Swinging the Maelstrom : A Critical Edition
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Swinging the Maelstrom is the story of a musician enduring existence in the Bellevue psychiatric hospital in New York. Written during his happiest and most fruitful years, this novella reveals the deep healing influence that the idyllic retreat at Dollarton had on Lowry.

This long-overdue scholarly edition will allow scholars to engage in a genetic study of the text and reconstruct, step by step, the creative process that developed from a rather pessimistic and misanthropic vision of the world as a madhouse (The Last Address, 1936), via the apocalyptic metaphors of a world on the brink of Armageddon (The Last Address, 1939), to a world that, in spite of all its troubles, leaves room for self-irony and humanistic concern (Swinging the Maelstrom,1942–1944).

- This book is published in English. 



Publié par
Date de parution 28 novembre 2013
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9780776620886
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 1 Mo

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Swinging the Maelstrom

ILLUSTRATION 1. Malcolm Lowry in the early 1940’s: the beach at Dollarton (near Vancouver) and the cabin in which he rewrote Under the Volcano , In Ballast to the White Sea and S winging the Maelstrom .

Swinging the Maelstrom

Edited by
Introduction by
Explanatory Notes by
Foreword by
University of Ottawa Press | OTTAWA

The University of Ottawa Press acknowledges with gratitude the support extended to its publishing list by Heritage Canada through the Canada Book Fund, by the Canada Council for the Arts, by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences through the Awards to Scholarly Publications Program and by the University of Ottawa.
Copy editing: Trish O’Reilly-Brennan
Proofreading: Steph VanderMeulen
Typesetting: Llama Communications
Cover design: Robert Tombs
eBook development: WildElement.ca
Reprinted by permission of SLL/Sterling Lord Literistic, Inc. Copyright by Peter Matson
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Lowry, Malcolm, 1909-1957, author

Swinging the maelstrom : a critical edition / by Malcolm Lowry ;
by Vik Doyen ; introduction by Vik Doyen & Miguel Mota ; explanatory notes 
by Chris Ackerley ; foreword by Patrick A. McCarthy & Paul Tiessen.
(Canadian literature collection)

Includes bibliographical references.

Contents: List of illustrations -- General editor’s note -- Foreword -- 

Introduction -- Swinging the maelstrom -- Textual notes -- 

Explanatory notes -- Appendix 1: The last address -- Textual notes -- 

Appendix 2: The manuscript record -- Works cited.

Issued in print and electronic formats.

ISBN 978-0-7766-0802-0 (bound).--ISBN 978-0-7766-2087-9 (pdf).
ISBN 978-0-7766-2088-6 (epub)
I. Doyen, Vik, 1942-, writer of introduction, editor II. Mota, Miguel, writer 

of introduction III. Ackerley, Chris, 1947-, writer of explanatory notes 

IV. McCarthy, Patrick A., 1945-, writer of added commentary V. Tiessen, Paul, 

1944-, writer of added commentary VI. Lowry, Malcolm, 1909-1957.
address. VII. Title. VIII. Series: Canadian literature collection
PR6023.O96S94 2013 813’.54 C2013-906182-7 

Printed in Canada
© University of Ottawa Press, 2013

Swinging the Maelstorm

List of Illustrations
1. Malcolm Lowry at the time of Swinging the Maelstrom
2. LA 15-4:91, chapter X (last page)
3. LA 15-4:10, chapter III (last page)
4. LA 15-4:16, chapter V (first page)
5. SM 15-8:1, chapter I (first page)
6. LA 15-4:29, chapter VII (first page)
7. LA 15-3:[1], chapter IX (revision of first page, draft 1)
8. LA 15-3, title (insert on verso of illustration 6)
9. LA 15-3, chapter IX (holograph insert)
10. LA 15-3, chapter X (revision of first page)
11. LA 15-3, chapter IX (revision of first page, draft 2)
12.. LA 15-4:88, chapter X (typescript of revised first page)
13. The Manuscript Record
LA : The Last Address (1939 version)
SM : Swinging the Maelstrom

General Editor’s Note
This edition of Malcolm Lowry’s novella Swinging the Maelstrom is the first in a trilogy of Lowry works from the 1930s and early 1940s that will include fully annotated editions of In Ballast to the White Sea , Lowry’s long-thought-lost 1930s novel, and the 1940 Under the Volcano , the earlier, complete, but radically different, version of Lowry’s 1947 masterpiece.
For their invaluable assistance, support, guidance, and advice, the editors would like to thank the following: Ralph Stanton, George Brandak, and the late Anne Yandle at the University of British Columbia Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections; Colin Dilnot; David Large; and Kim Duff.
For his support of this edition and, for many years, Lowry scholarship in general, we are grateful to Peter Matson. For permission to publish this edition, we are grateful to the Estate of Malcolm Lowry and to the University of British Columbia.
MIGUEL MOTA University of British Columbia

ILLUSTRATION 2. Final page of the 1939 typescript of The Last Address (15-4:91), with pencil inserts for the new version, Swinging the Maelstrom (see page xxvi below). The protagonist, now called Bill Plantagenet, is no longer a failed writer, but a frustrated musician: “True his hands were small, but they were not weak .... Then he staggered to the piano and tore the world to pieces” (cf. end of ch. vi, page 25 below). Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations from unpublished manuscripts refer to the Malcolm Lowry Papers in the Malcolm Lowry Collections at the University of British Columbia Library, cited as (Box-Folder: Page).

