Conrad Aiken: Blue Voyage

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Conrad Aiken Blue Voyage
  • Название:
    Blue Voyage
  • Автор:
  • Издательство:
    Open Road Media
  • Жанр:
    Современная проза / на английском языке
  • Год:
    2015
  • Язык:
    Английский
  • ISBN:
    9781504011396
  • Рейтинг книги:
    4 / 5
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Blue Voyage: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

Предлагаем к чтению аннотацию, описание, краткое содержание или предисловие (зависит от того, что написал сам автор книги «Blue Voyage»). Если вы не нашли необходимую информацию о книге — напишите в комментариях, мы постараемся отыскать её.

In this autobiographical debut novel from one of America’s most acclaimed poets, a writer’s sentimental journey across the Atlantic becomes a crucible of heartbreak and mental anguish. In a state of feverish anticipation, Demarest steals onto the first-class section of the ship. There, to his surprise, he discovers the woman he is traveling thousands of miles to see, only for her to dismiss him with devastating coldness. For the rest of the voyage, Demarest must wrestle with golden memories turned to dust and long-cherished fantasies that will never come to pass. A brilliant novel of psychological insight and formal experimentation reminiscent of the stories of James Joyce,  is a bold work of art from a winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

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Conrad Aiken


Blue Voyage

E coelo descendit γνῶθι σεαυτòν.

JUVENAL XI, 27.

What is there in thee, Man, that can be known?

Dark fluxion, all unfixable by thought,

A phantom dim of past and future wrought,

Vain sister of the worm—

COLERIDGE: Self-Knowledge

I

“Will you stop,” said William Demarest, leaning his head out of the taxi window, “at the corner drug store?” Just like a cuckoo clock, he thought.

It had suddenly occurred to him that he had forgotten his sea sick pills — the little pink and green box was indispensable — oh, absolutely! A charm against sea serpents. As he stood on the marble floor, amid the thousand bottles and vials and jars, in a heavy smell of soap and disinfectant, watching the clerk wrap up and seal the box, the sound of the approaching voyage came loudly about him. Waves crashing against black portholes at midnight. Bugles blowing in sour corridors — red-carpeted corridors which suddenly, unaccountably, became hills to climb. O God, what a prospect! And the ship — what was the ship? A congregation of gigantic mushroomlike ventilators, red-throated, all belching a smell of hot oil and degenerate soup, with sounds of faint submarine clankings. Among them, a few pale stewards, faces like cauliflowers, carrying gladstone bags and hot-water bottles … He suddenly felt queasy. This would never do: it was all a matter of nerves. Day by day, and with every wave, the sea gets smoother and smoother. It might, in fact, be a regular yachting cruise — blue sky, blue sea, sunny decks, and a beautiful, mysterious young lady to talk to. Why not? It had happened before. “Thanks!” he said …

In the taxi, as they passed through Twenty-third Street, he lost fifteen years of his life, no less, and caught sight of himself (a very pale, sober-looking young man) mounting the stone steps of No. 421. The shy young widow was sitting in the garden watching her child. How had she managed to conceal so long from him, in their meetings in hall or on stairs, that she had only one hand?… And Stedman, the literary hack, came in at lunch-time to say, “Willst hog it with me over the way?”—his reference being to the free lunch at the saloon across the street. And the bedbugs! Stedman had left on his desk a small crystal vial, half full of bedbugs, alive, crawling, labeled, “Take one before retiring. Dr. Stedman.”—A gay time, then! Now those people were all gone. Stedman, in his spare time (of which there was precious little), made models of ships — exquisite little things. He had gone into an insurance office. The old painter was dead. What had become of the detective?… and his thin submissive little wife, who never lifted her eyes from her plate.

“Here you are, sir!” said the taxi driver, turning his head.

