First UK edition
|Series||The Alexandria Quartet|
|Media type||Print (Paperback and Hardback)|
Clea, published in 1960, is the fourth volume in The Alexandria Quartet series by British author Lawrence Durrell. Set in Alexandria, Egypt, around World War II, the first three volumes tell the same story from different points of view, and Clea relates subsequent events.
Epigraphs and citations
The Marquis de Sade and Freud again helm the epigraphs - including a nostalgic preface in which Durrell, reluctantly and defiantly, claims the story is now "complete". Durrell would later return to a similar type of storytelling in the Quincunx format of The Avignon Quintet.
Plot and characterization
The book begins with the Narrator (Darley)living on a remote Greek island with Nessim's illegitimate daughter from Melissa. The child is now six years old - marking the time that has elapsed since the events of Justine) Darley has been able to spend this period on the island—thinking, writing, maturing—due to the £500 left him in his will by the writer Pursewarden (who killed himself). However the tone is very dark and opposed to the light and airy reminiscence of Prospero's Cell - Durrell's travelogue-memoir of his life on Corfu. The prolonged nature-pieces, which are a highlight of Durrell's prose, still intervene between straight linear narrative - but are uniformly of askesis and alone-ness.
Mnemjian arrives (unexpectedly) to see Darley with a message from Nessim and news of events in Alexandria—notably the fall from prosperity of the Hosnani family (Nessim, his wife Justine, and brother Narouz—the latter dead. Mnemjian is a prosperous barber, and possibly brothel owner.
They proceed to Alexandria, now under nightly bombardment because of the War (WW2), Darley continues to reminisce, sometimes lamenting, and seeks and sometimes finds, the characters of the earlier book.
He runs into Clea in the street - and they effortlessly pick up an affaire de coeur - this time unencumbered by the interfering physical presences of Justine and Melissa - though there is a lot of pillow-talk about the two women in a self-absorbed manner by Darley. The sex scenes actually read more real than those in the preceding books, where the fervent desperation of "bodies straining against each other while the souls watch the proceedings from some corner of the ceiling" is finally replaced by an apparently real sexual relationship between two mature adults, rather than the teeming adolescent angst of infatuation (Justine) and nurturance (Melissa) that precedes this Golden Mean of Coupling. However, this romance is tepid compared to the white-hot intensity of Justine.
The other, and perhaps more enduring, deliciousness of the text is extended meditations on art, composition, form and intent - with Darley's Inter-Linear, Pursewarden's Novels and Clea's paintings serving as the imaginary scaffold on which Durrell builds his elegant Ivory Tower theoretical stance.