In January 1946, Malcolm Lowry wrote a long letter to the English publisher Jonathan Cape to defend his unpublished novel Under the Volcano against numerous criticisms by a reader for the press. Responding to the reader’s note on affinities between Lowry’s manuscript and Charles Jackson’s The Lost Weekend , a 1944 novel and already a successful film, Lowry argued that “it was the Lost Weekend that should have inevitably recalled the Volcano,” for he “began the Volcano in 1936, the same year having written, in New York, a novelette . . . about an alcoholic entitled The Last Address, which takes place mostly in the same hospital ward where [Jackson’s protagonist] Don Birnam spends an interesting afternoon” ( CL 1:502–503). Lowry had based the “novelette,” which he initially planned to call “Delirium on the East River” (Bowker, Pursued 198, 199), on his own experience in the psychiatric ward at New York’s Bellevue Hospital, where he spent considerably more than “an interesting afternoon” (actually at least ten days and possibly as much as two weeks) in May 1936. Changing the title to The Last Address , Lowry produced a complete draft soon after his release from Bellevue and revised the story repeatedly over the next eight years, first in New York and later in British Columbia. Meanwhile, his life changed fundamentally. When he began writing The Last Address he lived with Jan Gabrial, his first wife, whom he had married in Paris in January 1934, but Jan left him in 1937, during the turbulent trip to Mexico that led him to write Under the Volcano . In 1939, in Los Angeles, he met Margerie Bonner, who would follow him to Canada and become his second wife. Ultimately the Lowrys moved to a fisherman’s shack near Dollarton, across Burrard Inlet from Vancouver, where he found a more harmonious life than he had ever known. As Vik Doyen and Miguel Mota observe in their Introduction to this edition, that life seems to be reflected in the very different later form of The Last Address that Lowry called Swinging the Maelstrom . In his last years he meant to revise the text again, incorporating elements of The Last Address back into a new version of Swinging the Maelstrom to be entitled Lunar Caustic . Like many of Lowry’s plans, however, that one remained only an intriguing, though potentially brilliant, possibility.
Despite his intense work on The Last Address / Swinging the Maelstrom from 1936 to 1944, Lowry was also heavily involved in two other major projects during those years: since the early 1930s he had been at work on a long novel, In Ballast to the White Sea , and around the end of 1936 he began writing Under the Volcano . By 1940 Lowry had completed a full draft of Under the Volcano that he circulated, though without success, to publishers in New York. Disappointed but undeterred, Lowry then devoted another five years to Under the Volcano before finally submitting a drastically transformed version that, upon its publication in 1947, would be widely recognized as a masterpiece. Indeed, Under the Volcano justified the many years Lowry had spent working in obscurity. Moreover, what might appear to have been an otherwise unproductive hiatus between the publication of his first novel, Ultramarine , in 1933 and Under the Volcano in 1947 was in fact a time of great creativity for Lowry. That period was filled with impressive fresh writing, including revisions of Swinging the Maelstrom , but it ended with the disastrous fire that destroyed his shack in June 1944, taking with it not only notes for further revision of Swinging the Maelstrom— which Lowry had already begun to call Lunar Caustic— but virtually his entire working draft of In Ballast to the White Sea (although an earlier typescript would surface decades later). Even so, the fire had one salutary effect: the fear of losing Under the Volcano altogether encouraged Lowry to finish his revisions and send the manuscript off to his agent. Lowry was indeed “the champion manuscript-loser of all time,” as Douglas Day calls him (198), but Under the Volcano was one manuscript he could not risk losing.
The three ambitious writing projects that Lowry had under way in the late 1930s and early 1940s are quite distinct from one another; but he saw them as related, and he hoped to shape them into a series of works that, like a later and far more elaborate plan for a series, he called The Voyage That Never Ends . In January 1942 he declared to Harold Matson, his agent in New York, that he wanted Under the Volcano , Swinging the Maelstrom (for which he was still using the title The Last Address ), and In Ballast to the White Sea to be understood as a single big book whose parts revealed complementary themes: an inferno, a purgatorio, a paradiso. The first is set in Mexico, though it contains glimpses of Canada; the second is set in New York City, mainly inside Bellevue Hospital; the third is set mainly in Cambridge and Liverpool, and ends in Norway. In spirit and temper, however, Swinging the Maelstrom is perhaps closer to the 1947 Under the Volcano than to the 1940 Under the Volcano or In Ballast to the White Sea , two works that have a certain affinity for each other, particularly with respect to tonal distance from both interior and exterior worlds. We should note that we are currently preparing these latter two volumes for publication. Once annotated editions of In Ballast to the White Sea and the 1940 Under the Volcano have been published, readers will be able to glimpse something of what Lowry saw, “strangely enough,” as the “one book” that is made up of three ( CL 1:388).
Meanwhile, this scholarly edition of Swinging the Maelstrom brings a new perspective to bear upon Malcolm Lowry’s remarkable achievement of the 1930s and early 1940s. At the same time, it is a reliable Lowry text that should replace the commonly known but posthumously patched-together version of the story published as Lunar Caustic . The inclusion of the heretofore unpublished text of The Last Address means that for the first time the two major stages in the life of this novella will be available for all to read.
Vik Doyen and Miguel Mota, in establishing the present volume, and working closely with other Lowry scholars, embody the collaborative spirit that Lowry invites in scholars and other readers. Lowry draws together a community to respond to his work. Doyen was the first serious reader of the manuscript of Swinging the Maelstrom , starting during the fall of 1971, when he made a pilgrimage from the KU Leuven in Belgium to the Lowry archive at the University of British Columbia. He undertook a painstaking study of the drafts, returning to them intermittently while carrying on his university duties as English professor and university administrator. In 1987, when he and Chris Ackerley were leading a graduate seminar at the University of British Columbia on the Lowry manuscripts held in the archive there, they discussed the possibility of a properly edited and annotated text. The project began in earnest after the 1997 Lowry conference in Toronto, and Ackerley, a leading Lowry and Beckett annotator based in the Department of English at the University of Otago in New Zealand, who had already completed a similar project for Under the Volcano , started the process of annotating Swinging the Maelstrom . Miguel Mota was drawn into the project around the time that he was co-organizer of the international Lowry conference at the University of British Columbia in 2009, in what would have been Lowry’s centenary year. Mota, from the Department of English at UBC, developed the Introduction further, fine-tuning it, modifying the structure of the whole volume, pursuing new questions addressed by the archive at UBC, and, in the end, deftly welding the parts of the manuscript together.
It is a joy to read Swinging the Maelstrom in its present, authoritative form, with the rich texture of the Explanatory Notes and the presence of The Last Address . Indeed, this volume, its parts producing an exciting whole, reminds us of Lowry’s role as an experimental writer for whom there could never be a final form to any text, and it almost seems to carry out a plan that Lowry half-seriously suggested in 1952 to Robert Giroux, a senior editor at Harcourt, Brace, when he sent him the manuscripts of The Last Address and Swinging the Maelstrom . After first denigrating The Last Address as not a real version of the text, but one with material that should be incorporated into a revised version, he suddenly set forth the “very strange idea” that “Last Address plus Swinging the Maelstrom plus Lunar Caustic might one day make an extremely interesting trilogy in itself; the material of the Address being so modified, reversed, counterpointed etc by Maelstrom that reading the second after the first gave one—or gave me—the effect of a strange kind of music: in fact perhaps it is basically a sort of music, the music of a work of art, however flawed and lousy, trying to integrate itself” ( CL 2:499).
Doyen, Mota and Ackerley have heard Lowry’s music—his story of the frustrated piano player Bill Plantagenet—and now we can hear it too.
PATRICK A. MCCARTHY University of Miami
PAUL TIESSEN Wilfrid Laurier University

ILLUSTRATION 3. Final page of chapter III in the 1939 version of The Last Address (15-4:10), with handwritten inserts for Swinging the Maelstrom. The protagonist’s name is now Plantagenet, but the black inmate is still called Mr. Battle.

ILLUSTRATION 4. Opening page of chapter V in the 1939 version of The Last Address (15-4:16), with a handwritten suggestion for Swinging the Maelstrom : Lowry is planning to combine a shortened version of the puppet show (originally chapter VI) with reshuffled passages from various other chapters (see page xxviii below).

