife Eva Cohen grew up in ratherthan the one he himself inhabited during the 1930s.MacNiven offers details about Durrell's friendship with HenryMiller—a closer kinship would be hard to find—that was forgedduring long nights of drinking, talking, and posturing, and heproffers reams of sensationally self-absorbed letter writing (scantmention of World War II is found in any of the letters from thatperiod) that makes clear how the two fed one another's work.Most interestingly perhaps, MacNiven wonders about Durrell'sultimate position in the literary pantheon—The AlexandriaQuartet, which many once believed would secure him the NobelPrize for Literature, now seems like a relic from another age.Readers will walk away from this biography with an indelibleimpression of a personality that promises to endure as long as hisbooks.