Lowry, Malcolm (1909–1957) By Ren Canno, Nissa
Malcolm Lowry (1909–57) was a British-born writer, best remembered for his 1947 novel Under the Volcano. Born in England, Lowry spent much of his adulthood in Canada, and is sometimes classified as a Canadian author. His writing is highly autobiographical, and his posthumously published writing reveals a proclivity for incorporating text from his letters and diary entries into his fictionalised works. Characteristics of Lowry’s writing include non-linear chronology, an emphasis on memory, and an interest in the beauty of the natural world. Lowry envisioned nearly all of his works as connected to one another, part of a never-realised saga entitled The Voyage That Never Ends, which he modelled on Dante’s tripartite Divina Commedia.
Lowry published just two novels during his lifetime: the largely forgotten Ultramarine (1933), and the critically acclaimed Under the Volcano. In the words of Lowry scholar Sherrill Grace, ‘the Malcolm Lowry legend rests upon two foundations, Under the Volcano and alcohol’ (2009: xiii). Lowry’s reputation as a heavy drinker was established before he went to Cambridge University, and the ill-effects of his alcoholism included periods spent in various institutions and hospitals. Lowry died in Ripe, Sussex, England, on 27 June 1957. The coroner found alcohol and barbiturates in Lowry’s system, and ruled it a ‘death by misadventure’.