Upon Malcolm Lowry’s tragic “death by misadventure” in 1957, some of the obituaries claimed that Lowry (b. 1909) had committed suicide because he no longer felt able to write. To counter such rumours, Lowry’s second wife and widow, Margerie Bonner Lowry, created the myth that the last years of his life had been a particularly creative period. In her correspondence with personal and professional friends and acquaintances, as well as in her biographical note directed to future readers of the Malcolm Lowry Papers in the Special Collections Division of the University of British Columbia (UBC) Library, she insisted not only that Lowry had revised the novella that would come to be published as Lunar Caustic but also that he had put the finishing touches on the short story collection Hear Us O Lord from Heaven Thy Dwelling Place and practically completed the final version of the novel October Ferry to Gabriola . In fact, however, all manuscript evidence (typescripts, holographs, correspondence) demonstrates that after leaving his beloved beach cabin in Dollarton, near Vancouver, in the summer of 1954, Lowry touched neither the novella nor the short stories, but instead worked only on October Ferry to Gabriola , the novel about his lost paradise in Canada.
The novella that appeared in the New York literary quarterly Paris Review in 1963 under the title Lunar Caustic and that was published in book form in 1968 in New York and London under the same title does not match the claims made for it by Margerie Lowry. That text is neither the version that Lowry wrote in New York City in 1936 ( The Last Address ), nor the partially revised text he drafted in Vancouver in 1939 (still called The Last Address ), nor the radically transformed work that he undertook in Dollarton between 1942 and 1944 (eventually titled Swinging the Maelstrom ). In a fascinating, long and often funny letter dated 17 January 1952 to the influential New York editor and publisher Robert Giroux, Lowry stated clearly and firmly that Swinging the Maelstrom should be considered as the final, completed version of the novella and that The Last Address should be “looked on as simply the material from which I worked up ‘Swinging the Maelstrom’” ( CL 2:499). And though the fact that he still had vague plans for a future full-length novel to be called Lunar Caustic complicates his statement to Giroux, Lowry’s claim regarding Swinging the Maelstrom stands, on the evidence of the manuscripts, as both accurate and authoritative.
Apparently, Margerie Lowry was either no longer aware of or chose not to pay attention to her husband’s explicit evaluation when, after his death, she inexplicably interwove the 1936/1939 and 1942–44 versions of the novella to create what emerged in 1963 as Lunar Caustic . When this posthumous typescript was presented as Lowry’s final revision, the Canadian poet and UBC professor Earle Birney could do little more than correct obvious inconsistencies, though he also recuperated some additional material from Swinging the Maelstrom . Conrad Knickerbocker, Lowry’s first biographer, added a cautionary postscript to his Foreword to the published version: “The editors, Lowry’s second wife and Earle Birney, an old friend and neighbour of the author and professor of English at the University of British Columbia, describe the present version as being primarily a job of splicing, in an approximation of Lowry’s method and intent. ‘We have not added a line,’ Mrs. Lowry has said in a letter to me.” Margerie Lowry’s claim notwithstanding, the text of Swinging the Maelstrom , together with the earlier 1936 version of The Last Address and its 1939 revisions—all of which we are including in this present scholarly edition—reveal the extent to which the published version of Lunar Caustic reflects the considerable intervention of its editors.
Reading Lowry’s various versions of the novella, each inspired by his brief experience in 1936 in the psychiatric ward of New York’s Bellevue Hospital, we are struck by their distinct characteristics:
The 1936 version of The Last Address was written against the background of Lowry’s alcoholic problems in New York City, his frustrations as a writer, and the tensions of his young married life with Jan Gabrial, his first wife (whom he married in Paris in 1934). This is the version that Lowry submitted (unsuccessfully) to Whit Burnett, the New York editor of Story magazine—which had earlier published his short stories “On Board the West Hardaway” (1933) and “Hotel Room in Chartres” (1934).
The 1939 revision of the final chapters (IX and X) of The Last Address , written soon after Lowry’s arrival in Vancouver, is influenced by the growing threat of war: the storm observed by the inmates of the lunatic ward is elaborated into a symbol of the world on the brink of cataclysm. This is the version that Lowry sent to the American poet Conrad Aiken, hoping that his old friend and mentor would be able to find a New York publisher for it.
Swinging the Maelstrom , 1 the radically transformed version that Lowry wrote between 1942 and 1944, acquired an altogether different tone and atmosphere. After he and his second wife, Margerie Bonner, had started a new life in their beach cabin in Dollarton, Lowry was able to observe his own work and his (autobiographical) protagonist from a more critical and ironic distance. During this period of great creativity he also transformed his 1940 version of Under the Volcano into his 1947 literary masterpiece.
During the very period when he was changing the drunken Consul of Under the Volcano from a morbid misogynist (and father of Yvonne) into a self-ironic genius (and estranged husband of Yvonne), Lowry also transformed the protagonist of The Last Address from a cynical and self-centered writer into an extroverted musician. The change of title—from The Last Address to Swinging the Maelstrom —underscores this radical change of mood in the work, a change undoubtedly at least partly occasioned by the move to Dollarton from Vancouver, a city that Lowry believed to be a kind of hell on earth, “the most hopeless of all cities of the lost” ( CL 1:244). Even though this final version is still situated in the psychiatric ward of Bellevue Hospital in New York City, it has been deeply influenced by the healing experience of Lowry’s Canadian retreat in Dollarton. The text of Swinging the Maelstrom reveals something of the true nature of Lowry’s actual achievement during his Dollarton years in Canada, though its roots can be located as far back as 1934, when a young Lowry arrived in New York to join his new bride, Jan Gabrial.
NEW YORK 1934–1936:
In England during the summer of 1934, Malcolm Lowry finally told his family about Jan Gabrial, an aspiring American writer whom he had secretly married in January of that year in Paris and who had gone back temporarily to the United States. When he was reassured that the monthly allowance that his father had been giving him since his student days would continue, he decided not to wait for her return but to join her in New York City.
Although immediately after arriving in New York he and his new wife sailed off to New England, eager to visit the places where Herman Melville had lived and worked, after a month in Provincetown Malcolm and Jan soon settled into a hotel back in New York City to continue their literary work. Jan had returned from her two-year trip through Europe with two books in mind; Malcolm had already published the sea novel Ultramarine (1933) and was working on another one, In Ballast to the White Sea . Though he initially began to work on a collection of short stories, he soon, on the advice of his literary agent, concentrated exclusively on In Ballast , a novel based on the journey he had made in the summer of 1931 in search of Nordahl Grieg, the Norwegian author of The Ship Sails On whom Lowry wanted to meet because of his “hysterical identification” with Benjamin Hall, the protagonist of that sea novel.
In early 1935 the Lowrys moved into the Somerset Hotel on 47th Street, close to Central Park and the New York Public Library. Jan would later recall that period as “the gentlest of our marriage”:
Our hotel was good to us, even providing without charge, as it became available, a vacant room which could be used as an office …. We were most productive; we were both working; we had settled down to a good writing routine—we got along very well together—there was trust, there was complete communication at all levels, whether writing or talking. (Gabrial 78)
Malcolm would sometimes use her father’s old typewriter, but usually he wrote (and rewrote) his texts in longhand and left the typing to Jan.
Whit Burnett’s publication of “Hotel Room in Chartres” in the September 1934 issue of Story magazine led to the Lowrys’ introduction into New York literary circles. But Malcolm was a problem drinker and “cocktail parties invariably meant binges,” Jan remembers (Gabrial 74). By early 1936 Malcolm’s alcoholism had put such strain on their marriage that they were at times living in separate places. Eric Estorick, a literary friend, was convinced that Malcolm needed therapy and brought him in contact with a doctor from Bellevue, a public hospital. What followed then is told in different voices. Lowry’s version was that his ten-day stay there in early May was a voluntary one—“the consequence of an excursion into journalism” ( CL 2:356 to Ten Holder; see also CL 2:500 to Giroux). But Alfred Mendes, a Trinidadian friend during the New York period, wrote in his memoir about Malcolm: “Basically a happy man, he was suicidal” (qtd. in Levy 41). After a week of binge drinking with the overtly gay Tony Valleton, Lowry panicked about what might have happened and took an overdose of pills, his suicidal reaction showing a striking similarity to that of the syphilophobic Benjamin Hall (the protagonist of Grieg’s novel The Ship Sails On ), with whom Lowry identified. Mendes recalled how Jan came to see him in a panic because she had discovered that Malcolm had been in hospital for over a week. She had found him in the Bellevue Hospital psychiatric ward completely shaken and got him out as quickly as possible (Gabrial 91). He emerged with “a notebook crammed with observations, snatches of overheard conversation, and comments on his own situation with Jan” (Bowker, Pursued 198).
In his 1952 letter to Giroux, who was then with Harcourt, Brace in New York, Lowry claimed that the first version of his Bellevue story “more or less, if tangentially, corresponded to experience.” In the letter, Lowry summarizes his tale of a journalist who has been invited by “a psychiatrist pal of his” to investigate the ghastly conditions in the alcoholic ward of the city hospital. Arriving there drunk and quarrelsome, however, he is promptly shoved into the observation ward “with an overflow of alcoholics, juvenile delinquents and other poor brutos. Here he lies incommunicado for a couple of days, suffering considerably himself, until his psychiatrist friend finds him” ( CL 2:500–01). According to Lowry’s biographer, Gordon Bowker, this first draft (which precedes the earliest typescript available) was entitled “Delirium on the East River” (Bowker, Pursued 198–99).
