The writing of this paper was prompted by the recent publication by
Harvill Press of The Last Voyage and Other Stories, an anthology
which brings together Hanley’s earliest published shorter fiction from
the 1930s. Two of these two stories – ‘The German Prisoner’ and ‘A
Passion Before Death’ – were privately printed owing to the prevailing
prohibitions on representations of sexuality. Hanley was
originally an ‘ordinary seaman’ who subsequently built a reputation
as a writer on his stories and novels of the sea-going working class.
However, such an identity masks a diversity evident in his work from
its inception and which developed over some fifty years, beginning
with the publication of his first novel, Drift (1930) a narrative of
unemployment and Catholic anguish in contemporary Liverpool. The
five stories in The Last Voyage, of which three are directly concerned
with maritime life, are a reflection of Hanley’s range, yet they all bear
the traces of his preoccupations and tendency – compulsion even – to
focus on the extremes of contemporary working-class experience.