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LOWRY, Malcolm.

His manuscript corrections to the typescript of an unpublished biographical study

by W. G. Simpson, together with a typed letter signed by Conrad Aiken to Simpson, discussing Lowry's life and work.

[Paris?, &] Brewster, MA: typescript: no place, no date, but 1948; Aiken's letter dated 12 December 1960 Stock Code: 132133
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The author wishes he had been left in the darkness to flounder and fail

A remarkable self-commentary by Malcolm Lowry (1909-1957), the author of one of the great novels of the century, annotating an intended biographical study of him, together with a signed letter from his important literary influence and friend. Aiken's letter is apparently written in response to a request from the would-be biographer for information about Lowry. The author of the biographical essay is W. G. Simpson, presumably the same W. G. Simpson who contributed a letter to the Times Literary Supplement, 12 April 1963, p. 249, on the influence of Nordahl Grieg's on Lowry's writing. We have not traced any other published work attributable to the same writer.

Simpson's fragment of a biographical essay apparently dates from 1948, the year following the publication of Under the Volcano. It speaks in the present tense of Lowry having been living for some months in Paris in the apartment of his translator Clarisse Francillon (though Lowry has crossed this name out, probably to indicate that it was not her apartment in which he stayed). Simpson met him there in Paris, before Lowry's return to his fisherman's shack at Dollarton in Canada, and they evidently continued to correspond. This is the European trip alluded to by Lowry in the posthumously published short story cycle Hear Us O Lord from Heaven thy Dwelling Place (1961).

Simpson's partial typescript comprises about 1,300 words, and Lowry's comments add up to just under 300 words. The comments Lowry has added are remarkable in their candour. In one section, where Simpson discusses the success of Under the Volcano, Lowry comments: "And re his success, you can say that the author considered it extremely bad for him, & wishes that he had been left in the darkness to flounder and fail..." In a section that refers to him as having been a fisherman, Lowry footnotes this. "If I said I was a fisherman (save in a symbolic sense perhaps) I am a bloody liar: I live among fishermen but my sole (sic) affinity with fish would seem to be that I have (a) a certain reputation for swimming like one, (b) drinking like one."

The two novels with the largest claims as influences on Lowry's first novel, Ultramarine (1933), are Conrad Aiken's Blue Voyage (1927) and Nordahl Grieg's The Ship Sails On (1924; English ed., 1927). In 1929 Lowry was tutored for three months by Aiken in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and in 1931 he visited Grieg in Oslo. Simpson was obviously aware of this, and had written to Aiken to ask him about it.

Aiken is intrigued by the letter Simpson sent him: "How did YOU happen to meet Malcolm, and where, and am I right in assuming that the 'two typescripts' are your own, and result of a meeting with Malcolm, and, if so, when?" In the present typescript Simpson explains exactly how and where he met Lowry: in Paris, "just where the metro station 'Cluny' used to be, I observed a man with a small moustache who did not seem to be entirely sober. When, as he enquired the way to Saint-Germain-des-Prés, he looked at me with a most unusually intelligent gaze, I immediately revised this opinion. Almost immediately, I seemed to have discovered that he was Malcolm Lowry, and to have talked of his book, of Canada, and of a mutual friend there."

Simpson's typescript has an intriguing paragraph that Lowry has marked for deletion, noting: "We will have to cut this. I'll replace it with something, however." The excised passage reads: "The young Malcolm spent his sixteenth summer at Rye, where the famous poet whom he calls 'Abraham Taskerson' in his novel i.e. Conrad Aiken had gathered a little group around him for informal instructions in the arts. It was the convention to drink heavily in his household, and rarely did anyone go to bed sober. Alcohol began, then, to develop an extraordinary influence upon Malcolm Lowry."

Aiken makes no remark about this passage. Taken as a whole, the tenor of his letter suggests that of the two typescripts mentioned by Aiken, Simpson sent one to Aiken for comment, and retained the present.

Aiken explains his literary tutelage of Lowry rather differently. "I did start him off on his poetry binge, but that was at Cuernavaca in 1937: at Karl's Cafe, usually at noon, as often as he was sober enough, and often enough when he wasn't: partly in an attempt to pin him down, interest him in anything: and almost wholly on a merely technical plane. I set him a damned fine series of exercises in blank verse, devised by myself Of the hundred or more poems, there weren't more than a dozen that were successful statements: but naturally, for me, they were ALL interesting, as coming from Malc, whom I loved very much, and regarded as a kind of son."

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2 documents: (a) 4 pages (numbered 2-5), a partial typescript, of Simpson's article on Lowry, heavily edited and annotated by Malcolm Lowry; (b) typed letter signed by Aiken, 2 pages, with several typed and autograph corrections.


Typescript creased where folded once, toned; the letter creased where folded into sixths, splitting at edges of folds; both still very good.


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