In creating the 1936 novella version that we know as The Last Address (UBC 15-1), Lowry worked in what had already become his fairly usual way: 2 he elaborated his notes on signs and sounds and the dialogue of the people he was representing, in this case mostly the inmates at Bellevue; he copied the text of a black “toast”—an African-American urban narrative about popular heroes, in this instance the black sailor “Shine” who survives the Titanic; and he interlarded the puppet scene with literal quotations from a scientific article on psychotherapy. Even a contemporary sensational newspaper headline about the “rattlesnake murderer” Robert S. James (who was sentenced to death on 24 July 1936) found its way into the story (see page 116 below).
When Lowry’s old mentor, Conrad Aiken, visited New York in August 1936, he had a look at Lowry’s story “about his visit to Bellevue Hospital for the Insane” and commented in a letter to his friend, the painter Edward Burra: “I read a few pages which were superb” (cited in Bowker, Pursued 201). Lowry took his own fancy for fact when he told Aiken that Whit Burnett had already accepted his text for the September 1936 issue of Story magazine. He later claimed that he had been paid for the story, but that the magazine had changed its editorial policy and no longer published novellas—though a letter to Burnett indicates that the $45 he received was meant as a loan ( CL 1:377). Lowry submitted a completed version of The Last Address to Burnett at some point before 8 September 1936, the day when he and Jan left New York City for Mexico, where it would be easier to live on Malcolm’s monthly allowance from his father, and where they hoped for a new start in what had so early on become a strained married life.
In Mexico, however, Lowry’s dream of that new start was drowned in obsessive drinking, leading to separation from his wife in 1937 and expulsion from the country in 1938—though Mexico, of course, also provided Lowry with the inspiration for his magnum opus, Under the Volcano , in which the themes of personal and marital disintegration, political and individual responsibility, artistic creation and spiritual quest are all vividly present. After the Mexican debacle Lowry spent what is for biographers a shadowy year in Los Angeles (from July 1938 to July 1939), where he continued to work on Under the Volcano— in between drinking and spending time in various institutions designed to help him come to grips with his abuse of alcohol (Bowker, Pursued 244–47). At one point he expressed a desire to enter The Last Address into a literary competition and, because the deadline was near, paid Carol Phillips, an aspiring young writer whom he had recently met in Los Angeles, to type a clear copy of his 1936 carbon (15-2). Her later claim that Lowry “plunged straight into revising a twenty-five thousand word draft of ‘The Last Address’” (qtd. in Bowker, Pursued 259) is poetic license: the new typescript was completed and mailed off within a week. Lowry may have changed a few words and sentences, but any real revisions were made later, on that same 1936 carbon typescript (15-2), in Vancouver in October 1939. No trace of Phillips’s typescript survives. The ribbon copy may not have been returned after the competition, and the urgent deadline could explain why no carbon was made.
In the summer of 1939 Benjamin Parks, the Los Angeles trustee of Lowry’s allowance, drove Lowry to Vancouver for a renewal of his visa and left him there in the care of A. B. Carey, a local businessman who, convinced that literary genius gained more from discipline than from drinking, kept him on a very stringent budget. In September Lowry made a vain attempt to enter the United States illegally, that incident making it impossible for him to get a visa any time soon. Lowry thus remained in Canada, but his talent as a letter writer, which had once wooed Jan Gabrial into marrying him, now convinced his new-found love, Margerie Bonner, to give up her job and friends in Los Angeles and join him in his very precarious situation in Vancouver.
Because Lowry feared imminent conscription into the British army, he tried to get at least some of his work accepted and asked Aiken to help him find a publisher ( CL 1:241). Margerie immediately started typing a new clear copy of the 1936 carbon typescript of The Last Address . Chapters I through VIII were quickly finished, since Lowry’s sparse handwritten revisions did not require an intermediate typescript. But when he reached chapter IX, with its emblematic storm scene, he began to rewrite whole passages in longhand to deepen its symbolic significance. Margerie first prepared an intermediate typescript of the revised chapter (15-3) and then, after additional revisions by Lowry, retyped it for the final 1939 copy (15-4).
In the 1936 version, the opening page of chapter IX echoes chapter II: an omniscient narrator looks down from the observation ward onto a park below the hospital. The realistic scene is illuminated with flashes of poetic imagery: “what are these yellow buds like rain or like little flowers”; “a bud that drops in the dust as the good riven trees yearn in the gloom lit now by the heliotrope of lightning”; “a sunblind that is bellying like the sail of the Lawhill making her easting”; “the leaves blow towards a man like an advancing army seen from above, from ten thousand feet” (15-1:56 and its carbon copy 15-2:chapter IX,1). In the new 1939 draft of this opening page, the setting is no longer described by an omniscient narrator, but seen through the eyes of the protagonist. What matters most is no longer the approaching storm but Lawhill’s awareness, his “feeling of storm.” The scene in the park below becomes emblematic of his own mind: “it was as though each object in it were part of his consciousness and he wondered if this were the last flaring up of the mind he had read about, the last flaring up before the darkness. The feeling of storm communicated itself to him” (15-3:1). The storm has now turned into a conflict between “two worlds of light and dark,” and the reactions of the people are seen in relation to “his stricken life.” In the 1936 version, Lawhill’s impressions change “with a maniac swing of mood”; the new draft is less explicit and suggests those mood changes symbolically: “The sun came out … the sun went again.”
In the 1936 version, “the revolt in the sky” is echoed by Horowitz’s revolutionary rallying call against the hospital, which he sees as an epitome of the capitalist world: “Wake up you brains!” In the 1939 draft Lawhill links the impending storm to the impending war: “It’s not merely the capitalist system, muttered Lawhill, but the whole world that’s fallen apart” (15-3:9). And the panic of the insane in the asylum—which in the 1936 version already coalesces with “the woeful mechanic calamity of the rocking city” (15-1:64)—now becomes emblematic of “the pandemonium … of all the wars all over the world” (15-4:78).
In the 1936 version, Lawhill recollects the romantic journey he and “a girl” once made on a sidewheeler to Melville’s Bedford, their love being stronger than the “roar of the sea and the darkness” outside:
How delighted they had been because they had a cabin on the top deck! It had been his first day in New York and it was summer and they had paced up and down the deck arm in arm. At night they had wandered round the strange lacquered ship like a vast London hotel with gilt stairways and from the muffled corridor they had seen far below the firemen, the trimmers of Dante …. Then there had been all that night, that now done night, with its softness and anguished beauty …. In the tenderness of the blue morning her small hand, lying asleep, and her hair warm like summer hay. (15-1:63)
In the 1939 draft, the female partner is no longer “a girl” but “his wife,” and the image of love can no longer stand up against the forces of destruction:
Yes, what had they not learnt about the world and each other in that cabin so high up in the ship? They had not learnt that with all the beauty of the evening, with all the softness of the night, all the tenderness of the blue morning, that every beat of the engine was taking them nearer to New Bedford, nearer to Melville, nearer to the white whale, nearer to their own destruction. (15-4:76)
Toward the end of the chapter, in the 1936 draft, Lawhill has the hallucinatory feeling that he is changing into a ship, the Lawhill , and that this vessel is attacked by an approaching seaplane, which in turn becomes “a somnambulistic whale … the disembodied shape of the very act of darkness itself” (15-1:71–72; the text also occurs in 15-4:84–85). The 1939 draft adds a deeper level to the protagonist’s self-consciousness: “He was changing into a ship. He felt a wound in his side, his plates buckling, the waters of memory pouring into him, the grey seas of the Western Ocean of the mind stacked swaying above him.” And when he feels attacked by the whale (now explicitly identified as Moby Dick) he becomes aware of “an even more terrible knowledge, that this was not the ultimate darkness, or darkness falling over his mind, but only his spiritual annihilation, from which his body would be delivered to complete, in its own time, the outward and physical event of death” (15-4:86).
In the 1939 draft, Lawhill also explicitly identifies with Horowitz as “the Wandering Jew”: “But all the while the old man was speaking, it seemed to be, in a mysterious way, of his, Lawhill’s, life: for whose was this story of opportunities lost, of hopes unfulfilled, of roaming on forever only to find one’s place on earth in a madhouse, and perhaps not even there since one was not mad, but his own?” (15-4:81–82). Further, in this new, more pessimistic draft of the storm chapter, the lunacy of the inmates becomes emblematic of a lunatic world from which not even the doctor is excluded: at the end of this rewritten chapter he is looking, together with the patients, through the window at the world outside their asylum. Noticing his car down below, he knows that it “would be ready to take him to the outer world,” but he also knows that even that outer world has to be situated “within the ravaged psyche of God.” That insight makes the doctor more sympathetic towards Garry, who has been crying during the storm: “Dr. Claggart placed one hand on his shoulder in a caressing fashion” (15-4:87). Even though Garry’s remark in the final line of the chapter remains the same—“It only looks like spring, that’s all”—the more pessimistic context stresses the fact that it is not spring.
The 1939 revisions in chapter X, the final chapter, also contribute to this more pessimistic mood. In the 1936 version, the length of the protagonist’s stay in the psychiatric ward remains vague. We can only infer from his surprise at seeing the date on a newspaper that he might very well have been there a long time: “Lawhill’s eyes touched the date line with a sort of horror—That long!” (15-1:17). In the new draft, which stresses Lawhill’s existential homelessness, he looks back, after leaving the hospital, “with a sort of longing at the building that had been his home for the last months” (15-4:88).
Small revisions in Lawhill’s actions also indicate that his final attitude has changed between the 1936 and 1939 drafts. In the 1936 version, he buys stamps from all over the world for Garry, a symbolic escape for the boy from his incarceration in the psychiatric ward and a stimulus for his storytelling and dreams. In the 1939 draft Lawhill does not send the stamps up to Garry; instead, “he pocketed them himself with a queer, eclipsed look” (15-4:88). In the church, which he briefly enters (as he does also in the earlier version), he now notices “the stations of the Cross”—a symbol of Christ’s vicarious suffering for humanity. The identification with Melville’s narrator becomes more explicit (“Call me Ishmael” [15-4:90]), and in the toilet of the tavern, he does not lean against the door because he is drunk but because he feels “a burden of anguish on his soul so heavy he could not move.” As in the previous version, he smashes his empty bottle against the wall, but in the new draft this gesture acquires deeper symbolic resonance: it is aimed at the vileness of the world, reflected in “an obscene sketch of a girl, with lips like lobes” (15-4:90).
