Malcolm Lowry

Biography of Malcolm Lowry

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

Lowry was born in New Brighton, Wirral, the fourth son of Evelyn Boden and Arthur Lowry, a cotton broker with roots in Cumberland. He was educated at The Leys School (the school made famous by the novel Goodbye, Mr. Chips) and St Catharine's College, Cambridge. His home was a substantial 5 acres (2 ha) estate with a tennis court, small golf course and a maid who cooked for the family.

Despite his comfortable upbringing, he began drinking at 14. 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. 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, but excelled in writing, graduating in 1931 with a 1st class degree in English. During his first term at school, his roommate, Paul Frite, committed suicide. Frite wanted a homosexual relationship and Lowry refused. Lowry felt responsible for his death and was haunted by it the rest of his life.

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.

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