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Malcolm Lowry

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Malcolm Lowry

Malcolm Lowry
Malcolm Lowry, aged 37.
Born Malcolm Lowry
(1909-07-28)28 July 1909
New Brighton, Cheshire (now Merseyside), England
Died 26 June 1957(1957-06-26) (aged 47)
Ripe, Sussex (now East Sussex), England
Occupation Novelist, poet
Literary movement Modernism
Notable works Ultramarine (1933), Under the Volcano (1947), Hear Us O Lord from Heaven Thy Dwelling Place (1961), Lunar Caustic (1968), Dark as the Grave wherein my Friend is Laid (1968), October Ferry to Gabriola (1970)
Spouse Jan Gabrial (1934–1937)
Margerie Bonner (1940–1957, his death)

Clarence Malcolm Lowry (; 28 July 1909 – 26 June 1957) was an English poet and novelist who is best known for his 1947 novel Under the Volcano, which was voted No. 11 in the Modern Library 100 Best Novels list.


Lowry was born in New Brighton, Wirral, UK[1] the fourth son of Evelyn Boden and Arthur Lowry, a cotton broker with roots in Cumberland. He was educated at The Leys School in Cambridge [2] (the school made famous by the novel Goodbye, Mr. Chips) and St Catharine's College, Cambridge. In 1991, the family moved to Caldy on another part of the Wirral peninsula. Their home was mock Tudor estate on two acres with a tennis court, small golf course and a maid, a cook and a nanny.[1][3] Lowry was said to have felt neglected by his mother, and was closest to his brother.[3]

Despite his comfortable upbringing, he began drinking at 14.[3] At age 15 he won the junior golf championship at the famed Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake. His father expected him to go to Cambridge and enter the family business, but Malcolm wanted to experience the world, and convinced his father to let him work as a deckhand on a ship to the Far East. In May 1927 his parents drove him to the Liverpool waterfront and, while the local press watched, waved goodbye as he set sail on the freighter S.S. Pyrrhus.[3] The five months at sea gave him stories to incorporate into his first novel, Ultramarine.

In autumn 1929 he enrolled at Cambridge to placate his parents. He spent little time at the university,[3] but excelled in writing, graduating in 1931 with a 3rd class honours degree in English. During his first term, his roommate, Paul Frite, committed suicide. Frite had wanted a homosexual relationship which Lowry refused. Lowry felt responsible for his death and was haunted by it for the rest of his life.[3]

The twin obsessions which would dominate his life, alcohol and literature, were firmly in place. Lowry was already well travelled; besides his sailing experience, he made visits to America and Germany between terms.

After Cambridge, Lowry lived briefly in London, existing on the fringes of the vibrant Thirties literary scene and meeting Dylan Thomas, among others. He met his first wife, Jan Gabrial, in Spain. They were married in France in 1934. Theirs was a turbulent union, especially due to his drinking, and because she was upset about homosexuals being attracted to him. After an estrangement, Lowry followed her to New York where, almost incoherent, he checked into Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital in 1936, following an alcohol-induced breakdown. When the authorities began to take notice of him, he fled to avoid deportation, and then went to Hollywood, where he tried screenwriting. It was about this time that he began writing Under the Volcano.[3]

Mexico and Canada

The couple moved to Mexico, arriving in the city of Cuernavaca on 2 November 1936, the Day of the Dead, in a final attempt to salvage their marriage. Lowry continued to drink heavily, though he also poured more energy into his writing.[3]

The effort to save their marriage failed. Jan saw that he wanted a mother figure and did not want to fill that role. She then ran off with another man in late 1937. Alone in Oaxaca, Lowry entered into another period of dark alcoholic excess, culminating in his being deported from the country.

In summer 1938, Lowry left Mexico under mysterious circumstances. His family put him in the Hotel Normandie in Los Angeles; his father's cheques went directly to the hotel manager. He continued working on his novel, and met his second wife, the actress and writer Margerie Bonner.

In August Lowry moved to Vancouver, Canada, leaving his manuscript behind. Later, Margerie moved up to Vancouver, bringing his manuscript with her, and the following year they got married. At first they lived in an attic apartment in the city. When World War II broke out, Lowry tried to enlist, but was rejected. Correspondence between Lowry and Canada's Governor-General Lord Tweedsmuir (who was known as the writer John Buchan) during this time resulted in Lowry writing several articles for the Vancouver Province newspaper. The couple lived and wrote in a squatter's shack on the beach near Dollarton in British Columbia, north of Vancouver. In 1944, the beach shack was lost to a fire, and Lowry was injured in his efforts to save manuscripts.[4] Margerie was an entirely positive influence, editing Lowry's work skilfully and making sure that he ate as well as drank (she drank, too). The couple travelled to Europe, America and the Caribbean, and while Lowry continued to drink heavily, this seems to have been a relatively peaceful and productive period. It lasted until 1954, when a final nomadic period ensued, embracing New York, London and other places. During their travels to Europe, Lowry twice attempted to strangle Margerie.[5]


Lowry died in a rented cottage in the village of Ripe, Sussex, where he was living with his wife. The coroner's verdict was "Death by Misadventure", and the causes of death given as inhalation of stomach contents, barbiturate poisoning, and excessive consumption of alcohol.

