A Malcolm Lowry book becomes hidden treasure

Photo courtesy of Lara Mainville

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Malcolm Lowry’s book—long thought to have burned in a fire—was recently released by the University of Ottawa Press.

For a long time, the manuscript for Lowry’s In Ballast to the White Sea was believed to have succumbed to flames in the author’s British Columbia shack. Years later, rumours were confirmed that Lowry’s first wife retained a copy of the long-sought manuscript. These circumstances set the stage for the late fall release of In Ballast to the White Sea by our very own University of Ottawa Press—a major addition to the university’s Canadian literature collection.

“Malcolm Lowry is one of the most important writers of the 20th century, so this is a really big deal,” says director Lara Mainville. “Lowry’s life reads almost like a novel, and so this juxtaposition of real life, and then the fiction—like the real story about this lost novel that was found again, and his entire life, and then the novel—it’s just really fascinating.”

The publication’s release was held in Liverpool, U.K. at an annual event called The Lowry Lounges. The event attracts Lowry scholars and literature fans from all over the world. It was a major event for the U of O Press and the ideal venue for the launch.

English literature students will find a strong aid in the extensive notes included in the publication, says Mainville, but the play on perspectives within the story is enough to captivate any lover of the written word.

“It’s about a writer who is writing about another writer,” Mainville explains. “It’s a series of writers writing about the experience of writing about an author and who feel that their life has already been written about.” Although the U of O Press attained rights to the Lowry title some time ago, the delay in release came from many additions to help enhance the original work. Dean Irvine, the series editor and director of Editing Modernism in Canada (EMiC), invited Patrick McCarthy one of the editors of the In Ballast critical condition (a text close to its original writing without editing), to produce the first edition with the U of O Press.

“In 1936 Lowry deposited a copy of In Ballast with the mother of his first wife, Jan Gabrial, when he and Jan left New York for Mexico,” explains Irvine. “Jan later retrieved the copy and typed up a clean typescript in 1991. In 2003, two years after her death, the executor of the estate deposited the clean copy and other related material in the Manuscripts and Archives Division of the New York Public Library.”

“The Lowry editions have been edited and published with resources from EMiC, which is funded by a 7-year, $2.1-million Strategic Knowledge Cluster grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.” Mainville says students should keep an eye out for for the rerelease Under the Volcano next fall, the final novel in the Lowry cycle.