UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Characters and the City Quillevere, Hanne Guldberg


The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell has received great notice from critics both as a distinguished work of art in its own right and as an indication of a new development in contemporary literature. Particular interest has been shown in Durrell's techniques of characterization and in his handling of point of view in these novels. My object has been to analyze Durrell1s concept of the psyche and to show how it gives rise to his techniques of characterization and to his handling of point of view. In analyzing Durrell's concept of the psyche, I have tried to show how this concept has been influenced by the writings of the German psychologist and doctor, Georg Groddeck, and by the concept of relativity which has had so profound an influence not only on the physical sciences but on many other areas of human thought. Durrell believes that this concept of relativity must necessarily alter our view of the nature of the human psyche and that as a result the traditional view of the psyche as a separate and stable entity existing distinct from the rest of the world and subject in the main to the dictates of a conscious personal will must be superceded. The view of the human psyche presented in The Alexandria Quartet is strikingly like that of Groddeck, and throughout the novels Durrell stresses the supreme importance of the powers of the imagination, powers which Groddeck identified with the It and which both he and Durrell consider as alien to the ego and inhibited by man's ratiocinative faculty. But the idea of free will has traditionally been linked with the ego; will has been thought of as a conscious function. To anyone who retains this view of the will, Durrell's characters inevitably appear as willless people whose lives are in every instance directed by forces beyond their control. My initial study of Durrell's imagery (see Chapter II) substantiates this claim. However, a further analysis of Durrell's imagery leads one to modify this view of the characters. It becomes apparent that Durrell conceives of will not as a conscious function in man but as a function of the imaginative powers that belong to man's unconscious being. Freedom then becomes a matter of the subjection of the ego to the imaginative life, and what looks initially like a deterministic account of human life is actually an account of how the human being may, and in some cases does, achieve true freedom by a full submission of conscious self to the powers of the imagination. Such submission is most clearly shown in the lives of those characters who strive for artisthood and most notably in the life of Darley. The role of the City is important in the characterization, because in various ways it represents the powers of the imagination. Durrell depicts the nature of the human psyche by showing the necessary and inevitable conflict between ego and imagination and by showing how this conflict can and should lead to an increase in imaginative power. In doing this Durrell presents three distinct but related views of his characters: the view of man-within-Larger Man, the view of the City as identical with Groddeck's It and of the characters as egos, and the view of the City as the only character in the Quartet. This last view of the characters may prove to be Durrell's most notable technical achievement in these novels, for here, with his technique of elaborate "prism-sightedness," he presents the human psyche in unusual depth and detail.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.