Perhaps the most important change in the 1939 revised draft of this final chapter is found in the closing lines of the novella. As in the 1936 version, the protagonist moves into “the obscurest corner of the bar,” but now his identification with Bartleby and his fundamental homelessness is more complete and explicit: “he moved later, drink in hand, to the obscurest corner of the bar, where, curled up like an embryo in the womb, which had afforded him his only peace on earth, Sigbjørn Lawhill could not be seen at all” (15-4:91).
When this new version of The Last Address was completed and typed out, Lowry felt so relieved that, on his holograph revision of chapter IX, he wrote a mock dedication for the person who (in his eyes) had made his life so miserable during the past months:
The Last Address
by Malcolm Lowry
Dedicated to the eternal damnation of Archibald Carey of Vancouver, British Columbia, pseudo-demagogue and professional hypocrite, after his long unpleasant and painful illness, with love. (15-3:[1], verso)
This dedication and all the holograph revisions and most of the inserts are inscribed in the same green ink as Lowry used in a letter to Margerie’s mother on 19 October 1939, soon after Margerie’s arrival in Vancouver ( CL 1:239, note a), and in a letter to Conrad Aiken whom he begged for help in finding a publisher for his revised novella: “[I] am sending you by the beginning of the next week, the copy of a thing called ‘The Last Address,’ the original of which I am sending to Bernice [Baumgarten, Aiken’s literary agent]” ( CL 1:241). In May 1940 Aiken still had not been able to sell the novella; Lowry therefore contacted his friend Jimmy Stern, an Irish writer then living in New York, asking him if he knew of a magazine that might potentially publish the work. But the answer was negative: “No, The Last Address would be very difficult. Too long. Only hope is Harper’s Bazaar ” (UBC, Templeton Papers 1-1).
Life changed dramatically for Lowry at the end of August 1940, when Vancouver vacationers left their summer cottages in Dollarton and he and Margerie rented a cabin on the beach. What probably was planned as a short vacation (see letter from Parks, 23 August 1949 [UBC 1-55]) turned into a permanent move. In Dollarton they lived in relative comfort on Malcolm’s monthly allowance of twenty-five pounds, far from the alcoholic temptations of the city. Because the weather was exceptionally mild that year, they stayed there throughout the winter, and when a nearby fisherman’s shack went up for sale at a bargain price, they decided to buy it and make this tidewater cabin their permanent home. In this semi-wilderness, where he took a daily swim, went rowing and chopped wood for the fire stove, Malcolm became physically and psychologically healthier than he had been in years. He felt a man reborn, transforming Dollarton into his fictional Eridanus, his very own Paradise. In these providential circumstances of emotional stability in his relationship with Margerie and relative financial comfort, Lowry was able to take a long-term perspective on his writing and embark on a more radical revision of his works than he had done in the previous years.
Meanwhile, the version of Under the Volcano on which Malcolm and Margerie had been working hard in the spring of 1940 had failed to find a publisher. In March 1941 Harold Matson, their literary agent, informed them that the Under the Volcano manuscript had been refused by half a dozen publishers in New York. Lowry replied that he had already started on a completely new version anyway, and to show Matson what he was doing, he included his new draft of chapter VIII in the hope of getting it published as a short story (Doyen, “Fighting” 230–33; cf. Grace, CL 1:374, note 2).
Similarly, the 1939 version of his Bellevue novella brought only negative reactions, even though the rejections were often couched in encouraging language. Robert Linscott, an editor with Houghton Mifflin, wrote on 11 July 1941:
I like the greatly improved “Last Address” a lot. Let me qualify that. I like the things you say and how you say them, but somehow they don’t add up. Looking at it with an editorial eye, I’d say it was formless, meaningless, dreamlike, and unmotivated; that it lacked overtones or if it has them, they are imperceptible to this particular ear. At the same time, the writing and the minor characters are so good that one keeps on reading. To advise from the commercial point of view, I’d suggest more practice on the skeleton—the bones so necessary to sustain the flesh; the hard precise outline that gives structure and form. To my way of thinking, this is all you need to cross the chasm between typescript and the printed page. (UBC, Templeton Papers 1-1)
What may have triggered Lowry’s decision to start an entirely new version of The Last Address was a sharp comment from Edward Weeks, an editor with The Atlantic Monthly , which arrived in October:
The fact that I have been so steeped in the short novel this spring and summer probably accounts for my readiness … to dip at once into your novelette. I wish I could say otherwise, but the fact is that I have emerged from my reading with a sense of disappointment. Your story of the dipsomaniac is shot through with sensitive impressions—no one can dispute that—but I think one must acknowledge with equal fairness that a great deal of the writing is esoteric, and that while your stream of consciousness creates a mood, it also creates an atmosphere of obscurity …. In employing any method as experimental as yours, I think the author must ask himself, “Will the reader stay with me?” I seriously doubt if yours will. (Weeks, 22 October 1941, UBC 1-5)
In January 1942, Lowry asked Matson to return his typescript of The Last Address ( CL 1:386) and told him, in a statement that contains the nucleus of what Lowry later would refer to as his “Drunken Divine Comedy” or—more soberly— The Voyage That Never Ends ( CL 1:396), that he now saw this novella, together with Under the Volcano and In Ballast to the White Sea , as part of a trilogy: “These three things make, strangely enough, one book, complementary in theme, an inferno, a purgatorio, and a paradiso; an honest Baedeker, I believe, for he who would travel in hell” ( CL 1:387–88).
The mood of the 1939 version of The Last Address , as we have seen, had been darkly pessimistic. In Swinging the Maelstrom , the version that he undertook sometime between 1942 and 1944, Lowry completely rewrote the earlier text: certainly, the atmosphere is significantly different, even though, as we discover upon a comparative reading, most of the sentences and paragraphs have been recycled. Bill Plantagenet, a piano player who considers himself a failed artist, a failed husband and a failed human being, does not blame the outer world for his problems (as his avatar Lawhill did). He finds the reason for his inability to cope with life in the chaos of his own soul, and he tries to escape from it by drowning his guilt in alcohol. The switch in narrative perspective to the protagonist’s subjective point of view also helps to enact the different mood in this version of the novella. The dramatization of Bill’s consciousness enables the reader to follow the protagonist’s meandering shifts between hope and despair and to sympathize more readily with his thoughts and actions. Lowry had already used this technique of limited point of view in the 1939 revision of chapter IX; and he further developed it in the new 1942 draft of Under the Volcano , where he restricted each chapter to the point of view of one single character, and introduced the motif of remorse when developing the character of Hugh, another failed musician (see also Asals 438, note 21). There is an intriguing parallel with Bill’s guilt feelings in the new version of Lowry’s Bellevue story. Another crucial change is the different relationship between patient and doctor. In the earlier version, Dr. Claggart was presented as a cynical antagonist to Lawhill’s social protest. Philip, the psychiatrist of the new version, is also Bill’s sympathetic cousin, genuinely interested in helping him.
The following brief chapter-by-chapter plot summary of Swinging the Maelstrom points out the most important changes from the 1936 and 1939 versions of The Last Address .
CHAPTER I (corresponding to chapter I of The Last Address )
After playing the piano all night, and drinking all day, Bill Plantagenet enters the hospital. He does so by his own free will (in contrast to Lawhill, who is “taken in”) and with a wry sense of humour: “He was home; moreover he was going to get a lot of fun out of what he proposed to do” (15-8:3).
CHAPTER II (corresponding to parts of chapters II and III of The Last Address )
While suffering from delirium during his first night in the hospital, Bill is comforted by the doctor, his cousin Philip, who knows Bill’s family situation: “‘You didn’t leave Ruth because your hands couldn’t stretch an octave,’ said Philip” (15-8:9). “‘Perhaps it was your heart you couldn’t make stretch an octave,’ he said, looking down at Bill” (15-8:10). Philip advises him to stay for a while:
“Well, you might try it here for a few days, old man—it’s an interesting place, the old observation ward. You might get a few hot licks out of it.” He patted him on the shoulder as he moved away. “It wouldn’t do you any harm.” (15-8:10)
CHAPTER III (corresponding roughly to chapter III of The Last Address )
In the morning Bill finally realizes that he is in a hospital (“Then everything began to fall into place” [15-8:11]). He meets two of the inmates: Garry, a young boy who loves telling stories, and Mr. Kalowsky, an old man who refers to himself as “the wandering Jew” (15-8:13). In the background, Battle, a black inmate, sings a poolroom song (as he does in the previous version).
For the next three or four days Bill is only half conscious while suffering from a sequence of deliriums. When he looks through the barred window onto the East River, the scenery is a projection of his own suicidal feelings: “Staring out at the river his agony was like a great lidless eye” (15-8:16). (In the previous version this scenery appears in chapter II as an objective description by an omniscient narrator.) Bill knows that the patients see the ships as symbols of deliverance, and that Garry and Kalowsky see him as their deliverer. Bill also knows that, in contrast to the other inmates, he is free to leave when he wants, but realizes that he will be unable to move away from the dark side of himself: “It was the shadow of the city of dreadful night without splendour that fell on his soul” (15-8:19).
CHAPTER V combines paragraphs from chapters IV and V of The Last Address with the Puppet Show (chapter VI in The Last Address ).
In the earlier version, scenes from the puppet show alternate with direct quotations from an essay on the use of puppet shows in psychotherapy. In the new version those quotations are cut and the stress is now on Bill’s consciousness: his reaction to the show, to comments made by other patients and to the stories told by Garry and Mr. Kalowsky (some of which are transplanted from other chapters). For Bill the hand of the blind giant in the puppet show becomes a threatening symbol of blind fate and he asks himself a fundamental question: What is he doing here, what can he expect from the doctor and the other inmates?