It has been suggested that his death was a suicide.[6] Inconsistencies in the accounts given by his wife at various times about what happened at the night of his death have also given rise to suspicions of murder.[7]

Lowry is buried in the churchyard of St John the Baptist in Ripe.[8] Lowry reputedly wrote his own epitaph: "Here lies Malcolm Lowry, late of the Bowery, whose prose was flowery, and often glowery. He lived nightly, and drank daily, and died playing the ukulele," but the epitaph does not appear on his gravestone.


Lowry published little during his lifetime, in comparison with the extensive collection of unfinished manuscripts he left. Of his two novels, Under the Volcano (1947) is now widely accepted as his masterpiece and one of the great works of the 20th century (number 11 on the Modern Library's 100 Best Novels of the 20th century).[9] It exemplifies Lowry's method as a writer, which involved drawing heavily upon autobiographical material and imbuing it with complex and allusive layers of symbolism. Under the Volcano depicts a series of complex and unwillingly destructive relationships and is set against a rich evocation of Mexico.

Ultramarine (1933), written while Lowry was still an undergraduate, follows a young man's first sea voyage and his determination to gain the crew's acceptance.

A collection of short stories, Hear Us, O Lord from Heaven Thy Dwelling Place (1961), was published after Lowry's death. The scholar and poet Earle Birney edited Selected Poems of Malcolm Lowry (1962). He also collaborated with Lowry's widow in editing the novella Lunar Caustic (1968) for re-publication. It is a conflation of several earlier pieces concerned with Bellevue Hospital, which Lowry was in the process of rewriting as a complete novel. With Douglas Day, Lowry's first biographer, Lowry's widow also completed and edited the novels Dark as the Grave Wherein my Friend Is Laid (1968) and October Ferry to Gabriola (1970) from Lowry's manuscripts.

The Selected Letters of Malcolm Lowry, edited by his widow and Harvey Breit, was released in 1965, followed in 1995-6 by the two-volume Sursam Corda! The Collected Letters of Malcolm Lowry, edited by Sherrill E. Grace. Scholarly editions of Lowry's final work in progress, La Mordida, and his screen adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night have also been published.

Volcano: An Inquiry into the Life and Death of Malcolm Lowry (1976) is an Oscar-nominated National Film Board of Canada documentary directed by Donald Brittain and John Kramer.[3] It opens with the inquest into Lowry's "death by misadventure", and then moves back in time to trace the writer's life. Selections from Lowry's novel are read by Richard Burton amid images shot in Mexico, the United States, Canada and England.[10]

In 2001, Lowry's first wife Jan Gabrial revealed in her memoir that she had an early draft of Lowry's novel In Ballast to the White Sea, which was thought to have been lost.[11] According to Professor Dean Irvine at Dalhousie University, Lowry had given an early copy of the novel to Gabrial’s mother before the couple went to Mexico in 1936. Lowry's working copy of the manuscript was then lost in a fire. In October 2014 it was announced that the novel was to be published for the first time and a launch was held at the Bluecoat Arts Centre in Liverpool.[4]



  • Hear Us O Lord from Heaven Thy Dwelling Place (1961)
  • Selected Poems of Malcolm Lowry (1962)
  • Lunar Caustic (1968)
  • Dark as the Grave wherein my Friend is Laid (1968)
  • October Ferry to Gabriola (1970)
  • The Cinema of Malcolm Lowry: A Scholarly Edition of Malcolm Lowry's "Tender is the Night" edited by Miquel Mota & Paul Tiessen (1990)
  • The 1940 Under The Volcano (1994)
  • La Mordida edited by Patrick A. McCarthy (1996)
  • In Ballast to the White Sea (2014), Edited by Patrick A. McCarthy, Notes by Chris Ackerley, Foreword by Vik Doyen, University of Ottawa Press, ISBN 978-0-7766-2208-8

