Out of Bounds: Male Writers and Gender(ed) Criticism

By Laura Claridge; Elizabeth Langland | Go to book overview

Mappings of Male Desire in Durrell's Alexondria Quartet: Homoerotic Negotiations in the Colonial Narrative

JOSEPH A. BOONE

IT IS HARD to recapture the intense excitement that greeted the publication of Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet in the late 1950s as my parents' generation keenly awaited each successive volume with the sense of participating in the making of a contemporary masterpiece. Not only did the Quartet win glowing praise from its audience as well as reviewers, but it triumphed in academic circles, spawning literally hundreds of scholarly articles in the following decade -- indeed, the Durrell entries in the MLA Bibliographies for the 1960s vie in number with those accorded longtime male favorites like Lawrence, Joyce, and Faulkner. Simultaneously, the Quartet found its way onto Ivy League syllabi; while Albert J. Guerard sang Durrell's praises at Harvard, Walton Litz made the Quartet a highlight of his modern fiction course at Princeton. This masterpiece, it seemed clear, was going to be around for a long while.

Durrell's critical stock, ironically, couldn't be lower today; his blend of lush romanticism and existential soul-searching stands at a far remove from current postmodern critical sensibilities. And indeed, at worst, a synopsis of the Quartet's multilayered plots sounds depressingly like the stuff of television serials, offering a panorama of ever-shifting sexual alignments glossed over with a pretense to sophistication -- or, as one early detractor put it, "Melodramatic erotica . . . made respectable by epigrammatic catchphrases."1 I'd like to suggest, however, that if we employ some of the insights that have marked literary criticism -- particularly narrative and gender theory -- since Durrell's eclipse, we will find a text very much worth our attention, not so much for its successes as for the way it insistently dramatizes the sexual politics of the colonial narrative, particularly as filtered through the eyes of its desiring male subject, a blocked writer and confused sexual subject for whom issues of erotic perception, masculine subjectivity, and narrative authority are inextricably linked.

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