When Anaïs Nin met Lawrence Durrell in Paris in 1937, she was instantly drawn to his young, ardent mind, as was Henry Miller, who’d been corresponding with him beforehand. Durrell, a young Englishman by way of India and Greece, was an aspiring writer who was heavily influenced by Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, the scandalous novel that Nin helped get published in 1934.
Shortly after meeting and realizing their affinities, they dubbed themselves the “three musketeers,” and out of Miller’s Villa Seurat apartment, they wrote and published three titles under the moniker “Villa Seurat Series”—Nin’s The Winter of Artifice, Miller’s Max and the White Phagocytes, and Durrell’s The Black Book, all published by Obelisk Press.
War separated the musketeers, each going in his/her own direction (Nin to New York, Durrell to Greece and eventually Egypt, Miller to Greece with Durrell and then New York). Each went on to have successful writing careers, although none of them happened overnight. While all three wrote in what might be loosely considered a post-modernist style, each had a significantly different approach to writing: Miller’s works were often carried by his use of explosive language, Nin’s were increasingly introspective and psychological in nature, and Durrell’s were multi-layered texts heavy in symbolism.
Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet, consisting of four novels (the first of which, Justine, came out in 1957) about the same events occurring in wartime Alexandria, but told from different perspectives, was his tour de force. The Quartet is still the main topic of discussion among today’s Durrell scholars, three of whom contribute their vast knowledge to A Café in Space, Vol. 3 (2005), just released on Kindle:
Richard Pine, director of the Durrell School of Corfu, writes about the three musketeers in his “The End of Our Romantic Life: The psychic hinterland of Nin, Durrell, and Miller.” In a comparison of how each of their lives affected their literature, he states: “…all three recognized the inevitability not only of writing their lives, but of writing them as both fact and fiction. From this descends the concept of the dual self or of multiple selves, of the reader-as-writer and of the fictional character as a real self.” In correlation with these observations, Pine also examines the role Otto Rank, the psychologist who penned Art and Artist, had in influencing the writing of the three authors.
Nabila Marzouk, professor at Fayoum in Egypt, compares the approach to literary homosexuality in Durrell’s work and that of Naguib Mahfouz, an Egyptian novelist. After examining homosexuality in Durrell’s Quartet and Mahfouz’s Midaq Alley, she observes: “Durrell represents homosexuality as a positive, enriching experience,“ whereas “Mahfouz’s characters are flesh and blood who are not meant to be taken for more than they are… [Alley character] Kirsha is a mere pervert who delights in his pleasures of the flesh.” She also adds that there is no word in Arabic for “homosexual,” and the one that comes the closest means “sexual abnormality.”
James Clawson, a young American Durrell scholar, writes about the Mediterranean as it appears in Durrell’s work. He notes: “This ‘Sea in the Middle of Durrell’s World’ is more than canvas backdrop. Just as Alexandria uses its inhabitants as flora and precipitates among them various conflicts, so too does the Mediterranean provide an ‘invisible constant’ to influence the peoples around it. For this reason, Durrell’s Mediterranean has by likened to Poe’s Virginia and Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County.”
Also included in Volume 3 are reviews of Durrell scholar Michael Haag’s Alexandria: City of Memory, Pine’s Lawrence Durrell: The Mindscape, and Lawrence Durrell and the Greek World, edited by Anna Lillios.
To order the Kindle edition of Vol. 3, click here.
To see the table of contents and/or order a print version of Vol. 3, click here.
To see all available digital titles by Anaïs Nin, visit our Nin e-bookstore.
To order books from the Nin house in Silver Lake (Los Angeles), visit the Anaïs Nin Trust bookstore.