References and sources

  1. ^ a b Bowker, Gordon (1995). "Pursued by Furies: A Life of Malcolm Lowry". Book (London: St Martin's Press).  
  2. ^ A Dictionary of Twentieth Century World Biography. United Kingdom: Book Club Associates, 1992, p. 351.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Volcano: An Inquiry into the Life and Death of Malcolm Lowry". Documentary film (National Film Board of Canada). 1976. Retrieved 31 March 2009. 
  4. ^ a b "‘Lost’ Malcolm Lowry novel published for the first time". the Guardian. 
  5. ^ D. T. Max (17 December 2007). "Day of the Dead". The New Yorker. 
  6. ^ Slide, Anthony (2004). Silent Topics: Essays on Undocumented Areas of Silent Film. Scarecrow Press. p. 65.  
  7. ^ [1]: Bowker, G., (2004), "Foul Play at White Cottage", Times Literary Supplement, 20 February 2004 - outlies the peculiar circumstances of Lowry's death.
  8. ^ "Malcolm Lowry (1909 - 1957) - Find A Grave Memorial". 
  9. ^ "Modern Library 100 Best Novels". Modern Library. Retrieved 13 March 2008. 
  10. ^ IMDb (1 November 1976). "Volcano: An Inquiry Into the Life and Death of Malcolm Lowry". IMDb. 
  11. ^ Youngs, Ian (25 October 2014). "Lost Malcolm Lowry novel published". BBC News. Retrieved 25 October 2014. 
  • Asals, Frederick, The making of Malcolm Lowry's Under the volcano (University of Georgia: Athens, 1997)
  • Bareham, Tony, Modern Novelists: Malcolm Lowry (St Martins: New York, 1989)
  • Bowker, Gordon, ed, Malcolm Lowry Remembered (Ariel: London, 1985)
  • Bradbrook, M.C., Malcolm Lowry: His Art and Early Life (CUP: Cambridge, 1974)
  • Cross, Richard K., Malcolm Lowry: a preface to his fiction (Athlone Press: London, 1980)
  • Hochschild, Adam, Finding the Trapdoor: Essays, Portraits, Travels, pp. 265–73, "The Private Volcano of Malcolm Lowry," (Syracuse University Press: Syracuse, 1997)
  • Miller, David, Malcolm Lowry and the voyage that never ends (Enitharmon Press: London, 1976)
  • Smith, Anne, The art of Malcolm Lowry (Vision: London, 1978)
  • Stevenson, Randall, The British Novel Since the Thirties (Batsford: London, 1986)
  • Vice, Sue, Malcolm Lowry eighty years on (St. Martins Press: New York, 1989)
  • Woolmer, J. Howard, Malcolm Lowry: a bibliography (Woolmer/Brotherson: Pennsylvania, 1983)

Further reading


  • An Anthology from X (Oxford University Press 1988). X (magazine) ran from 1959–62. Edited by David Wright & Patrick Swift. Contributions from Lowry, W.H. Auden, Samuel Beckett, Alberto Giacometti, Francis Bacon (painter), Stevie Smith, Robert Graves, David Gascoyne, et al.
  • The Cinema of Malcolm Lowry: A Scholarly Edition of Lowry's 'Tender Is the Night' edited with an introduction by Miguel Mota and Paul Tiessen
  • The Collected Poetry of Malcolm Lowry (1992) edited by Kathleen Scherf
  • Sursum Corda!: The Collected Letters of Malcolm Lowry, Volume I: 1926-1946 (1995) edited by Sherrill Grace
  • Sursum Corda!: The Collected Letters of Malcolm Lowry, Volume II: 1947-1957 (1996) edited by Sherrill Grace
  • The Voyage That Never Ends (2007), selected stories, poems, and letters; edited by Michael Hofmann
  • Strange Comfort: Essays on the Work of Malcolm Lowry (2009) Sherill Grace and Richard Lane, Talonbooks: Vancouver, B.C. ISBN 978-0-88922-618-0
  • Malcolm Lowry from the Mersey to the World (2009) edited by Bryan Biggs and Helen Tookey
  • Malcolm Lowry's Volcano: Myth, Symbol, Meaning (1978) by David Markson


External links

  • Works by Malcolm Lowry at Open Library
  • Works by or about Malcolm Lowry in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  • Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano at the Wayback Machine (archived July 20, 2011)
  • A Hypertextual Companion to Under the Volcano
  • Dark As The GraveShort Excerpt from
  • Photo of the beach where Malcolm Lowry's shack was located in North Vancouver, Canada
  • Volcano: An Inquiry into the Life and Death of Malcolm Lowry, film from the NFB.
  • Audiobook (mp3) of the preface written in 1948 by Malcolm Lowry for French readers of Under the Volcano.
  • Malcolm Lowry entry at The Canadian Encyclopedia
  • Malcolm Lowry at Find a Grave
  • Malcolm Lowry’s photograph – A photograph of the author from the UBC Library Digital Collections
  • The White Cottage - A photograph of the White Cottage, Ripe, where Lowry died
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