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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The impact of time and memory on Malcolm Lowry's fiction Ramsey, Robin Harold


The aesthetic basis underlying Lowry's work centers around two key ideas, time and memory. Crucial to all of his writing is the need to decipher and to justify the past, both as it is retained in memory and as it recurs in experience. As complex as such a problem is, it becomes more so when neither memory nor experience conforms to the limits or patterns that a conventional view of reality suggests, and accordingly, Lowry required a world-view that could accommodate such apparently irregular phenomena as premonition, coincidence, recurrence and telepathy. This study will examine some of the shapes which reality assumed in Lowry's life, and the means he employed to represent and to understand it through his art. It will also suggest the usefulness of comparing Lowry's approach to existence with the theories of Ortega and J. W. Dunne. The first chapter considers the nature of time and memory in general and looks at some of the specific treatments accorded these subjects in literature. In addition, it examines Lowry's special metaphysical needs and his search through a variety of doctrines and philosophies, primary among which are Western mysticism and occultism and various Eastern beliefs, for some elucidation of his problems. Throughout, it attempts to keep Lowry's efforts in a perspective of contemporary fiction, since the problems of a universal outlook which he faced and the solutions he posed, while individual, are neither as unique nor as esoteric as they might at first appear. Chapter II focuses on some of the solutions Lowry arrived at. It assumes that the disparate body of ideas at work in Lowry's aesthetic can be subsumed, for convenience, within two metaphysical systems--Ortega's philosophy of man and history and Dunne's serial universe. These theories are considered in some detail in an attempt to show that Lowry's conception of the nature and purpose of literary activity parallels Ortega's hypothesis, while his methodology, the execution of his objectives, makes use of serialism. Chapters III and IV analyze Under the Volcano and Dark as the Grave, respectively, in light of the above considerations and try to show how these ideas are operative in Lowry's work both on the aesthetic level, in terms of his approach to literature, and also on the thematic and structural levels within the fictive worlds of the novels. The final chapter is a brief summary, synthesizing Lowry's various conceptions of time, memory, and reality around a general aesthetic theory. It will be seen that Lowry makes free use of a number of different but compatible systems of thought in his writing. Thus the chapter will also consider some of the resultant critical problems which beset his work and the corresponding need, in any evaluation of his art, for critical breadth and flexibility.

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