Rediscovered: Gavin Maxwell’s “Ring of Bright Water” Culture

When Gavin Maxwell took over his remote country house on the west coast of Scotland in 1949, he obtained the furniture from the sea. Camusfeàrna, or Alders Bay, as Maxwell calls it, is an old abandoned hut that was the home of the adjacent lighthouse keeper. Overlooking the Isle of Skye, the house that Maxwell was shown as a country house by a former fellow student is only accessible by sea or down a steep hill from the mainland, and the nearest road is quite far away.

It is this circumstance that attracted Maxwell and for which he bears so much: when he arrives, the hut is empty and leaves a neglected impression. No running water, no electric lighting, not to mention furniture, but “ten years of living in Kamosvarna,” Maxwell wrote at the beginning, taught me that you just have to be patient long enough to be practically one on the shores showing every household item imaginable.” Sooner or later, the sea releases what man got rid of before: garbage and furniture, fishing baskets and nets, dead animals, garbage.

The descriptions alone make it clear that “Ring of Bright Water” is not intended to depict the incessant poetess. True, Maxwell senses the scene. You will not find the name Camusfeàrna on any map; It’s Maxwell’s invention. In fact, the place was called Sandyk. But the beauty of nature and its cruel cycle, constant hunting and pursuit, and seemingly unmotivated violence are two sides of the same coin.

Memoirs of adventurer and eccentric Maxwell appeared in 1960 in the original English version and in 1964 in a German translation for the first time. While no one in Germany paid any attention to it, the book became a bestseller in English-speaking countries, and as British author Robert MacFarlane explains in an epilogue to his new German-language edition, it is still considered a milestone in nature writing. The charm of this rich book is also due to the person of the author: Gavin Maxwell came from the Scottish gentry, loved whiskey and fast cars. Gay arrogant, restless, suffering from bipolar disorder. Money is never mentioned in Ring of Bright Water. He wasn’t lacking in it, but he was lacking in support. Immediately after the war, his large-scale project to extract and export shark oil industrially failed. Then Camusfeàrna.

However, Maxwell’s country house served as a temporary escape from the hustle and bustle of London city life rather than the center of his life. However, the imagination of a solitary person living in unity with wind, light and seasons is skillfully produced in a literary manner. It speaks of the longing for an organic relationship with plants and animals. In the first part of “Ring of Bright Water,” Maxwell talks about his arrival and learning about everyday conditions, neighbors, and animals.

Gavin Maxwell: Episode of Brilliant Water. Translated from the English by Iris Hansen and Tyga Schwaner. Grace, Munich 2021. 336 pages, €24.

Maxwell’s strengths, self-reflection without self-pity, and a truly stoic sense of humor shine through in Part Two, dedicated to otters: In early 1956, shortly after the death of fellow canine Johnny, Maxwell traveled to Iraq with researcher and travel writer Wilfred Thesiger. Towards the end of the two-month tour, Thesiger sent Maxwell a sack to the British Consulate General — “at that moment,” Maxwell wrote. “When I opened the sack, I began a phase of life that has not yet ended and probably will not end, at least not before I die” “Mejbel” he calls the small otter in the pouch, later after a comprehensive animal study of the genus Lutrugal Priscillata MaxwelliIn short: Maxwell’s otter, it will be criticized.

The story of how Maxwell, against all odds, finally brought this animal to Camusfeàrna by plane and train is as comical as it touches how Maxwell tells of the developing relationship between him, the unpredictable Megbel and the Scottish environment. Maxwell does not hide the fact that he has an anthropomorphic view of otters (a lady named Idal will come to him later by winding paths). Animals, like alcohol and other adventures, are an alternative. Filler material for Maxwell feel inner space. But Maxwell’s relationship to the wild animals he surrounds is by no means hierarchical; Rather, it speaks of amazement and a willingness to be understood and appreciated.

Camusfeàrna burned in 1968; A year later, Gavin Maxwell died of lung cancer. Standing as a tombstone for Maxwell and the Otter, Idal, is where his hut once stood. Maxwell’s readers continue to make pilgrimages to the inaccessible place to this day. This is where reality trumps fantasy. If a writer dreamed of such an ending, it would be a comic.

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