My God, he thought suddenly, why am I here, in this doleful place? Yet—perhaps it wasn’t a maelstrom but the foul core of his world to which he had descended, where the pitiful meaning of the arrogant years was revealed. By what miracle did it come about that compassion and love were here too? Yes, and on Philip’s side, the healing wisdom and vision? Then he saw that Philip appeared less disgruntled than completely worn out.
With this realization, Bill’s mind wandered. He began, as often before, to imagine himself abandoned. Philip, his last hope, on his final frontier, would have no time for him or his friends anyway. He saw the plunging hand only as his fate … which was seeking him out. (15-8:31)
In the previous version Garry’s stories illustrate the writing theme and support Lawhill’s claim that Garry was a misunderstood genius. Because the protagonist of the new version is no longer a writer but a musician, Lowry cuts big parts of Garry’s stories in chapters IV and V. He also transplants some conversations of the inmates to places elsewhere in the novella, so that the story now has nine chapters (instead of ten).
CHAPTER VI (corresponding to chapter VII in The Last Address )
In the 1936/39 version Battle’s song about the Titanic forms a musical background and thematic counterpart to Garry’s story about a whale and an iceberg. The new version of this chapter grows into a musical contest between Bill, the frustrated English piano player, and Mr. Quattras, the big inmate who has more success with his traditional African-American song about the Titanic and the black stoker, Shine. When Garry tries to interrupt this musical contest with his own story of an iceberg, the chapter turns into a marvelous cacophony. When an inmate “with hands that appeared twice as large as his own” pushes him away and starts banging the piano, Bill feels defeated. He is “holding his small trembling hands out before him.” What the nurse tells about the autopsy somehow seems to apply to him: “They just took his heart out and flopped it back” (15-8:40).
CHAPTER VII (corresponding to chapter VIII in The Last Address )
In the earlier version Lawhill turns his meeting with the doctor into confrontation rather than therapy, using the opportunity to vent his complaints about all the shortcomings in the hospital, which for him are symptomatic of the social injustice in the world at large. The entire chapter consists of an exchange in which Lawhill and the doctor function more as mouthpieces for opposite ideologies than as real, speaking human beings. In revising this chapter Lowry took Aiken’s objection to heart and made drastic cuts. In the new version the meeting between Bill and the doctor is not meant as a therapeutic session but rather as a demonstration of familial support. As a public burden in a state hospital, Bill risks deportation from the country, and Philip therefore warns his cousin to leave the hospital as quickly as possible: “The immigration’s on your tail” (15-8:41). He also explains to Bill why Garry and Mr. Kalowsky are in the psychiatric ward. As a result, Bill no longer insists on setting them free, even though he knows that “leaving Garry behind will seem almost like leaving a part of myself behind” (15-8:44). Philip assures him: “Why, you haven’t a damn thing to worry you.” But Bill is still afraid of confronting the “horrors” of the outside world: “It’s all there waiting for me just the same. The ghosts on the window blind, and the whispering of lost opportunities …. And all the fury, the anguish, the remorse!” (15-8:48).
CHAPTER VIII (corresponding to chapter IX in The Last Address )
In the earlier version Lawhill sees the chaos and madness in the psychiatric ward as a reflection of a similar desperation in the world. In the new version the roles seem reversed: the storm over the city is for Bill emblematic of the turmoil in his own mind and soul. Things that are beautiful one moment are shattered the next by Bill’s painful self-awareness. In the 1939 version, the children’s fountain in the park is for Lawhill a sign of hope:
The scene below was so extraordinarily clear it was as though each object in it were part of his consciousness and he wondered if this were the last flaring up of the mind he had read about, the last flaring up before the darkness. The feeling of storm communicated itself to him too, and he drew long, deep breaths, reflecting that perhaps the relief rain brought to the drought was the same sort of thing madness brought to the mind. For the first time since he had been in the hospital, when he noticed the rainbow in the children’s fountain, with its outspread peacock’s fan of water, whose coolness could almost be felt, something like a hope flickered in him …. (15-4:67)
Observing this fountain in the new version, Bill is also struck by the hopefulness of its beauty, only to quickly become aware of the artificiality and falseness of this hope:
Then he laughed: of course it was the fountain, not the rain, that made the rainbow: his hope was only a false hope, an artificial one. By the time the rain really came, bringing relief to the drought, the sun would be set, just as it might happen that by the time madness came to a man, the mind would not know it was a relief. (15-8:52)
Whereas in the previous version the protagonist is happy to tell the old man that he is to be moved to a sanitarium, in the new version Bill hesitates to convey this message:
What was the value of the truth to Mr. Kalowsky now anyway, he asked himself. For between the sanitarium of their imagining and the sanitarium of reality, was an inexplicable cleavage: and perhaps all they had ever hoped for all along, just as he’d thought, was the sanitarium of death. (15-8:58)
CHAPTER IX (corresponding to chapter X in The Last Address )
Even though the revisions in the final chapter seem minor, they suggest a change of attitude on the part of the protagonist at the end of the novella. After a number of drinks,
he … was having a hell of a good time. He began to think he saw some of his mistakes clearly. He had them all figured out. He even imagined himself expunging them by some heroic sacrifice, that would not only justify him to Garry and Mr. Kalowsky, but would, in a fantastic sense, free them. Free them? It would free everyone—all the patients, all the parents, all the Ruths, it would free mankind; Ah—he would strike his blow for the right.
Ennobled, he went to the washroom where he finished his bottle. (15-8:68)
The tone of this passage is strikingly reminiscent of Hugh’s self-irony and cynicism in the contemporaneous holograph revision of chapter VIII of Under the Volcano (30-10) after he fails to help the wounded Indian: compare UTV 249, “While for him, the hero of the Soviet Republic and the True Church, what of him, old camarado, had he been found wanting? Not a bit of it.” On the other hand, we know that Hugh, after the death of Yvonne and the Consul, tries to overcome his remorse and expiate his guilt by a heroic gesture: he decides to join the Mar Cantábrico , “the ship providentially awaiting him at Vera Cruz” (30-10:14). At the end of the novella Bill hurls his empty bottle at an obscene sketch, just like Lawhill does, but after this symbolic gesture of impotent rage he does not withdraw into “the obscurest corner of the bar, where, curled up like an embryo in the womb which had afforded him his only peace on earth, [he] could not be seen at all” (15-4:91). Instead, when Bill, in the washroom, hears a ship’s siren and is told that it belongs to the Mar Cantábrico , he dreams of returning to the cleansing fires of a ship: “For a moment the flames of the stokehold, the womb of the ship, blazed on his soul” (15-8:70). At that very moment he is literally washing the blood from his hands as a result of cutting himself on the glass. The new version of the novella ends thus: “[A]s he began to wash the blood from his hands, he had the peculiar feeling that it was his ship, which would take him on his night journey across the sea” (15-8:70).
As Chris Ackerley correctly points out below in his Explanatory Notes to this edition, Bill Plantagenet’s chances of survival are as dubious as those of Hugh (note 42:14). Indeed, the Mar Cantábrico was to be captured by Fascists and the volunteers were to be executed—as Lowry well knew (cf. his letter to Giroux, CL 2:504). But such factual details did not, at least in Lowry’s eyes, make this ritual of self-sacrifice and proof of manhood less heroic as a form of expiation. In his 455-page filmscript adaptation of Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night Lowry does not allow Dick Diver to fade away in retirement in Geneva, New York, behind “a big stack of papers” for an unfinished medical treatise as he does in the original novel. Instead, Dick dies an ostentatiously heroic death after helping people into the lifeboats of his sinking ship. After this self-sacrifice, the script ends in a symbolic resolution “of our human hope” with “the stars blazing” and the music striding forth “in triumphant harmony” ( Cinema 239–42). Whether Lowry’s new, potentially hopeful ending for his novella makes this later version more successful as a literary text is certainly debatable (cf. Ackerley’s note 42:24 below); but what is perhaps equally compelling is that, like his rewriting of the Consul through the figure of Dick Diver in the filmscript of Tender Is the Night , it surely stands as further evidence of Lowry’s ongoing, and ultimately futile, attempt to redeem himself through a kind of textual embodiment in his characters.
There is no way of pinpointing the precise date between 1942 and 1944 when The Last Address metamorphosed into the version that Lowry would later (in December 1951) refer to as Swinging the Maelstrom . It is clear, however, that the evolution of the novella shows strong resemblance to the thematic and stylistic changes in the drafts of Under the Volcano of the same period. Indeed, material evidence, such as the use of aniline pencil (e.g., TS 15-4, 1 and 15) and wide typing margins (cf. Asals 413), points to the parallel development of the two works. Lowry started his revisions for this 1942–44 draft of the novella in a manner typical of his working methods. On the carbon copy of the previous version (15-4) he made pencil revisions of words and sentences, inserted marginal notes and changed the names of most of the main characters. He was looking also to cut much of what he now considered extraneous material. At the beginning of chapter IV he writes: “Begin [chapter] 5.” And on the opening page of chapter V: “Telescope IV, V, & VI, with the puppet show, get Horowitz better, from last chapter” (see Illustration 4, page xiv). Lowry’s plan was clearly to make the new version more compact, and the margins of the last chapter, especially the final page, are crammed with short annotations, the brief note “The stars again,” for example, indicating that in the Swinging the Maelstrom version he planned to make use of Margerie’s knowledge of astronomy, just as he did in the Under the Volcano revisions.
DOLLARTON 1947–1954:
