Malcolm Lowry 1909-1957
(Full name Clarence Malcolm Lowry) English short story writer, novelist, poet, and screenwriter.
Lowry is known as an experimental writer who produced a small but important body of writings. Influenced by the introspective, stream-of-consciousness literature of James Joyce, he is acclaimed for his intense and highly personal fiction. His work is also noted for its dense prose, as well as its themes of heaven and hell, failure, and redemption.
Lowry was born in Liscard, Cheshire, in northwest England, the youngest of four sons. His father was a wealthy cotton broker, and Lowry had a conventional English upper-class upbringing. At the age of 17 he went to sea as a deckhand, an adventure which provided material for his first novel, Ultramarine. After his graduation from Cambridge, Lowry began a pattern of rootless exile. In 1935 he was confined to Bellevue Hospital's psychiatric ward in New York City for a short time for treatment of his alcoholism, an experience that inspired his novella Lunar Caustic. The next year Lowry traveled with his wife to Mexico. During this time he wrote a short story, "Under the Volcano," concerning three people—a alcoholic Consul, his daughter Yvonne, and her lover Hugh—and their discovery of a murdered peasant. The story, published in the winter of 1963-64, eventually became the basis for chapter eight of the novel of the same title. Lowry drank heavily throughout 1937 while working on the first draft of Under the Volcano, and his unruly drunkenness effectively ended his marriage. In 1939 Lowry met his second wife, Margerie Bonner, in Los Angeles. Together they moved to Vancouver, where they married in 1940. They lived in Dollarton, near Vancouver, for the next 14 years; the setting was inspirational to Lowry, and in his work he contrasted British Columbia's wild seasons with its serene beauty. It is said that these years in Canada were the happiest of Lowry's life. His masterpiece, Under the Volcano, was published in 1947. He never again published any major work during his lifetime. Lowry died in England from an overdose of sleeping pills and alcohol in 1957.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Lowry completed one collection of short fiction, Hear Us O Lord, which was published posthumously. While five of the stories in the collection garnered little attention, the remaining two—"Through the Panama" and "The Forest Path to the Spring"—are considered among his finest compositions. "Through the Panama" portrays a troubled writer's rise from the depths of self-consciousness. "The Forest Path to the Spring," the most poetic and spiritual of the volume's stories, traces the psychic development Lowry experienced during his years with his wife at Dollarton. In his autobiographical novella, Lunar Caustic, a disoriented alcoholic is confined to Bellevue Hospital's psychiatric wing. The protagonist, Bill Plantagenet, becomes acquainted with three other patients in the ward; through his relationship with these men, he comes to realize the severity of his alcoholism.
Critics have generally provided positive reviews of Lowry's short fiction. Lunar Caustic has been praised as a spare, compelling, Dantesque tale. Reviewers contend that the novella is a frightening depiction of psychic limbo, a painful reminder of the horrors of earthly life, and a stunning view of human destruction and disillusionment. The stories of Hear Us O Lord have also been favorably received by critics, who maintain that the short fiction of the collection offers a rare vision of change and even growth in Lowry's otherwise bleak canon. In particular, "Through the Panama" and "The Forest Path to the Spring" are widely considered as brilliant and finely rendered as Under the Volcano.
Hear Us O Lord from Heaven Thy Dwelling Place 1961
Lunar Caustic (novella) 1968
Other Major Works
Ultramarine (novel) 1933
Under the Volcano (novel) 1947
Selected Poems (poetry) 1962
Dark As the Grave Wherein My Friend Is Laid (unfinished novel) 1968
October Ferry to Gabriola (unfinished novel) 1970
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SOURCE: A review of Hear Us O Lord from Heaven Thy Dwelling Place, in Critical Quarterly, Vol. 4, No. 4, Winter, 1962, pp. 377-79.
[In the following excerpted review, Bradbury contrasts the main themes of Hear Us O Lord and Lowry's novel Under the Volcano.]
Malcolm Lowry has been variously claimed as an English and an American novelist, and his curious internationalism is one of the interesting things about him. Like the hero of 'Elephants and Colosseums'—one of the stories in this posthumous volume Hear Us O Lord from Heaven Thy Dwelling Place—Lowry's success and reputation have been in America, where he lived extensively. Like Beckett and Durrell, to both of whom he bears great similarities technically, he was a literary expatriate whose travels provided him with a range for and a seriousness about his art which he was unlikely to have acquired at home; and what makes him interesting for the contemporary reader is his sense of literature as an international art, an art which demands great dedication and technical proficiency. His ostentation of manner, his wide literary allusiveness, his evident debts to writers as various as Thomas Wolfe and James Joyce, his deliberate formal experiments, all make him interesting in a period in which the English novel seems to have retired into a provincial quietness.
Lowry was born in 1909, attended an English public...
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SOURCE: "The Short Fiction of Malcolm Lowry," in Tulane Studies in English, Vol. XV, 1967, pp. 59-80.
[In the following essay, Edmonds provides a thematic and stylistic analysis of Lowry's short fiction.]
To a friend and fellow writer James Stern, Malcolm Lowry once wrote, "It is possible to compose a satisfactory work of art by the simple process of writing a series of good short stories, complete in themselves, with the same characters, interrelated, correlated, good if held up to the light, watertight if held upside down, but full of effects and dissonances that are impossible in a short story, but nevertheless having its purity of form, a purity that can only be achieved by the born short story writer." Lowry was not a "born short story writer"; many of his works of short fiction do not succeed by themselves, nor do the later stories constitute the interrelated whole Lowry visualized. However, two of his short works, "The Forest Path to the Spring" and "Through the Panama," may be considered minor triumphs, and several of the other stories are worthy of attention for the occasional flashes of the brilliance of Under the Volcano.
