First UK edition
|Series||The Alexandria Quartet|
|Publisher||Faber & Faber (UK)
E. P. Dutton (US)
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||253 p. (paperback edition)|
Justine, published in 1957, is the first volume in Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet. Justine is one of four interlocking novels which each tell various aspects of a complex story of passion and deception from various points of view. The quartet is set in the Egyptian city of Alexandria of the 1930s and 1940s, and the city itself becomes as much of a complex character as the human protagonists.
Justine is narrated by an Irishman, who is not named in this novel, but is referred to as "Darley" in the later novels of the quartet. He is a struggling writer and schoolmaster. From a remote Greek island, he retells his time in Alexandria and his tragic romance with Justine - a beautiful, rich, mysterious Jewish woman who is married to a wealthy Egyptian Copt, Nessim. The narrator and Justine embark on a love affair, and as they try to conceal their growing passion from Nessim, the narrator's friend, the love triangle grows increasingly desperate and dangerous.
Style and characters
The novel is an experimental work of fiction in terms of structure and style. There are no specific references to dates, although the reader may construct a rough chronology in retrospect. However, this is problematic because the narrative moves back and forth in time, often without explicit transitions. Durrell utilizes a highly poetic, allusive, and indirect prose style, similar to the "epiphanies" of James Joyce, which places more emphasis on the lyrical dimension of the novel. Durrell's narrator explains that it is important to him to describe events not "in the order in which they took place — for that is history — but in the order in which they first became significant for me". Although the "chief protagonist" of the novel appears to be the eponymous Justine, Durrell builds the structure of the work around the conceit that the city, Alexandria, is the most important player; nevertheless, many colorful and fully drawn characters abound: the minor French consular official Georges Pombal, with whom the Narrator shares lodgings; the Idealized-but-Feared Doppelgänger novelist Pursewarden; the tubercular Greek prostitute Melissa; the Greek broker Capodistria; and the cross-dressing Scobie.
Though tragic love is the central concern of the novel, there are also hints at a deeper symbolic dimension in the form of the Kabbalah, which the main characters all devoutly study. There are also hints at a more extended socio-political narrative touching on the workings of the British secret service, which takes centre-stage in the next two books, "Balthazar" and especially "Mountolive".
Durrell makes many references to the Greek Alexandrian poet Constantin Cavafy, and Justine introduced Cavafy to a wide new audience in the English-speaking world. Two Cavafy poems, "The City" and "The God Abandons Antony", are translated by Durrell and included as "workpoints" in the appendix, implying that the poems have something to say about the narrator and his plight.
- Sykes, Gerald (August 15, 1957). "'It Happened in Alexandria'". NYTimes.com. Retrieved 2011-03-25.
- Penguin Reading Guides
- The International Lawrence Durrell Society Official website of ILDS
- Durrell 2012: The Lawrence Durrell Centenary Centenary event website and Durrell Journal
- The Durrell School of Corfu School dedicated to the works and lives Lawrence and Gerald Durrell
- Haag, Michael. Alexandria: City of Memory. London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.