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In Ballast to the White Sea

In Ballast to the White Sea

Edited and with an Introduction by PATRICK A. MCCARTHY
Annotations by CHRIS ACKERLEY
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 190
  • Book Info
    In Ballast to the White Sea
    Book Description:

    In Ballast to the White Seais Malcolm Lowry's most ambitious work of the mid-1930s. Inspired by his life experience, the novel recounts the story of a Cambridge undergraduate who aspires to be a writer but has come to believe that both his book and, in a sense, his life have already been "written." After a fire broke out in Lowry's squatter's shack, all that remained of In Ballast to the White Sea were a few sheets of paper. Only decades after Lowry's death did it become known that his first wife, Jan Gabrial, still had a typescript. This scholarly edition presents, for the first time, the once-lost novel. Patrick McCarthy's critical introduction offers insight into Lowry's sense of himself while Chris Ackerley's extensive annotations provide important information about Lowry's life and art in an edition that will captivate readers and scholars alike.

    eISBN: 978-0-7766-2180-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. General Editor’s Note
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xiv)

    With the publication ofIn Ballast to the White Sea, Pat McCarthy and Chris Ackerley invite us to a rare and most pleasurable literary event. They unveil a portrait of Malcolm Lowry and his work that most of us have never imagined, revealing the restless literary energy, the play of mind, and the political sensibilities of a barely known Lowry. This is the Lowry of 1929–1936: the Lowry of undergraduate days at Cambridge and, if we take the period of writing, the Lowry up to and including his years in New York. With its emphasis on political commitment, labour...

  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. xix-lii)

    In August 1952 Malcolm Lowry told his editor, Albert Erskine, that the manuscript of his unpublished novelDark as the Grave Wherein My Friend Is Laidhad been “deposited in the bank,” adding, “it hadn’t occurred to me till very recently that therewerethings called safety deposit boxes”; three months later he assured Erskine that two more works in progress,La MordidaandThe Ordeal of Sigbjørn Wilderness, would be deposited the next day (CL2:593, 608). In safeguarding these manuscripts Lowry demonstrated that he had finally learned a lesson that should have been impressed upon him two decades...


    • I
      (pp. 3-10)

      The two undergraduates looked down from Castle Hill² on the old English town. From their position on the grass mound opposite the prison³ even the highest roofs of Cambridge⁴ were below them; in the afternoon light⁵ of winter the streets appeared spotless and empty, but sun-haze swam on sun-haze among the walls and towers and terraces far beneath. A brawling wind carried from the railway station,⁶ which never slumbered, the racket of the acceleration of engines, shunting the drowsy carriages: but from time to time this would relapse utterly, giving way then to the cries of rowers on the river...

    • II
      (pp. 11-20)

      The two brothers kept close in beside the prison railings.² The gravel path led to the main road from Huntingdon.³ They started to walk down the hill towards the town and the world, leaving the prison behind.

      Do you remember the story of John Lee, the man they couldn’t hang?⁴ Tor asked.

      But Sigbjørn could not attend to that, he was looking into the sunset. He had already forgotten their terrible conversation on the gallows’ hill. For the time being even theThorsteinwas forgotten. He loved life once again with the same strong love he had given the ocean....

    • III
      (pp. 21-41)

      At the rack downstairs in Tor’s lodging in Trumpington Street² they paused to look for his mail.

      That’s odd, decidedly odd: they’ve taken away your name, Sigbjørn said.

      So they have.

      They stared foolishly at the name-board: Ames, Barrow, Carruthers,³ and so on. All the rest were there as usual, but surprisingly enough the metal envelope enclosing the name T. H. Tarnmoor was vacant.⁴

      It must be a practical joke. Or drunks, more likely.

      In the vestibule however there was a letter for him on the table and quickly as Tor snatched it Sigbjørn was able to recognise the handwriting:...

    • IV
      (pp. 42-53)
    • V
      (pp. 54-74)

      The two men, father and son, drifted slowly up and down the Exchange Flagstones.²

      In the incredible turmoil of Liverpool around them—of the shunting and shrieking of engines from the railway station;³ from the electric railways as their trains ground over and under the houses; along the line of docks and the cry of trams; from the many-voiced Mersey⁴ (misery?); in a hundred powerfully mutating smells; in a million nightmarish noises—there was something about Captain Hansen-Tarnmoor and his son Sigbjørn of the organic absoluteness⁵ which defines the present.

