Monday, 6 December 2010

21 Editions of Lowry's Ultramarine?

I came across the Open Library entry on Lowry's Ultramarine while searching the Net researching material for posts on Lowry's first novel.

According to Open Library, there have been 21 editions of Ultramarine since 1933.

You can see details here.

The book has been translated into French, German, Italian and Spanish.

I was interested to read the blurbs on the various book sites about Ultramarine:

In 1933 Lowry published a derivative, seafaring novel, Ultramarine, which he came to regard as ‘an inexcusable mess’. Initially inspired by readings of Eugene O’Neill’s early plays, Ultramarine is a self-conscious search for identity. Its protagonist asks rhetorically, “Could you still believe in… the notion that my voyage is something Columbian and magnificent?” Lowry later conceived a lifelong cycle of novels to be called The Voyage that Never Ends. ABC Book World

Ultramarine, the first published novel by Malcolm Lowry, tells the story of a young man's disillusioned coming of age at sea. Much of the raw material for the novel comes from notebooks Lowry kept during his own stint as a deckhand. Dana Hilliot, the young Lowryesque hero, faces the contempt of many of his fellow seamen, who view him as a spoiled upper-class poser incapable of doing a real man's work. He affects a grimly stoic front while engaging in elaborate fantasies of revenge. Lowry's description of life at sea reveals the boredom and discomfort of a long voyage, relieved only by exhausting labor, sudden danger, and occasional nights of drinking and whoring ashore. His young hero's Conrad and Melville-inspired dreams of adventure at sea are replaced by the grimy reality of a deckhand's daily life. The realistic dialogue, the description of the sea and the port cities, and the hero's fevered inner monologue hint at the richness of language that was to inform Lowry's greatest novel, Under the Volcano. The young hero's moral agonies as he struggles to remain faithful to his fiancee at home may seem comically overwrought to present-day readers, but Ultramarine's rewards certainly outweigh its few flaws. This work of Lowry's youth shows an unruly genius already testing its limits Amazon Books: Customer Review

'Ultramarine' is Lowry's first book, written when he was barely out of college. It tells the story of Dana Hilliot, an upper class schoolboy who gets a place working on a tramp steamer in order to facilitate his passage into manhood. His privileged background leads to the crew not accepting him, and his essentially childish nature means that he repeatedly fails to achieve his aim in matters of sex, drink, camaraderie and heroism. It is a 'rites of passage' novel with a very lonely feel.

The book is unusually constructed, with no real narrative structure. Each chapter begins with obscure, largely meaningless dialogue between crew members, full of sailor's vernacular. This is followed by an episode illustrating yet another failure on the part of Hilliot as a man. The episodic structure gives the book a disjointed feel, almost more like a short story collection than a novel.

'Ultramarine', like so much of Lowry's work, is autobiographical, albeit heavily embellished, written after Lowry's own attempts to find his own manhood as a sailor. Because of this, Lowry is able to convey the shame Hilliot feels very well, and the central character is easy to empathise with. However, Lowry himself was barely grown up when he wrote this, and sometimes the author seems like a child writing about a child, with childish ideas of what it means to be 'grown up'. Simple errors, such as supposedly rough and ready sailors speaking like public schoolboys, repeatedly creep in. That being said, although Lowry later dismissed the book, largely because he believed that he had plagiarised it (which he had in parts, probably because he was drunk when he wrote it, rather than through malicious intent), Lowry's distinctive, lyrical voice can definitely be heard. 'Ultramarine' is, ultimately, proto-Lowry. It is a good first book, but he went on to write much better ('Under the Volcano') and I think that 'Ultramarine' is probably best appreciated by readers already familiar with Lowry.
Amazon Books Customer Review

I do have my own views on Lowry's first novel which will appear somewhere one day! In the meantime, the book is worthy of detailed research which I continues to hold my attention.


  1. Hello - fantastic blog. I look for Lowryana online from time to time and am delighted to find this.

    I was wondering if you tell me the name of the artist who painted the sea scene on the above edition of Ultramarine? I'm an artist myself. I used to have all or Lowry's novels, and I always loved this cover, but I've since lost my copy, and I'd like to try and find more work by the artist - I'd be really grateful.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. Hi Roger

    Thanks for the kind comments!!!

    The cover is Raoul Dufy's La Mer au Havre.

    Thanks for dropping by