And there he was. The wharf. An enormous, depressing place, cavernous, engulfing bales and trunks by the cartload, but with no sign of a ship anywhere. Where should he enter? The usual terror assailed him. Everywhere stood uncompromising officials, emblems of stupidity. He carried his bag into the great sounding gloom, which was itself, with its smells of oakum and hemp and slimy piles, like a vast ship; dodged his way among thumping trucks — trucks were everywhere, each pushed by a pirate; and at last, through a great sea door, caught sight of the black iron side of the vessel, streaked with filth and rust. A qualm came over him. What disgusting animals ships were! always fouling their sides with garbage. However, perhaps the lavatory would smell of antiseptic … “Second cabin? Next gangway” … He crawled up the next gangway, steep as a funicular, and stepped onto the resilient deck. O Thalassa! Thalassa! Unmerciful sea. He was already fairly launched into the infinite, the immense solitude, which seemed (to the steward who took his bag) to mean so little. Yes: alone. Alone with the sea for eight days: alone in a cage with a world of tigers roaring outside.

“Am I alone in this cabin?” he asked.

“I don’t know, sir. You’ll have to ask the cabin steward, after we start.”

Now, Demarest, survey this cabin which will be your cell for eight days. Running water? Yes. Four berths. Ring once for Mr. Tomkins, twice for Mrs. Atherton. No porthole, of course. Red carpet, and the usual smell. He poured out a glass of water, and took two pills, as prescribed. The water was cloudy and tepid. Footsteps rang on the deck over his head.… And suddenly a feeling of unutterable desolation came over him, a nostalgia made only the more poignant by the echoes it brought of other voyages. Ah, that incurable longing for escape, for a spider’s cable by which he might swing himself abruptly into space or oblivion! But this time, was it an escape or a return?… And the voices of his former fellow voyagers, fellow crawlers toward the infinite, came round him in melancholy chorus. “A safety razor? Just like a bally little lawn mower. And a thundering hot towel on your face.” That was the “pynter and gilder” on the Empress. And his poverty-stricken roommate, who had got a Marconigram — for which he had to pay — saying, “Have a Guinness on us, at your expense.” His comic fury, his bulging eyes! To make it worse, his only hat, left carelessly in a bunk, was a moment later sat upon and crushed beyond recognition … The German girl, with the long blue ribbons down the back of her skirt, deliciously fluttering as she walked, whom he had been too shy to speak to. She came and stood beside him while the stewards danced and sang below the hatch, stood very close to him, put her hands on the rope. “Curiously melancholy,” he had thought of saying, “all this folk music is!..” Melancholy it was. But his courage had failed him; and next day, as he passed her (she was walking — how buoyantly she walked! — with the Professor), he heard her saying, “No, he vas afraid!” She laughed as she said it. And afterwards she had married the Professor. He had watched them pacing the deck, pacing the deck, looking more and more earnestly at each other. One time as he passed them the flying word was “gymnasium.” The next time it was “But SHAW!” Were they falling in love? Yes — as the voyage drew to its end they became inseparable; inseparable because they saw the inevitability of separation. They stood together at the railing, looking sadly at the gray waste of water. “Oh, how persuasive is the sound of the sea!” And he had felt curiously sorry for them, somehow — as if they had become in a sense, the sea’s victims: nothing of them but doth change …

He edged his way along the corridor, past a continuous shuffling line of stewards carrying bags, and up the brass-edged stairs. The sun had come out; on the cool east wind sang the soft quarter bells of the Metropolitan; playing their melodius prelude to the solemn striking of the hour. Three o’clock. A few of his fellow passengers idled about on the deck, stood in groups talking, or watched the last trunks being swung in a great net over the opened hatch. A whistle blew, and the net, with its bulging catch of trunks, dropped soundlessly into the hold, the donkey engine emitting a rapid rattle. Stevedores pushed boxes down the polished gangway, caught them with hooks, and pulled them into the ship.

“Is this Mr. Demarest?” A young man stood before him, earnest, a little shy, deferential.

“Yes?”

“My name’s Roscoe — I’m on the News. Helen Shafter told me you were on the ship, and I thought I’d look you up.”

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