Malcolm Lowry’s heavily annotated working typescript of his most complete articulation of his life’s work: his plan for an epic that would rival in scope the great literary undertakings of the 20th century of Proust, Joyce, and Pound. It is the immediate precursor – with substantial variations – to a foundational document of Lowry scholarship housed in the Lowry Archive at University of British Columbia.
Lowry envisioned The Voyage That Never Ends as his magnum opus: an epic cycle encompassing his existing novels and stories as well as projected works, with Under the Volcano as its centerpiece. This outline, typed on the verso of a partial typescript of Margerie Lowry’s unfinished novel The Castle of Malatesta, along with one typed draft leaf of Lowry’s short story "Elephant and Colosseum," opens with a three-page overview, to which 26 pages of individual treatments of the project’s component works and their significance to the whole are appended. The pages are copiously annotated, with Lowry’s lengthy manuscript additions and cancellations, and an additional five autograph leaves interpolated throughout.
The idea of The Voyage That Never Ends evolved over several years. Lowry first mentioned it by title in a 1946 letter to publisher Jonathan Cape, where he described it as a trilogy of novels paralleling the Divine Comedy, with Volcano occupying the position of the Inferno. His vision had enlarged substantially by November of 1951, when he had a 34 page “adumbration” of the Voyage (revised considerably from our working draft) sent to his longtime friend and editor, Albert Erskine. Lowry wrote to Erskine: “It’s hellish near impossible to make a précis of my plan…but I’ve tried to give you an idea, a frame. I myself can hear — almost — the whole thing; that is to say I can already project myself into a given section, no matter how remote, and feel, hear, sense more or less how it must be” (November 23, 1951).
In outlining his plans Lowry hoped for a large advance, being, as he was so often throughout his life, quite broke. He wrote to his agent Harold Matson on the same day he wrote to Erskine: “I am convinced that The Voyage that Never Ends will be a great book if it is found I deserve grace to finish it. The trouble, naturally, at the moment, is cash…I hope to God this can be pushed through and that I may in some sort receive an advance on it before the wolf and the winter storms break the door down. Damn this urgency to hell…” (November 23, 1951)
Lowry’s suit proved successful. As Sherrill Grace notes, “it was largely on the strength of this document that he got his long-term contract with Albert Erskine and Random House” (SursumCorda, II, 453 n.1).
Though Lowry would continue to mold the project until his death, The Voyage that Never Ends was never completed.
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