Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

The 'Alexandra Quartet': The Homosexual as Teacher/guide

Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

The 'Alexandra Quartet': The Homosexual as Teacher/guide

Article excerpt

The tendency has been to unsex Lawrence Durrell's The Alexandria Quartet without acknowledging that Durrell fully grounded the novel in sex, not merely as a theme but as a valorizing substructure. For example, in an otherwise careful analysis of the enigmas surrounding "Justine's attitudes toward her 'lovers' and the motives for Pursewarden's suicide," Walter Creed so carefully avoids any mention of deviant sexuality and its role in shaping the differing views of Darley's sources that we may falsely conclude that Durrell's insistence in giving homosexuality a voice is, at worst, gratuitous (Kelly 60) and, at best, comic (Steiner 22, Godshalk passim, or Fertile, "Scobie" 51). At the same time, neither Michel Pharond nor Sharon Spencer, both of whom have discussed Durrell's use of "dysfunctional" sexuality, has adequately incorporated this sexuality into a discussion of "normal" sexuality to explain why Durrell focused so sharply on the homosexuality of Darley's mentors.

Although the Leonards make an interesting, provocative comparison between Durrell's and Paul Scott's treatments of the homosexual's role as "a daimon in explaining the truth" (92), they have not explored how this role shapes the first-person narrator's view of himself. In fact, Durrell's grounding of the text in sexualities may provide a paradigm for rereading maleness in novels with male narrators usually associated with unquestioned, overt heterosexism - those social structures that prescribe heterosexual behavior as the only acceptable expression of sexuality. We should examine how Durrell shapes heterosexual identity by mirroring it through homosexual lenses.

The first narration, Justine,(1) immediately inscribes the narrator's heterosexist presumption, but Durrell has Darley identify himself through an almost Beckettian bifurcation so that we immediately perceive him in terms of irreconcilable oppositions. Physically, his body is untrained and "soft," though he phallocentrically projects himself as hard(en) and masculine. Mentally, he is torn between memories of a past but desired delusion of romantic love in Egypt and the awareness of a present but unwanted reality of lovelessness in the Cyclades. Of course, these oppositions directly affect his writing. On the artistic level, he has already heard Pursewarden's advice, but he dislikes his rival author and will not listen to that which could enable him to become the writer he desires to be. Although he wants to become a writer (presumably a writer of fiction), he is "a romantic with a noticeable tendency towards self-dramatization" (Rieger-Pratt 361). In a novel filled with novelists and writers, he cannot divorce himself from his own "factual" past: Simultaneously, he wants objectivity to recreate the past (the writing of Justine based on diaries, his own memories, and Nessim's papers) but longs for the subjectivity of reliving his memories (the confusion recognized by Balthazar, who questions whether Justine is supposed to be fiction or truth). On the personal level, Justine has already jilted him. He obviously suffers from her cutting him out of her life, a symbolic castration, and at the same time, he sets out to immortalize his affair with her as if the affair itself marked the culmination of manly activity. Unlike the sexually deviant Balthazar, he cannot accept sexual physicality without glossing it as something it is not (sentimentalized spiritual joining of kindred souls), even while he is obsessed with its fleshiness. Put another way, Darley may want to be a hedonist but only if he can qualify hedonism by making it spiritual.

When Darley tries to comprehend his experience with Justine by confusing her with the Claudia of Arnauti's psychoanalytic novel, he (unknowingly to himself) obscures his own emotional experience and (on Durrell's part knowingly for the reader) adds to the original, perhaps humorous, misdirection of the Quartet. In interpreting Justine as a "case," he intellectualizes and sanitizes sex; that is, in remembering their affair, he sublimates her into a fetish and overlooks the actual sexuality that he shared with Melissa. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.