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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Mythopoesis of Lawrence Durrell Reeve, Phyllis Margery Parham


In The Alexandria Quartet Lawrence Durrell develops a series of images involving mirrors, to suggest that truth, especially the truth about oneself, is to be approached only through the juxtaposition of many memories, times and selves. Since the self must find itself through other selves, the artist is concerned with love and friendship, where self is revealed in its relation to the other. In narcissism and incest, the self becomes the other, in relation to its own divided being. The use of mirror allusions in connection with the acquisition of self-knowledge is apparent not only in the Quartet, but also in Durrell’s poetry and in the early novels The Black Book and The Dark Labyrinth. In these works the mirror of self-knowledge is related to the problem of action. Obsessive preoccupation with the reflection, the inward vision, prevents one from acting or creating or looking outward. When Durrell's man unifies this reflection of his various selves and times, he is able to live productively, as Darley is beginning to do at the end of the tetralogy. Both denotations of "reflection", the outer image and the inner thought, are involved in Durrell's allusions to mirrors, since both are aspects of the self, since the outward is continually used to suggest the inner, and since the goal is to unite outward and inner in the unitary self. The process is never completed, and Durrell deliberately leaves unanswered questions about his major characters. Frequently the attempt to find an accurate reflection proceeds through the means of another "I" whose words or person may serve as a mirror. The "mirror” may be a lover, a friend or even a mere acquaintance or a stranger. The Alexandrians often watch each other in mirrors, so that the insight gained may be not into oneself only, but also into the character of another. The multiple-view mirror, which reflects and distorts one object in various ways, is important in Durrell’s scheme. There are always several ways of viewing anything, and the disparity may occur within the vision of one person, as well as among those of a number of people. The disunified self, with its conflicts and polarities, is a distorting mirror. To satisfy the need for definition of oneself, one creates from "selected fictions", from the relative truths of life, a self and a will which can love and act in relation to other selves and wills. Because the self must be created, the artist is a crucial symbolic figure. The multiple-view mirror provides a narrative structure for the Quartet, the four novels providing four views of one series of events. Within this structure, episodes, images and phrases are echoed in various contexts to qualify and illuminate each other. Important types of mirrors are the artist, who holds the mirror up to nature; the lover, who sees others in close relation to himself, especially if his love is homosexual or incestuous; the patient or hypochondriac, whose obsession with his physical self parallels a mental preoccupation. The settings, Alexandria, Greece and England are extensions of the inner landscapes of their inhabitants. Alexandria reflects the multiple tumults of the non-rational self, Greece is a longed-for ideal of clarity and calm, and England is "Pudding Island", the repressive conventions of western civilization. Durrell's "Heraldic Universe" is a comprehensive system of hinged mirrors, in which inner self and outer world reflect each other, as do one self and another self, creator and creation, macrocosm and microcosm. Symbolism is not merely a literary device but a characteristic of even the factual landscape of his travel books. Temporal and spatial positions are relative and prismatic. Durrell’s heraldry is both a multiplicity of possibilities and a unity of interrelated realities. This thesis proposes to show the consistent patterns of the mirrors and associated motifs and to suggest their significance within the context of Durrell's writing and theory, and in relation to the work of some contemporary writers, critics and psychologists. The argument follows the general sequence outlined above, beginning with the various uses of actual mirror images, proceeds to consider love, art, illness and landscape as reflectors and concludes with a general look at the "Heraldic" totality.

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