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  • De Quincey, Rifacimento, and the Fictionalizing of Malcolm Lowry
  • Martin Bock (bio)

In the working notes on what he called the "Quincey chapter," for the final typescript version of Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry addresses either the fictional character of Quincey or, more likely, his historical literary namesake, asking, "—Ah how are you, old fellow, you walking Emmenagogue you" (10: 24, 7).1 Whatever inspired Lowry's vulgarity—alcohol, resentment, or guilt—the statement tells us a good deal about the author's mistaken sense of his own art, an art he viewed as somehow artificially stimulated and unusually derivative. Though Lowry's feelings of inadequacy were exaggerated and unjustified, he uses the writings of De Quincey pervasively in his fiction: in the traditional sense of borrowing a literary theme, technique, and style, as well as in the creative means by which Lowry transformed his life experience into art. This method of composition, known as the practice of "rifacimento," is central to De Quincey's creative process.2 As a polyhistor, De Quincey rewrites, rearranges, and reimagines material stored in what he calls, in Suspiria De Profundis, the "mighty palimpsest [of] the human brain" (13: 346). Though [End Page 233] the term rifacimento is specifically applied in the study of theatre and musicology to denote the rewriting of entire operatic libretti,3 in the literary arts it is applied more generally to the remaking of texts. De Quincey, for instance, used the term and technique to describe the very free translation of foreign texts into English.4 Applied in a different sense, rifacimento is an equally useful term for Lowry's fictionalizing process, for Lowry frequently 'remade' passages borrowed from a wide range of literary sources and incorporated them, pastiche fashion, into his fiction. Lowry's working papers, like De Quincey's palimpsest, offer various layers of remade text that reveal corresponding levels of the decreasing evidence of literary influence until, to all but the specialist, that influence disappears in the final version. Thus, what the self-doubting artist like Lowry considers derivation or even plagiarism, the more objective and generous reader views as an assimilation, refining, recreation or creation of materials. Traditional questions of affinity then become subordinate to the more interesting question of how the artist uses sources during the creative process.

The development of a personal rifacimento technique must have seemed quite natural to Lowry, who is known to have read widely and to have possessed a remarkably fine memory. When engaged in his writing, Lowry was apparently subject to an associative triggering of that literary memory, a phenomenon that can be traced from the marginal references of his manuscripts to the high intertextuality of his finished work. In the draft versions of his fiction, Lowry would often simply allude to (or refer to future use) another work or author. But more often, he would copy or recall long passages of prose—some nearly verbatim—and note how they might be incorporated into his work. In the working notes of October Ferry to Gabriola, for instance, Lowry quotes a rather long passage from the beginning of Chapter Three of Herman Hesse's Demian and states "NOTES FROM HESSE INTENDED FOR LLEWELYN'S SPEECH FOR THE DEFENSE OF JAKES," and, in the margin directs his wife Margerie to "type all this" (17: 5; see Figure One). In this particular [End Page 234]

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Figure One.

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case, the passage is quoted in its entirety in Chapter Thirty-one of the posthumously edited text of October Fery (268). One finds in the typed notes on "Through the Panama" of Hear Us O Lord From Heaven They Dwelling Place a similar command: "Use condensation of some of these notes, frankly quoting from Nicolay, with acknowledgment, on right of text as qua Ancient Mariner)" (23: 8, 1). In this short note Lowry reveals not only his adaptation of The Bridge of Water, by Helen Nicolay—five pages of this history of the Panama Canal are typed into the notes on "Through the Panama"—but also his intent to use Coleridge's gloss technique as a running commentary for his fictional text. But more...


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