      Brokers, merchants, tartars,⁶ lascars, workers and workless, cheaters and cheated...

    • VI
      (pp. 75-84)

      The day declined in the poor streets where Nina and Sigbjørn stood arguing.

      …Everything seemed over between them. All at once she broke away from him. Sigbjørn stared after her. He made one step to follow her, then let his arm fall with a hopeless gesture. Rain fell in his eyes, sharp drops. Misery. For their last evening together they had chosen a little restaurant where they had once been happy² and moreover which had then done good business. Now it was on its last legs. Their waiter had lolled in a chair, half asleep; a gramophone playing cracked records...

    • VII
      (pp. 85-123)

      A web of snow slowly weaved itself into the air above Sigbjørn as he paced the Pier Head tram circuit¹ waiting for Nina, and above the river flowing endlessly out to sea, above the white city,² into a pattern—he wondered—of the fourth dimension.³ Snow, grey-white water, and snow again as far as the eye could reach. A gull circling from the westward swayed momentarily, poised as if trapped in the web of snow, and then freeing herself vanished rapidly into the darkness from which she had emerged, with harsh raucous cries, trailing a skein of feathery mist. Snow,...

    • VIII
      (pp. 124-135)

      From the sandy road as they passed the iron bridge² with its rusted builder’s plate “Cheshire Lines, 1840” they could see the low mist scurrying over the finger-high grass between the deserted fairways of the first and ninth holes.³ Captain Hansen-Tarnmoor held out his hand, upturned to the moisture.

      A sea day…

      We could make a go of it. What do you think?

      From the horrible to the commonplace is but a step,⁴ Sigbjørn thought. They opened the door into the club-house;⁵ the club-room was empty. It smelt sweet and clean, the hearth was blazing, richly welcoming them. The Captain...

    • IX
      (pp. 136-141)

      The great thing in life, said the Captain, is not to do what we have just, in miniature, absurdly done.

      What’s that?

      Give up, turn back, abandon…

      That sounds sententious; and I seem to have heard these sentiments before.²


      Oh, from the Boy’s Brigade.³ Or from my own conscience. Or somewhere… Perhaps it was the Salvation Army.⁴

      Well, it’s truer than even they may think. As a matter of fact, it’s the whole point, and what I must again and again emphasize as your father before you go… now that your departure is inevitable.

      I don’t altogether get it....

    • X
      (pp. 142-158)

      A trial by fire,² did you say? But perhaps you’d better keep fire out of it. You never know what you may set alight by your idle words.

      A trial by fear.

      A trial by fear is better. Do you begin to be afraid already?

      It would be foolish of me to deny it.

      The day of the ‘Hairy Ape’³ being over, are you sure you can pick on a coal burner? There aren’t many left.

      You know that I’ve signed on a coal burner⁴ as a coal passer, a limper.⁵

      Of course,Skibets reise fra Prester…Well, draw up your...

    • XI
      (pp. 159-169)

      All he heard was coal, coal, an avalanche of coal² falling over his dream. All at once, rising on his elbow, he woke with a start, his heart beating loudly. Where was he? What had he done? What nightmare waited only the relieved disproving of daylight? That dream of coal falling…

      …Where was he? Somewhere a storm roared, a storm of trees or sea—no, that was in his mind. But that siren calling, that was surely real? All hands on deck, something wrong…He grabbed under his bed for his sea-boots. Nothing there, he was not at sea yet, that...

    • XII
      (pp. 170-180)

      “What could happen?”² asked the man seated in the third class compartment opposite him.

      Sigbjørn looked at him in bewilderment. The stranger was tall and bearded with a florid, earth coloured complexion in which his eyes shone oddly like two blue flowers. A seam-like scar ran down one side of his face from temple to chin. With hands laced and knotted like boots he was searching for a cigarette. He found one; now he was short of a match…

      “How do you mean, what could happen?” Sigbjørn struck a match for him.

      “Thank you…Well anyway, that’s what the gentleman outside...

