Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet In Its Egyptian Contexts
Studies in British Literature S. No. 84
In Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet in its Egyptian Contexts, Dr. Diboll argues that Durrell's tetralogy is the most important English novel of the mid-nineteen-fifties, an historically significant period which has been much overlooked by literary scholars. It convincingly demonstrates the importance of the Alexandria Quartet as a "Janus text" which looks back to the lost world of the British Empire, yet anticipates many important aspects of later post-colonial and postmodern writing. Thus, the book insists, the Alexandria Quartet should be recognised as a colossal work of literature, standing astride the nexus separating the colonial and post-colonial moments, a paradigmatic text for scholars of Empire studies, late Modernism, literary postmodernity, orientalism and post-colonial literature. This wide-ranging work explores the influence of all of the many strata of Egyptian history on the Quartet and in doing so offers a sustained meditation of the interaction of time, place and exile on the literary imagination.
Its focus on exile is especially poignant, taking in the cultural and psychological alienation of this "third generation Anglo-Irish-Indian", an "English pied-noir" from a most unheimlich English "homeland", the effects of Durell's voluntary exile in Greece during the inter-war years on his literary sensibility, and psychological and existential impact of Durrell's flight from the Nazi occupation of Greece and his four years as a refugee in war-time Alexandria, which he experienced as an "Oriental" Other starkly juxtaposed to his "free Hellenic world". This work does not neglect to examine Egyptian responses to the Alexandria Quartet, and it examines with a forensic thoroughness the way in which the "public life realities" of emergent Egyptian nationalism are subtly embedded in what for too long has been considered to be a work of fantasy. Seeking to go beyond the Saidian Orientalist paradigm, the book proposes that aspects of Bhabhaian hybridity theory, combined with a rigourous socio-historical analysis, offer the most effective theoretical insights into Durrell's seething Alexandrian cosmopolis.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
"Dr. Diboll's examination of the social and political contexts of the Alexandria Quartet represents a significant advance in Durrell studies and historicist scholarship. Drawing on his knowledge of Arabic and a detailed knowledge of Egyptian history, and Anglo-Egyptian relations, from World War I to the Suez crisis--particularly the role of the Wafd party--Diboll offers a rigorous and timely re-appraisal of Durrell's masterpiece. He registers the importance of the tetralogy in relation to modernism, postmodernism, empire writing, postcolonial narratives, and the literary culture of an emergent Arab world. Further, he contributes usefully to the problematic debate over 'orientalism.' He acknowledges that the Quartet is a paradigmatic text of 'late orientalism' but critiques Edward Said's East/West oppositional model as it has been applied to Durrell, and prefers to explore Homi Bhabha's theories of 'hybrid space.' This is a subtle, informed, and persuasive study that illuminates these novels anew and properly restores Durrell's reputation as a major mid-century novelist." - Dr. Roger Bowen, University of Arizona; "Mike Diboll's study of Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet spawns several new interpretations about the novel. Approaching the Quartet, from a comparativist standpoint, Diboll explains some of the puzzling aspects of Durrell's fictional account of the inter-war period in Egypt during the last gasp of the British Empire. For example, Diboll skillfully explores the symbolic nature of the Hosnani bothers, Nessim and Narouz, while at the same time he deftly explains the complicated political machinations and processes going on behind Ambassador Mountolives back. Diboll's knowledge of Egypt and his awareness of Arabic culture is not only grounded in Edward Saids Orientalism but in his own researches into the subject. His approach is inter-cultural, original, and very valuable for a reader who desires to grasp the full implications of Durrell's master work."- Dr. Patrick Quinn, University College Northhampton; "Mike Diboll's book Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet in its Egyptian Contexts is the first critical study that takes into account the multitudinous layers of history, politics, mythology and philosophical systems that form the context of Durrell's masterpiece. Dr. Diboll's book is an outstanding, valuable book that illuminates the prismatic nature of Alexandrian reality at the end of empire during the 1930s and 40s. He carefully explains the nature of the civilizations that swept over the city from the pharaonic era through the Hellenistic to the Arab; its theosophical systems from neo-Platonism, Gnosticism, Kabbalism and Sufism: and finally the political forces that have sought dominance. He always maintains his objective stance as he analyzes these various aspects of the city and convinces us that Durrell was interested in deeper issues beyond the merely literary. Durrell firmly believes "that the capital, the heart, the sex organ of Europe" is located in the "central point. the pivot" in the Mediterranean and to understand our essence and our future we have to know Greece and Egypt. This quest is particularly relevant today as our future depends on understanding the Otherness of the East. Dr. Diboll writes with the authority of a scholar who has a solid grounding in Arabic studies and the experience of living in Egypt and Morocco. By knowing firsthand the language and people, he has an insider's view of the fascinating, multi-dimensional cultures that form the gravitational field of Durrell's Alexandria." - Dr. Anna Lillios, Associate Professor and Past President of the International Durrell Society"