“Bad, or good, as it happens to be, that is what it is to exist! . . . It is as though I have been silent and fuddled with sleep all my life. In spite of all, I know now that at least it is better to go always towards the summer, towards those burning seas of light; to sit at night in the forecastle lost in an unfamiliar dream, when the spirit becomes filled with stars, instead of wounds, and good and compassionate and tender. To sail into an unknown spring, or receive one’s baptism on storm’s promontory, where the solitary albatross heels over in the gale, and at last come to land. To know the earth under one’s foot and go, in wild delight, ways where there is water.”
Malcolm Lowry, Ultramarine, 1933
Ultramarine is the story of Dana Hilliot, a young man of a well-to-do family who signs up to sail to the Far East on the Oedipus Tyrannus. The novel was written from Lowry’s own experience; he had sailed at age 18, starting as a deck hand, on a tramp steamer, and like Hilliot he had gotten permission from his father to delay entrance into university and go to sea for a year. Like Hiliot, Lowry was dropped off at the quay from the family limousine.
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.