Monsieur (novel)

Monsieur (novel)

Monsieur, published in 1974, is the first volume in Lawrence Durrell's The Avignon Quintet. As a group, the five novels narrate the lives of a group of Europeans prior to and after World War II. Monsieur begins the quincunx of novels with a metafictional narrative in five major sections, each with a competing narrator. The novel does not resolve which narrative is 'real' and which are 'fiction.'

The novel draws extensively on Gnosticism but was published prior to the English release of the Nag Hammadi library. Durrell is referred to in the English edition of the Nag Hammadi, but this is largely in relation to his The Alexandria Quartet. The Gnostic materials in Monsieur combine Serge Hutin's Les Gnostiques with contemporary newspaper reports of a Slovenian suicide cult. This has led to much scholarly and popular confusion over the sources for Durrell's Gnostic suicide cult, which is a plot throughout the rest of the Avignon Quintet.

Plot summary

In the first section, "Outremer," Bruce Drexel is returning to Provence after learning of his lover / brother-in-law's suicide. His wife is institutionalized and has been for some time, and he revisits Avignon with his friend Toby while attending to the necessary funeral arrangements and reminiscing about his life with Piers and Sylvie. He recalls stylistically rich winter scenes when the three were first in love, as well as a novel written about them by Robyn Sutcliffe.

The second chapter, "Macabru," recounts Bruce, Piers, and Sylvie's journey into Egypt where they meet Affad, who initiates them into a Gnostic cult. Affad takes them to Macabru in the desert in order to explain the group's rituals. There is an extended journey on the Nile in this section that parallels a later journey on the Rhone in Livia.

"Sutcliffe, or the Venetian Documents" presents a new narrator, which renders the previous materials fictional, unless this is another fiction. Sutcliffe has various misadventures in Venice and recalls his failed marriage to Pia, Bruce's sister.

"Life with Toby" returns to Bruce and Toby in Avignon discussing a theory about the Knights Templar that returns to the Gnostic theme; this section is interrupted by another text in "The Green Notebook," which returns to Sutcliffe. Monsieur was initially composed in a green notebook, and "A Green Notebook" is largely comprised of the unrevised notes that preceded the novel. This section becomes highly fragmentary.

"Dinner at Quartilla's" is the last section of the novel and introduces another author, Blanford, who is writing a book in which Sutcliffe is a character. He dines with his friend, the old Duchess Tu, who is actually long dead.

The novel ends with an Envoi that gives a continuing list of who begat whom throughout the novel but without a final resolution.


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