In contrast to the materials for Under the Volcano , none of the intermediate holographs and typescripts of what would come to be called Swinging the Maelstrom have been preserved. It is possible that they did not survive the fire of June 1944 that destroyed the Lowrys’ beachside home and the manuscripts of In Ballast to the White Sea . The clear copy of this new version of the novella still uses the old title ( The Last Address ), but in his famous January 1946 letter to Jonathan Cape in defence of Under the Volcano , Lowry already referred to his “rechristened” novella as Lunar Caustic ( CL 1:503). It was this completed typescript—included in the present volume under the title Swinging the Maelstrom —that Lowry submitted to his editor Albert Erskine after the publication of Under the Volcano in 1947, and that he also took with him on his fourteen-month journey to France in the late fall of 1947 in the hope of having it published there in translation. Erskine had mixed feelings about the novella. He found it “too patently charged with symbolic (even allegorical) functions, so that you see the underneath before the surface. In the Volcano it was the other way round …. Actually there aren’t many of such things, and mostly I have great admiration for the story” (26 April 1947, UBC 1-20). When Lowry contacted Earle Birney about publishing possibilities in Canada for his “Bellevue Hospital Story,” Birney told him to try American magazines because they paid more. In a subsequent letter, and in mind of the critical success of Under the Volcano , Birney warned him playfully, “Wait till the doctoral theses begin, if they haven’t already: ‘Lowry: the Dollarton Period’, or ‘Meat & Drink in Lowry’” (18 September and 24 October 1947, UBC 1-8).
But the literary success of Under the Volcano brought also unwelcome attention to the Lowrys’ idyllic home in Dollarton. Under the five-column headline “Wealthy Squatters Find Rent-Free Beach Haven” and a spread of five photographs, the Vancouver Sun of 1 August 1947 told the law-abiding (and tax-paying) citizens of Vancouver: “A successful novelist who could write a cheque for thousands is ‘king’ of the beach squatters of Royal Row at Dollarton, 10 miles East of Vancouver.” The Sun also reported that the Lowrys were planning to leave because “there were too many neighbours now, too many people,” the article reviving a two-year-old campaign to “clean up” the beach and turn the place into a city park. A trip that Malcolm and Margerie made on an October ferry to Gabriola did not help to find them a new home, though it would provide the inspiration for a crucial part of Lowry’s The Voyage That Never Ends (see Grace 16–19; see also Doyen, “From Innocent” 166–67).
The Lowrys returned to Dollarton from France—on a trip that included also two months in Italy—in January 1949. In Europe, Lowry had filled his copybooks with notes and ideas for a collection of short stories, which he planned to write in between larger projects such as Dark as the Grave Wherein My Friend Is Laid and La Mordida , both inspired by Lowry’s largely disastrous trip from Dollarton back to Mexico during the winter and spring of 1945–46. The work was interrupted by a series of illnesses and also by a fall from his pier that plunged him straight into “The Ordeal of Sigbjørn Wilderness,” a two-part saga about an embattled author figure much like Lowry himself that was intended to open and close The Voyage That Never Ends . But what put a far more serious halt to his own plans was that he and Margerie became “possessed by Tender Is the Night .” From July 1949 to April 1950 they worked practically non-stop on a 455-page filmscript of Fitzgerald’s novel , to which they added a separate 93-page typescript with additional notes and suggestions. For Lowry it was a unique opportunity to be at the same time creative artist and essayist; he could combine text and commentary, cinematic suggestions and his justifications for using them. In the filmscript he did what he had also tried to do in Dark as the Grave , namely, analyze his own imagination. He liberally inserted ideas and passages from “Through the Panama” and from other work. As the editors of the published version of the filmscript, Miguel Mota and Paul Tiessen, point out, the long New York sequence of the script, for example, is in fact a cinematic recreation of passages from Lunar Caustic ( Cinema 36). But this gigantic project was entirely the Lowrys’ own initiative, without any guarantee of acceptance or payment. During the months and years that followed, Lowry failed to fully understand why his “Homeric” transformation of Fitzgerald’s novel was not appreciated by Hollywood.
Meanwhile, the Lowrys had run out of cash. That summer, at the very moment when Au-dessous du volcan was published to lavish critical acclaim in France, its author had to write the first of a series of embarrassing “begging letters.” On 17 July 1950, Lowry finally informed his agent, Harold Matson, of “the Great Secret” he and Margerie had worked on for the past year and with tongue only partly in cheek offered the filmscript of Tender Is the Night as a collateral “of diamond studded platinum” for the loan or advance he was asking from him ( CL 2:266). Given his financial problems, Lowry decided to postpone the larger projects and concentrate first on a collection of short stories, which he thought could be completed faster. With a loan from Erskine he and Margerie survived the winter of 1950–51 in their freezing shack in Dollarton, while local newspaper headlines spoke of the “Lowest March Temperatures in Vancouver’s History” ( Vancouver Sun , 6 March 1951). The new spring, though, felt like a rebirth and gave Lowry the inspiration for his finest Canadian story, “The Forest Path to the Spring.” He wrote to Erskine that it “had some of the best things I’ve ever done in it … Reading Dante the other day I came to the conclusion that the celestial scenery of pine trees and mountains inlet and sea here must be extremely like that in Ravenna where he died and wrote and got the inspiration for the last part of the Paradiso” ( CL 2:395).
By the fall of 1951 he had completed a number of stories and sent them to Matson together with his plans for the volume Hear Us O Lord from Heaven Thy Dwelling Place (12-12:1–29). In a separate 35-page document entitled “Work in Progress” (UBC 32-1), Lowry also outlined his further plans for The Voyage That Never Ends , which he now saw as “a projected sequence of six novels, perhaps seven, each of which can be published separately” (“Work in Progress” 73). Lowry hoped that this detailed proposal would enable Erskine to get him a long-term contract with Random House, but Matson was legally bound to send Lowry’s material first to Robert Giroux at Harcourt, Brace, the company that had acquired first-option rights on Lowry’s work after their take-over of Reynal and Hitchcock, the publishers of Under the Volcano. Happily for Lowry, on 11 December Giroux sent back an enthusiastic response to Matson: he was “very much impressed” by the stories and by Lowry’s outline for the “Work in Progress,” adding that “‘The Voyage That Never Ends’ promises what might be the most important literary project of the decade … naturally, we should like to work out a publishing and financial program for the whole body of Mr. Lowry’s work” ( SL 445).
In his “Work in Progress” Lowry had given a lengthy description of his future plans for a novel version of Lunar Caustic , and mentioned that “a first draft” had been completed (“Work in Progress” 75). What he had in mind was the 1942–44 version. When Giroux expressed his hope “of our seeing this draft in the near future,” Matson asked Lowry: “Is the first draft of ‘Lunar Caustic’ available” ( SL 446, emphasis added). Lowry therefore assumed that his new editor wanted to see The Last Address as well as the later version.
With an advance from Giroux the Lowrys were able to move into an apartment in Vancouver and to continue the work they had started in Dollarton, namely, the preparation of new typescripts of both versions of Lowry’s novella. For the 1939 version (15-5) Lowry kept the old title The Last Address . Because he wanted to distinguish the 1942–44 version from his future plans for Lunar Caustic he gave it a new title: Swinging the Maelstrom . This title was inspired by “Forest Path,” in which it occurs as the title of one of the protagonist’s jazz arrangements. In its combination of Trumbauer’s “Swingin’ the Blues” and Poe’s “Descent into the Maelstrom,” it fits the combination of humour and horror of the later version of Lowry’s Bellevue story. About Swinging the Maelstrom , he told Matson: “This as it stands is same one you have read years ago … and not the final work I intend, which would be a hundred pages longer, a novel rather than a novelette, and take some six months more work” ( CL 2:482).
While Margerie typed the new copy (15-5) of the 1939 draft of The Last Address , Malcolm made a few minor revisions to the old typescript (15-4). He changed, for example, the steady sound of the engines, “te-thrum te-thrum,” into “ Frère Jacques Frère Jacques ” (15-4:7), the new onomatopoeia he had been using in his story “Through the Panama” and in the filmscript of Tender Is the Night . Further, where the original text had Lawhill’s “mother” whipping him with bramble sticks, Lowry no longer found this appropriate, after the death of his own mother, and changed “mother” to “nurse.”
When he reached chapter VIII of The Last Address and reread the rather long and tedious discussion between the protagonist and the doctor (which he had drastically cut in Swinging the Maelstrom ), Lowry became embarrassed at Lawhill’s self-pitying defence of his drinking, his whining complaints about the hospital and his harsh comments on “American women.” In the margin he points out these passages and instructs Margerie: “Don’t type. See pencil script.” In the holograph inserts, he comments very critically on these cancelled passages, and then proceeds to paraphrase them anyway, ensuring that beautiful lines and striking images remain. In an insert for page 36, he notes (alluding to an ongoing maritime disaster) that at this point “our Flying Enterprise develops a serious crack in the hull, and consequently lists to starboard ….” Lowry repeats here what some critics had said about the work: that Lawhill is “in fact totally absent as a character” (insert 36A). “Moreover,” he adds, “the social reformer motif turns up so that is obvious that I was unclear in my mind about making him a journalist at all. The result is ham, a kind of deliberate lunacy” (insert 36B, Lowry’s emphasis).
In TS 15-4:52, Lawhill’s comments on American women and doctors are remarkably bitter: “I don’t like their lousy heart-balms and alimony and Christ knows what and their heart-breaking beauty and their stridency and cheapness and their general lousiness …. You medical fellows using the eyeballs as ashtrays and doing exquisite violence to corpses. But giraffes, now, there’s something again. You have to swarm up her neck to kiss her. There’s occupational therapy!” In the holograph revision (insert “52 passim”), Lowry paraphrases: “Lawhill, presumably unhappy in his love-life, admits a prejudice. In the next passage he accuses the doctor of callousness because he uses the eyeballs of human beings as ashtrays. Then he suggests that it is his intention to give up not only drinking, but the world altogether.” And Lowry concludes the insert with the comment “[I]t is so affectively written it is not worth transcribing.” At the end of the long chapter VIII, Lawhill challenges the doctor to a symbolic arm wrestling (62–66). In his inserted annotations, Lowry reduces these pages to a very short summary, qualifying the challenge as “absurd” and ending with the comment: “& on this totally unconvincing note the chapter closes, or rather ‘partly falls apart, & partly falls to pieces’” (insert “63 continued”).
