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Durrell, Lawrence (1912-1990)  

Although a heterosexual, Durrell created in his novels a sophisticated literary world in which both male and female homosexuality are significant and recognized presences.

Durrell was born on February 27, 1912, in Julundar, India, of an Irish mother and a British civil-engineer father. He attended the College of St. Joseph, Darjeeling, India, and St. Edmund's School, Canterbury, England. He chose not to qualify for Oxford or Cambridge.

In 1935, the family moved to Corfu, Greece. From there, Durrell regularly visited London and Paris, where he met Henry Miller in 1937 after a two-year correspondence. Miller introduced him to T. S. Eliot; and while he was in Paris in 1937 and 1938, Durrell, Miller, and Alfred Perlès formed an avant-garde literary magazine entitled Booster (renamed Delta in April 1938).

Durrell's early life is reflected in his autobiographical poem "Cities, Plains, and People" (1943). Although Durrell was a heterosexual man who married many times, his art reflects an unusual degree of sexual liberation and incorporates characters of diverse sexualities.

A novelist, poet, translator, playwright, critic, and travel writer, Durrell is best known for The Alexandria Quartet, a series of four novels (Justine [1957], Balthazar [1958], Mountolive [1959], and Clea [1960]), which encompasses themes of sex, lust, and decadence in the twentieth century. Each of the novels is prefaced by an epigraph from the Marquis de Sade, who is one of Durrell's artistic heroes.

The novels titillate the reader with an exotic underworld of eroticism, including male homosexuality, lesbianism, incest, voyeurism, and prostitution. Even the mythical Tiresias, who has experienced both sexes, makes an appearance.

Durrell's The Black Book (1938) chronicles the events in the lives of the guests of the Hotel Regina, including the homosexual Tarquin and the prostitute Gracie. Another work, Livia (1978), contains a brothel scene with a promiscuous lesbian; in it, Blanford marries Livia and discovers that she has a black female lover named Thrush.

Monsieur (1974) contains a black lesbian named Trash, but expands the kaleidoscope of sexuality to include ménage à trois, incest, transvestism, and bohemianism. Durrell also wrote a play in verse entitled Sappho (1959). His works reflect a love for the sensuous Mediterranean world, especially Alexandria and ancient Rome.

Durrell also translated the poetry of the modern Greek homosexual poet Constantine Cavafy. In fact, the novelist has acknowledged Cavafy's profound influence on him, remarking that "I felt my way into the Alexandrian scene through him." Another influence was the symbolist homosexual poet Arthur Rimbaud.

Durrell--like Cavafy, Gide, Lawrence, and Proust--helped shape modern literature. His rococo literary style, ornate imagery, and exotic sensuality all contribute to the creation of a sophisticated literary world in which both male and female homosexuality are significant and recognized presences.

Clarence McClanahan


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   Related Entries
social sciences >> Overview:  Alexandria

Located on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt, Alexandria has, by virtue of its decadent sensibility and the tributes of numerous writers, achieved a reputation for tolerance, but recently it has turned away from Europe and towards Mecca.

literature >> Overview:  English Literature: Twentieth-Century

Homosexuality, both male and female, has a rich, divergent, and increasingly open expression in the literature of the twentieth century.

literature >> Cavafy, C. P.

Alexandrian Greek poet C. P. Cavafy has written some of the greatest homoerotic poems of all time.

literature >> Eliot, T[homas] S[tearns]

Although Eliot tried to suppress the fact, The Waste Land is an elegy for a young Frenchman whom he met and loved in Paris and who died in the Great War in 1915.

literature >> Gide, André

André Gide, one of the premier French writers of the twentieth century, reflected his homosexuality in many of his numerous works.

literature >> Lawrence, D. H.

For his time, D. H. Lawrence was a maverick in his open and adventurous discussion of all sexual issues and especially homosexuality, both male and female.

literature >> Proust, Marcel

Marcel Proust is the author of A la recherche du temps perdu, one of the major achievements of Modernism and a great gay novel.

literature >> Rimbaud, Arthur

Because his writing stresses liberation, the French "boy-poet" Arthur Rimbaud, whose art is based solely on his individual creativity, is a progenitor of modern gay poetics.

literature >> Sade, Marquis de

Whether or not the Marquis de Sade was himself bisexual, homosexual activity is an important item in his program of revolutionary sexual libertinism.


Morcos, Mona Louis. "Elements of the Autobiographical in The Alexandria Quartet." Modern Fiction Studies 13 (1967): 343-359.

Pinchin, Jane L. Alexandria Still: Forster, Durrell, Cavafy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977.

Pine, Richard. The Dandy and the Herald. New York: St. Martin's, 1988.

Unterecker, John. Lawrence Durrell. New York: Columbia University Press, 1964.

Wickes, George, ed. Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller: A Private Correspondence. New York: Dutton, 1963.


    Citation Information
    Author: McClanahan, Clarence  
    Entry Title: Durrell, Lawrence  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated October 25, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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