    • XIII
      (pp. 181-189)

      A lone airman,² that wintry Easter, was flying over the Irish Sea. Now that the fog had cleared completely he was following the line of the old telegraph stations³ to Liverpool: Holyhead, Cefn Du, Point Lynas, Puffin Island, Great Ormes Head. Making a spurt, he covered the seventeen miles between Llysfaen over Veryd to Voel Nant in seven minutes.

      Like a needle his machine threaded cloud and cloud. Its song was heard over the estuary of the Dee and far inland over the Peninsula.

      Marvelous weather, thought the pilot, smiling. Especially since the day had broken in thick fog and...

    • XIV.1
      (pp. 190-200)

      In all Lancashire there was not a happier man than the little taxi driver, Christopher Burgess.³ Even the diurnal attempts⁴ of winter to take possession of the city did not disturb him—the worse the weather the better the business if it came to that—though none liked a bright sun in a clear sky more than he.

      When his taxi was idle and perhaps a shift of winds from the north to the southwest had sent the temperature rising quickly once more towards a spring off-guard and unable to hold it, he lit his pipe and pulled out a...

    • XIV.2
      (pp. 200-209)

      Sigbjørn, short-sighted but subject to correction, stood in the Preston Station Restaurant,62one foot on the rail, leaning against the bar. In a corner of the glum room stood his new sea-bag which had fallen forward over his suitcase in a protective manner. He ordered another whiskey and felt himself actually shuddering with fear. This quickened to desire and when he had received his whiskey he started to talk with the barmaid in low, excited whispers. How easy, though, it would be to stay here, to fool his destiny, not to go on the ship at all, to escape completely...

    • XV
      (pp. 210-219)

      Once more² a young face paused on the quays looking up at the ship. Once more Sigbjørn wondered: Is this your place on earth?

      The iron ship lay wearily against the wharf; a pile of wood was stacked beside her, where he stood hidden.

      Suddenly he pressed his lips against the sweet wood as if to draw from it some of its generous strength. Wood, wood, all goodness, all rightness were in that sweet texture!

      That morning when he had waked his eyelids had been heavy to lift. There was nobody in the forecastle. In a panic, he had gone...

    • XVI
      (pp. 220-227)

      Between meridians of westerly longitude, between parallels of northerly latitude, lay the line, the track of theUnsgaard. In the chartroom were pencil, protractor,³ a piece of rubber, a thermometer, a speedometer. The freighter could make nine knots.⁴

      Haarfragre paced the bridge, the ship following the course he had plotted. Once he spoke to the quartermaster:⁵

      “Starboard your helm⁶ a little…a little more…Steady…Now then, what’s the course?”

      “Course N-79-W.”⁷

      “Good. Keep her like that.”

      In the wireless shack on the upper deck, Sparks⁸ sat with the receivers over his ears, listening to the thousand electric voices of the world telling...

    • XVII
      (pp. 228-232)

      Captain Haarfragre, wearing an old mackintosh, in bare feet, and with what felt like an extremely bad hangover, looked out of reddened eyes over the sleeked leaden surface of the water.

      It was six o’clock in the morning, the ship’s lights were still burning, and the day workers were only just turning to. TheUnsgaardcarried no boatswain,¹ and near him on the bridge an able seaman was getting his orders for the day from the first mate. The captain went over to them.

      “Set that new man we took out of the stokehold to work in the forepeak,”² he...

    • XVIII
      (pp. 233-241)

      Somewhere north of Scotland, theUnsgaardreceives word that her charter to Archangel has been cancelled, and that she is to proceed to Aalesund,² her port of registry, at that time a fishing village with many little islands dotting its fjord. Lowry describes Aalesund itself as an island off the west coast of Norway, and the province of the ancient nobles of Møre.³

      They enter Aalesund, which at first appears a romantic paradise: white buildings beyond the fjord; girls in rowboats, playing guitars; but its character seems to change as the ship warps further along into the desolate fjord, still...

  8. Annotations
    (pp. 243-416)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 417-430)
  10. Textual Notes
    (pp. 431-454)
  11. Appendices
    (pp. 455-460)
  12. Contributors
    (pp. 461-462)