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Lindsay, Davidlocked

(1876–1945)
  • Colin Manlove

Lindsay, David (1876–1945), writer, was born on 3 March 1876 at 5 Llanberis Terrace, Lewisham, London, the third of the three children of Alexander Lindsay (b. 1839), bookkeeper, and his wife, Elizabeth (1841–1925), née Bellamy, of a farming family from Leamington Spa, Warwickshire. Alexander Lindsay was a borders Scot, and David spent holidays in Scotland until he was forty; he placed his roots in Scotland and traced his ancestry back to the poet Sir David Lindsay and further to a Nordic prince, Ivar. Educated at Colfe's Grammar School, Lewisham (1885–December 1890), Lindsay excelled in English, winning the school prize; but the desertion of the family by his father about 1889 forced him to leave school at fourteen and start work as an office boy with the London firm of insurance brokers Price Forbes, probably in 1891. He remained there until 1918, advancing to accountant and then confidential clerk, absent only for war service in London with the Grenadier Guards (1916–18).

On 21 December 1916 Lindsay married the young Jacqueline Silver (1898–1965), with whom he had two daughters, in 1919 and 1922. In 1918 he resigned from Price Forbes (although he had been offered the post of office manager), and committed himself, as he had long planned, to the untried life of a novelist, settling in 1919 at St Columb Minor, Cornwall. There he wrote the interplanetary romance A Voyage to Arcturus (1920), the supernatural fictions The Haunted Woman (1922), Sphinx (1923), and what became Devil's Tor (1932), and the historical novel The Adventures of Monsieur de Mailly (1926). Two other fantastic works, The Violet Apple (1924–6) and The Witch (1932–45) remained unpublished, the latter being unfinished at Lindsay's death.

Most of Lindsay's novels had difficulty finding publishers, were poorly reviewed, and sold badly, despite attempts by him to accommodate his vision to contemporary taste. Only the sturdy asceticism and other-worldliness of the author, which most of his novels expound, kept him at work through long years of self-isolation and poverty and the growing restiveness of his wife. In 1928 the Lindsays moved to a rural bungalow at Ferring, near Worthing, in Sussex; and in 1938 to a town house in Hove where Jacqueline Lindsay took in lodgers, and where Lindsay became increasingly reclusive and distant.

Lindsay's novels seem more metaphysically inspired than personal: they are full of an intense vision of a sublime reality beyond all human desires, utterly alien, cold, and solitary, and yet apprehended, particularly through great music and through spiritual pain, as the soul's home. While this philosophy has a unique, if restricted, power which was buttressed by Lindsay's reading in Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and mystics of the ‘negative way’, it was in part the expression of his own frustrated experience of the world. Lindsay is best known for A Voyage to Arcturus. This long-gestated book is Lindsay's gnostic outlook at its fiercest, describing a journey to an imaginary planet of violently contrastive landscapes and creatures, where the hero Maskull is continually tempted by various forms of pleasure or self-denial, and by rejecting them all learns the sublimity of the god Muspel. Stylistically the book works superbly by constantly subverting the reader's expectations in parallel with those of the protagonist.

Lindsay's other books are set in the 1920s English society he had contemptuously encountered; they reject superficiality, and feature a passionate love which mutates into spiritual awakening and sometimes death. The Haunted Woman is a striking picture of a conventional relationship transformed intermittently by a vision of another world seen from an ancient house. In Lindsay's longest novel, the Jamesian Devil's Tor, the central characters realize that they are the last representatives of an ancient spiritual force which must renew itself through their marriage. Lindsay here subverts the reader's novelistic expectations by revealing all apparently human thoughts and conversations as actually the workings of a transcendent destinal agency. Lindsay's last book, the overwritten The Witch, returns us to the world-renouncing vision of A Voyage, a journey of the alone towards the Alone.

In the scant photographs available of Lindsay, he looks the quintessential man of his times. Calm and good-humoured with his family, if shy and cold with others, he was always inwardly frustrated, tormented, and spiritually stricken. Lindsay died of vascular disease and cancer at 193 Upper Shoreham Road, Kingston by Sea, Shoreham, Sussex, on 16 July 1945. He was buried in an unmarked grave in nearby Lancing. Some fame then ironically came to him, through the enthusiasm of influential individuals and a public increasingly more receptive to visionary fantasy.

Sources

  • B. Sellin, The life and works of David Lindsay (1981)
  • C. Wilson, E. H. Visiak, and J. B. Pick, The strange genius of David Lindsay (1970)
  • C. Manlove, Scottish fantasy literature: a critical survey (1994)
  • private information (2004) [Diana Moon; J. Coulter, Lewisham local studies committee; P. M. Heinecke, Information Officer, Colfe's School]
  • b. cert.
  • m. cert.
  • d. cert.

Archives

  • NL Scot., MSS

Likenesses

  • photograph, 1914, priv. coll.
  • photograph, repro. in D. Lindsay, Devil's tor (1932)