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The Alexandria Quartet : Justine/Balthazar/Mountolive/Clea
by Lawrence Durrell

Rep/Bx set edition (December 1991)
Penguin USA (Paper); ISBN: 0140153179

Series of four novels by Lawrence Durrell. The lush and sensuous tetralogy, which consists of Justine (1957), Balthazar (1958), Mountolive (1958), and Clea (1960), is set in Alexandria, Egypt, during the 1940s. Three of the books are written in the first person, Mountolive in the third. The first three volumes describe, from different viewpoints, a series of events in Alexandria before World War II; the fourth carries the story forward into the war years. The events of the narrative are mostly seen through the eyes of one L.G. Darley, who observes the interactions of his lovers, friends, and acquaintances in Alexandria. In Justine, Darley attempts to recover from and understand his recently ended affair with Justine Hosnani. Reviewing various papers and examining his memories, he reads the events of his recent past in romantic terms. Balthazar, named for Darley's friend, a doctor and mystic, reinterprets Darley's views from a philosophical and intellectual point of view. The third novel is a straightforward narrative of events, and Clea, volume four, reveals Darley healing, maturing, and becoming capable of loving Clea Montis, a painter and the woman for whom he was destined.

articles and reviews
October 10, 1982

Alexandria Revisited

Is ''The Alexandria Quartet'' as good as we all thought it was when we first read it more than 20 years ago? I wondered about this when I saw that Lawrence Durrell has a new novel, ''Constance,'' coming out. Since nothing he published after the ''Quartet'' seemed to be in the same class, it occurred to me that we may have overestimated the books for which he is famous.

So I went back to the ''Quartet'' - like novelists, we have to keep revising ourselves - and read ''Justine,'' the first volume. I want to say immediately that it struck me as even better this time. It is, among other things, one of the great city novels, reminding us of Dickens's London, Balzac's Paris, Joyce's Dublin. Such books have a quality for which the Germans should have a word - something like ''city-hunger,'' or ''city-angst,'' a human tropism which makes us huddle or press together in the hope of intensifying our lives and crushing our loneliness. City-hunger is something like Freud's death instinct, an impatience to get to hell or purgatory, beyond the childish gratifications of the pleasure principle. [read more]


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