Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Gerald de Nerval Aurélia

Lithograph by Pearl Binder for Aurélia  1932
Gerard de Nerval's Aurélia is a fantasy-ridden interior autobiography— "Our dreams are a second life," he wrote — which influenced the Surrealists. Lowry makes no direct reference to Richard Aldington's 1932 translation of Gerald de Nerval's Aurélia. However, Lowry uses a line in his novel Ultramarine taken from Aldington's introduction to the translation. Compare:

"When I was fourteen I was under the delusion for a year I was Thomas Chatterton.....mad? No ...not even that. But a kind of semi-madman, pernicious and irritating and apathetic in the extreme, for whom in madness, as in death to the impotent, exists the only dignified escape." (Ultramarine Pg. 95).

"Literature, especially of the Romantic and Pre-Romantic period contains numerous semi-madmen who, upon the whole, are rather pernicious and irritating." (Introduction to Aurelia Pg. xvii)

Lowry's work contains other references to Aldington's work whom he may have known through Conrad Aiken. If they didn't actually meet then Lowry appears to have been familiar with Aldington's work.

Nerval's Aurélia may have appealed to Lowry for several reasons. The fantasy-ridden interior autobiography Aurelia can be compared to parts of Ultramarine especially in the more dream like sequences. Lowry was also drawn to references to suicide following Paul Fitte's suicide - Nerval hung himself. Nerval travelled to the Far East documenting it in his work Voyage to the Orient -  published during 1851, resulting from his voyage of 1842 to Cairo and Beirut. In addition to a travel account it retells Oriental tales, like Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, in terms of the artist and the act of creation. Lowry's construction of Ultramarine is in part a complex montage of a voyage to the East, in which the artist plays with forms to create a novel, using a variety of techniques including allusion and plagarism. Nerval added a series of appendices to Voyage to the Orient, the majority of the material taken directly from Lane's Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians - a technique not unlike Lowry's later use of travel brochures in La Mordida. Lowry also appears to have been drawn to writers who are accused of plagarism or manipulate other's work such as Herman Melville, Thomas Chatterton etc. The linking of Nerval and Chatterton may also have to do with both committing suicide and also the possibility that venereal disease may have been the reason for both writer's "madness" which was a fear for Lowry reflected in Dana's fears in Ultramarine.

Lowry's nickname was 'Lobs' and he may have known about the story of the lobster and Nerval. Nerval is quoted as having said "Why should a lobster be any more ridiculous than a dog? ...or a cat, or a gazelle, or a lion, or any other animal that one chooses to take for a walk? I have a liking for lobsters. They are peaceful, serious creatures. They know the secrets of the sea, they don't bark, and they don't gnaw upon one's monadic privacy like dogs do. And Goethe had an aversion to dogs, and he wasn't mad." (Gautier, Théophile. Portraits et Souvenirs Littéraires (Paris: Charpentier, 1875), Richard Holmes trans.).

Nerval's suicide by Gustave Doré.
In the same paragraph from which Lowry took the words "a kind of semi-madman, pernicious and irritating";  he could have easily have seen the rest of  the paragraph pertaining to the kind of creation he may have wanted to aspire to and which he later achieved in Under The Volcano:

Nerval was a real madman, and so far as I know he is one madman who has recovered and attempted to give some account of his sensations and experience while lost in the dreadful gulf of insanity. I confess I cannot read Aurélia without a shudder. Its incoherences, its repetitions, its formlessness, its deformation of reality, its wanderings among old memories, its pitiful attempts at sincerity and still more pitiful attempt at concealment or justification, produce a more genuine feeling of horror than the most horrific tale of Poe. (Introduction to Aurélia Pg. xvii)

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