Biography of Lawrence Durrell

Lawrence Durrell was born on February 27th, 1912 in India, where his father was working as an engineer. He was the oldest of four children (of whom the youngest, Gerald, also became a succesful author). His early life in India inspired sections of his first novel, Pied Piper of Lovers.

When he was twelve, he was sent back to England to complete his education. His father died soon after, and Durrell took his inheritance and headed to Bloomsbury with the intention of becoming a writer.


In 1935 Lawrence Durrell married his first wife, Nancy Myers, and a couple of months later the newlyweds moved to the island of Corfu - as did Durrell's mother and siblings. However, the young couple llived separately from the rest of the Durrell family, taking a small house by the sea (which Lawrence referred to as "the white house"). In Corfu he wrote Panic Spring - which he published under the pseudonym Charles Norden - and The Black Book. It was also during this period that he read Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer. He wrote Miller an enthusiastic fan letter about the novel and Miller replied with equal enthusiasm. It was the start of a correspondence - and a friendship - which would last until Miller's death in 1980.

Towards the end of the 1930s, Lawrence and Nancy Durrell also travelled to Paris, where they spent time with Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin.

The Second World War and Egypt

With the outbreak of the Second World War, Durrell's family returned to England. When it became too dangerous for him to remain in Corfu, Durrell escaped to Alexandria in Egypt, where he worked first as a press attaché and later as a teacher (also spending time in Cairo). They took their newly born daughter Penelope to Egypt with them but during this period the marriage began to disintegrate, ending in divorce in 1942. Durrell began a new relationship with Eve Cohen.

Back on the Islands and on to Argentina

In 1945, with the war over, Durrell once again had the opportunity to leave Egypt. His destination was the Dodecanese Islands, specifically Rhodes, where he was to be Public Information Officer for the British. He and Eve set up home in a small house in the middle of a Turkish cemetery. His experiences on Rhodes are recounted in Reflections on a Marine Venus.

In 1947 they returned - briefly - to England, before setting out to Argentina, where Durrell had been hired by the British Council to give a series of lectures (these lectures later formed the basis of his book Key to Modern Poetry). However, Durrell didn't like Argentina and returned to Britain a year later, before taking up a Foreign Office posting in Yugoslavia.


If Durrell had felt out of place in Argentina, he fared worse in Yugoslavia. Stationed in Belgrade as a Press Attaché, he found himself isolated and miserable in a hostile country. He did however manage to obtain a large, bullet-proof German staff car that had once belonged to Goering, and took some pleasure in driving around the country in it.


In 1953 Durrell managed to return to the island life, settling on Cyprus. This time, Eve did not accompany him; having given birth to their daughter, she had a breakdown and was hospitalized in England. Only baby Sappho accompanied Durrell to this new island life, where he began to write Justine, the first volume of The Alexandria Quartet. His circumstances at the time were not so different from those of the narrator Darley at the beggining of that novel.

Once again however, where Durrell went, trouble followed. The ENOSIS movement, which wanted an end to British rule on Cyprus and for the island to be returned to Greece, gained ground and in 1956 Durrell was forced to leave the island.

The Midi

Finally, in 1957 Durrell settled in Provence, where he would remain - more or less - for the rest of his life. He finished the other three volumes of The Alexandria Quartet which, along with the success of Bitter Lemons (in which he wrote about the crisis on Cyprus), cemented his reputation as an important British writer. He went on to write several other books, including novels and travel books as well as poetry.

Lawrence Durrell died of a stroke in 1990.