Thursday, 26 July 2012

Port Sunlight, Wirral

Port Sunlight is a model village, suburb and electoral ward in the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral, Merseyside, England. Built by Lever Brothers to accomodate workers in its soap factory (now part of Unilever), work commenced in 1888. The name is derived from Lever Brothers most popular brand of cleaning agent, Sunlight.

Lowry's first novel Ultramarine opens with a scene where Dana Hilliot the main character signs onto Oedipus Tyrannus the ship which takes him on a voyage to the Far East. The story is based on Lowry's own similar voyage which he made as a mess boy on the Blue Funnel ship Pyrrhus.

This opening scene immediately sets the tension between Dana (Lowry) and his other shipmates. Though Dana, Andersen the cook and Norman the galley boy all have Norwegian roots, they are set apart by their home addresses. Andersen and Norman live in Great Homer Street in Everton which was a poor working class area of Liverpool in the 1920's; "Where do you live?" "Sea Road, Port Sunlight." (Pg. 15); "And he thought of that time when their families, for ten years neighbours in Port Sunlight, had met in Christiania when he was a boy, and how their love for each other had never changed." (Pg. 19); later Dana asks for jokes "Third return Port Sunlight" at the South Station in Tsjang Tsjang (Dairen) - "I insisted, because I was not going to be beaten tonight." (Pg. 101) Dana's joke is in competition with Norman asking for "Third return to Birkenhead Central." - a more working class area of the Wirral. Dana's joke underlines the class tensions in the novel; "Well here's to Port Sunlight!" (Pg. 113) and "No, here's a Port Sunlight man wants his fortune told." (Pg. 114).

For some reason Lowry doesn't place his Dana in Caldy where Lowry lived at the time of his sea voyage in 1927. However, Lowry's choice of Sea Road Port Sunlight is significant. There is no such road in Port Sunlight but Lowry places Dana in a road named after the sea which was so important to Lowry. Port Sunlight was a model village for workers built by Lord Leverhulme ,which can bear comparison to the upper class idyllic community created in the village of Caldy built by David Benno Rappart, in that both were visions of alternatives to the slums and deprivation of Liverpool.

The tension Lowry creates in that scene is that Dana is different from the rest of the crew. The Wirral is seen as an alternative to Liverpool which is a theme Lowry continued to develop in other works.The Wirral was Lowry's first Eridanus, the name he gave to his later Dollarton home, and Liverpool which Lowry called "that terrible city whose main street is the ocean".

Read Port Sunlight on Malcolm Lowry @ 19th Hole

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