At the end of the story, perhaps to counter the pervading pessimism of the narrative, Lowry adds an altruistic element to Lawhill’s behaviour—which he also uses in the new typescript of Swinging the Maelstrom (15-8:63)—and he elaborates on the significance of the protagonist’s action when he hurls his bottle against an obscene drawing.
Lowry tinkered with the 1942–44 version of the novella as well. In TS 15-7:60, the original typescript of Swinging the Maelstrom , Bill does not deliver the stamps he bought for Garry: “He had thought of sending these up to Garry but instead he pocketed them himself guiltily.” In the revised text (TS 15-8:63), the protagonist “conquered his fear and retraced his steps” to have “oranges and stamps sent up to the observation ward.” In a second insert, Bill keeps his promise to make a telephone call to the brother of an inmate (called Firmin, like the Consul and Hugh in Under the Volcano ). Finally, in the third insert to TS 15-7, Bill’s smashing of the bottle against an obscene drawing becomes an act of rage against “all the indecency, the cruelty, the hideousness, the filth and injustice in the world” (15-8:68).
In his long and remarkable letter of 17 January 1952 to Robert Giroux ( CL 2:498–506), Lowry reveals something of his worries about Giroux’s possible reaction to the older version, The Last Address , and elaborates on the status of the two typescripts he is sending:
The reason I’ve copied out the earlier version in toto as well is because, looking at it, I perceived that it contained some material that should go into any final version and for that matter probably should not have been cut out of Swinging the Maelstrom, the more artifact version. This latter then is the one you’re supposed to read, and not The Last Address, though you can cast an eye at The Last Address version if it interests you but please don’t read it first, for it is a chaos and contains much of which I am ashamed in some ways.
Lowry, ever willing to experiment with literary forms, then comes up with “a very strange idea, possibly impractical”:
Last Address plus Swinging the Maelstrom plus Lunar Caustic might one day make an extremely interesting trilogy in itself; the material of the Address being so modified, reversed, counterpointed etc by Maelstrom that reading the second after the first gave one—gave me—the effect of a strange kind of music … the music of a work of art, however flawed and lousy, trying to integrate itself. In Lunar Caustic—the third one—you’d have the integration, the resolution. ( CL 2:499)
The Lunar Caustic to which Lowry refers in this letter to Giroux is, of course, not the posthumous edition compiled, edited and published by Margerie Lowry and Earle Birney, but rather the longer “novel” version that Lowry envisioned would grow from his previous efforts but that he never began, much less completed. “He planned to use material from ‘In Ballast to the White Sea’ to make his hero (now called Thurstaston) suffer not only from delirium tremens but also from disease, the death of an only son, and betrayal by his wife. It would be, as Lowry noted, ‘a novel of almost total blackness’” (Grace in CL 2:533).
Given the demands of the marketplace, perhaps Lowry should have recalled that earlier warning from Edward Weeks: “In employing any method as experimental as yours, I think the author must ask himself, ‘Will the reader stay with me?’ I seriously doubt if yours will.” Sadly, Lowry’s extravagant plans for the final version of Lunar Caustic , not only in his desperate attempts to reach out to Giroux in the course of this letter but also in his “Work in Progress” statement, made the editorial board of Harcourt, Brace decide to release their option on Lowry’s novel. Although Giroux assured him that their decision was commercial—prompted by “financial considerations, rather than literary ones”—Lowry was, as is evident in his letter to Giroux of 24 March 1952 ( CL 2:541–50), deeply hurt and profoundly wounded by the rejection (cf. SL 450).
He was saved from a desperate financial situation by Erskine, who managed to arrange a long-term contract for him with Random House on the basis of the material available and the plans described in the outline of The Voyage . Lowry had already assured him, “[A]s for the ghastly final idea for ‘Lunar Caustic,’ perhaps the less said the better at the moment” ( CL 2:527). Lowry felt comforted by Erskine’s earlier comment about the Swinging the Maelstrom version—that “it was publishable as it stood” ( CL 2:527).
Even though in his letters Lowry kept repeating his plans to revise the novella as part of his Random House contract, manuscript evidence tells us that such plans never actually materialized. He was too busy fighting his own demons in October Ferry to Gabriola . The work that had once started as an innocent short story had turned into Charon’s Boat and now was left to flounder in the real maelstrom of Lowry’s personal voyage.
In 1956 the French translation of the 1942–44 version of Swinging the Maelstrom was published as “Le caustique lunaire” in three consecutive issues (February, March and April) of the illustrious French literary magazine Esprit. This revived the enormous success of the 1950 translation of Under the Volcano in French literary circles. In his “Postface” to the novel the critic Max-Paul Fouchet had placed Lowry’s great novel in the category of Ulysses and The Sound and the Fury ; Bertrand d’Astorg spoke of “mystical alcoholism” (d’Astorg 702–07) and Pierre Humbourg compared Lowry to Baudelaire ( Le Rouge et le Noir , 22 August 1950). Lowry’s sudden death on June 27, 1957 strengthened his image in France as a “ poète maudit ,” for whom alcoholism was not a vice but the road to a higher level of consciousness. Au-dessous du volcan was republished in 1960, and that same year a special issue of Les lettres nouvelles (July–August) was devoted entirely to Lowry. In Canada, where the University of British Columbia was making ambitious efforts to acquire Lowry’s literary manuscripts, George Woodcock devoted the Spring 1961 issue of Canadian Literature to Lowry; at the same time, Earle Birney placed a number of Lowry’s poems in various literary periodicals (1961) and then published them in book form ( Selected Poems , 1962) while simultaneously producing a “Malcolm Lowry Bibliography” over several issues (from 1961 to 1964) of Canadian Literature .
While Lowry had been unable to complete and sell one single work during the last ten years of his life, the French published a translation of Hear Us O Lord from Heaven Thy Dwelling Place (1962) and were begging for more. Margerie was more than willing to comply, and created the myth that Lowry, in a burst of creative energy during his last two years in England, had revised and completed—or almost completed—most of his works. The painful truth, too difficult perhaps for Margerie to confront, was that Malcolm had been in and out of hospital for detoxification treatments, unable to do any creative work besides writing beautiful letters (mainly about Dollarton) and desperate, often poignant, notes about the horrors of alcoholism—which he still hoped would somehow fit into October Ferry to Gabriola (see Doyen, “From Innocence” 194–95, 201).
Margerie Lowry continued to do what she had been doing for the past twenty years, typing Lowry’s work, this time however without his supervision and final judgment—and in some cases without a clear recollection of the chronological order and interrelation of the various drafts. For the novella that would be published as Lunar Caustic she went back to the 1952 copies, using 15-5 ( The Last Address ) for the first two chapters, and a mixture of 15-5 and 15-8 ( Swinging the Maelstrom ) for the rest of the novella. Her efforts resulted in the intermediate drafts 15-13 and 15-9 (see Doyen, “Fighting” 265–66, and the Manuscript Record page 191 below).
Margerie presented a clear copy of this amalgamation to Earle Birney, who had recently been collaborating with her on the poems, as Malcolm’s final version of Lunar Caustic . As noted above, Birney must have had his doubts when he noticed that in this ‘authorized’ typescript of the novella, the protagonist appeared under two different names (a consequence of using passages from different versions). He corrected such inconsistencies and in marginal notes also pointed out passages from Swinging the Maelstrom that might be (re)inserted into the final text. (See the Textual Notes for Swinging the Maelstrom below for details.)
Thus was produced the posthumous edition of Lunar Caustic that first appeared in the Paris Review 29 (Spring 1963) and that was later published in book form in 1968 in London (Jonathan Cape) and New York (Grossman) and reprinted in the collection Malcolm Lowry: Psalms and Songs (1975). In his Foreword, as noted earlier in this Introduction, Conrad Knickerbocker fully relied on Margerie’s revised version of Lowry’s life: “In England during his last years, Lowry had decided to do another draft, this time as a novella, to get the feel of it before undertaking it as a novel. At the time of his death he had reassembled and mixed the two drafts in the working method he always used” (6). Yet the additional, final note that follows, perhaps made at Birney’s insistence, complicates the matter by describing the published version as “a job of splicing, in an approximation of Lowry’s method and intent.” Margerie added: “Malcolm, of course, would then have rewritten, but who could do it as he would have?”
And indeed, who could? The circumstances of his life in Dollarton in the early 1940s had provided Lowry with the ideal physical and psychological environment to distance himself (if only temporarily) from his own inner demons and produce not only his masterpiece, Under the Volcano , but also, during the same period, what Lowry himself considered a completed version of his New York City novella. We present here the 1942–44 text of Swinging the Maelstrom as a fully realized work that stands chronologically between the two texts for which Lowry for years was known: his novel from his undergraduate years at Cambridge University, Ultramarine (1933), and, of course, his masterpiece completed in Canada, Under the Volcano (1947). Further, Swinging the Maelstrom , with its roots in the 1936 story The Last Address , may be seen in relation to Lowry’s mid-1930s novel, In Ballast to the White Sea , long thought lost but now recovered and forthcoming in published form, as well as to the 1940 version of Under the Volcano . Swinging the Maelstrom is an “experimental” work—one that Lowry saw in terms of expressionist theatre and American jazz ( CL 2:504–05)—that belongs to Lowry’s little known but astonishingly productive period of the 1930s and 1940s. It possesses, as Lowry insisted in 1952, “integrity in itself the way it stands, as a work of art” ( CL 2:500).
1. For purposes of clarity and consistency, we refer to this version as Swinging the Maelstrom , even though, strictly speaking, that is a title that Lowry ascribed to this text only later, in December 1951, as discussed on page xxxvi.
2. For an excellent general introduction to Lowry’s way of revising and rewriting, see Frederick Asals’s commentary on the MSS of Under the Volcano (Asals 11–16).

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