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 WWII, 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 living on a remote Greek island with Nessim's illegitimate daughter from Melissa (now six years old - marking the time that has elapsed since the events of Justine); 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.
Balthazar arrives on a passing steam-boat with the loose-leafed Inter-Linear - as the narrative is now styled by the Narrator of Justine. A few secrets are revealed (please read the book for these). They proceed to Alexandria, where Darley continues to reminisce lamentingly, and seeks and sometimes finds, the characters of the earlier books.
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.