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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The Alexandria quartet : love as metaphysical enquiry Johnston, Elizabeth Lee


This thesis is based on a conviction that Lawrence Durrell's The Alexandria Quartet is a metaphysical romance in a truly modern sense; a parable which uses the terminology of modern psychology and romantic love to describe a search for gnosis, or self-knowledge. The characters are prototypes whose enemies are the warring forces within the psyche: the romantic imagination, which manufactures the Illusions of love, and the intellectual examination which may destroy the illusion, but leaves nothing in its place. Durrell shows that his prototype characters must learn to value the naked experience of an emotional moment with a balanced spontaneity of perception divorced from the extremes of both the romantic imagination and the intellect. The first chapter describes the psychological equilibrium which Durrell calls "the heraldic universe," which is concretized by statements from The Black Book, excerpts from Durrell's poems and allusions (from The Alexandria Quartet) to C. P. Cavafy, D. H. Lawrence and C. G. Jung. The final paragraphs deal with the dual approach to character and the corresponding polarities of the landscape of Alexandria. The second chapter concentrates on Durrell's use of the novel for therapeutic enquiry, as a means of looking at the dark side of the psyche. The chapter explains the relation of the Quartet to moral allegory as well as its concern with the dualism of instinct and ideal, reason and passion, which Aldous Huxley and Wyndham Lewis describe in a more expository style. The third chapter contrasts the destructive will-to-power and the passion of political conspirators with the creative will of the poet and artist, the seeker after self-identity. The final paragraphs deal with images of madness and psychic disintegration resulting from obsessional love. The fourth chapter discusses the major characters in relation to the life of their imaginations. In the case of the writers in the Quartet, the literary imagination distorts perceptions of love and experience. Pursewarden, the central artistic figure, is viewed in relation to the other prototypes who make a "story" out of their lives. The final chapter attempts to show that Clea is a culmination of a psychological battle within the characters, an active drama instead of a reflection upon emotional experience. Love becomes depersonalized, a force which exists apart from the egotism of personality.

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