Lowry's short fiction may be grouped into three categories for convenience of discussion: uncollected short works, most of them early; Lunar Caustic, a novella published posthumously in 1963 after Lowry had worked on it for...
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SOURCE: "Malcolm Lowry: In Search of Equilibrium," in A Malcolm Lowry Catalogue, J. Howard Woolmer, 1968, pp. 15-25.
[In the following excerpt, Epstein explores autobiographical aspects of Lowry's short fiction.]
Malcolm Lowry was almost entirely an autobiographical writer. His stories, novels, and poems can be read as a chronicle of the man's inner life, his obsession with the sea, alcohol, nature, mystical experience, the difficulties inherent in writing and loving, war, the reconciliation of opposites, jazz, and death. At the risk of repeating himself, even to the point of reiterating word for word certain pet phrases and similes, Lowry incorporated his recurring themes into everything he wrote. Critics have condemned this concentratedly personal vision, castigating him for his self-pity and obscurantism. In recent years, however, there has been a kind of slow but sure revival of interest in and, even in some once downright hostile quarters, a capitalizing on Malcolm Lowry's genius. At this very moment Under the Volcano is being cast as a film; his Selected Letters and a second novel, edited and spliced together by Mrs. Lowry and Douglas Day, have been released and favorably reviewed; a collected poems is contemplated, and a new novel being readied for publication. No longer can Lowry be praised and pitied as the "brilliant author of one book." Obviously there must be something of the...
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SOURCE: "Under Seymour Mountain: A Note on Lowry's Stories," in Malcolm Lowry: The Man and His Work, edited by George Woodcock, University of British Columbia Press, 1971, pp. 38-41.
[In the following essay, Woodcock discusses the influence of life in Canada on "The Bravest Boat, " "Gin and Goldenrod, " and "The Forest Path to the Spring."]
Malcolm Lowry was born in England in 1909. He died there in 1957. And during the restless life that stretched between those poles of destiny he wandered over a great portion of the earth—the Far East, the United States, much of Europe, and, of course, Mexico, the setting of his now belatedly celebrated novel, Under the Volcano. But almost a third of his life—and the most productive third so far as his writing was concerned—he spent in Canada. He came to Vancouver just before the war, in 1939, and the next year settled in a squatter's cabin on the foreshore of Burrard Inlet at Dollarton, a settlement under the shadow of the mountains, a few miles east of Vancouver. There, with time off for trips back to Mexico and Europe and Eastern Canada, he lived until 1954, when he left for Sicily and, finally, England.
It was at Dollarton, and at Niagara-on-the-Lake, that Lowry finished the last, published version of Under the Volcano. It was at Dollarton also that he wrote the stories which are published in the volume entitled Hear Us O...
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SOURCE: "Lowry in Canada," in Malcolm Lowry, Twayne Publishers, 1972, pp. 124-45.
[In the following excerpt, Costa examines thematic aspects of the three Canadian stories in Hear Us O Lord, and notes similarities between "The Forest Path into the Spring" and Henry David Thoreau's Waiden.]
Three of the stories in the posthumous collection, Hear Us O Lord from Heaven Thy Dwelling Place, have a Canadian setting. Each is self-contained, further proof that Lowry never lost the storyteller's art which first brought him to the attention of American readers in Whit Burnett's famous magazine of the best in short fiction, Story. Each of these three stories contains a metaphor that dramatizes poetically the tension between the promised land of Under the Volcano—the "Northern Paradise"—and the threat of eviction in the wake of what Lowry called in one of the stories the "suburban dementia."
Like everything he wrote, the stories are autobiographical, dealing with day-to-day slices from the Lowrys' life in their squatters' cottage on the beach near Dollarton. They stand apart in more than setting from stories like "Through the Panama" and "Strange Comfort Afforded by the Profession." Lowry is able to subsume the anguish of the artist into the more universal anguish of good people who try to hold onto their humanity despite sprawling encroachments of industrial...
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SOURCE: "Strange Poems of God's Mercy: The Lowry Short Stories," in The Art of Malcolm Lowry, edited by Anne Smith, Vision Press, 1978, pp. 156-68.
[In the following essay, Bareham views the stories in Hear Us O Lord as interconnected.]
Hear Us O Lord From Heaven Thy Dwelling Place stands at a crossroads in Lowry's output. From this point, down one broad highway, stretches the main vista of his work—the achievement of Under the Volcano, the promise and near-fulfilment of the posthumous novels. But down other dark sideroads which diverge from here, we can be led a pretty dance through the quirkishness, the personal allusions and the occult world of Lowry at his most obscure and introspective. All his work is inter-connected. This makes the volume richly rewarding for the Lowry specialist, but may be daunting for the reader who comes to him for the first time through Hear Us O Lord. The object of this essay is to provide some preliminary guide-posts to the tracks which cross the terrain of the Lowry short stories.
Much of the material in the collection was planned towards the novel-cycle which was to be called The Voyage That Never Ends. Lowry was a compulsive starter rather than a diligent finisher of his material; the additions to Under the Volcano even in galley-proof show how the literary journey never did seem to end. He...
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SOURCE: "Malcolm Lowry's Comic Vision: 'Elephant and Colosseum'," in Canadian Literature, No. 101, Summer, 1984, pp. 167-71.
[In the following essay, Rankin explores the comic aspects of Lowry's short story "Elephant and Colosseum."]
Those who know Malcolm Lowry only through Under the Volcano are often surprised to discover that much of his later work rejects that novel's dark and terrible vision in favour of a far more positive, even comic, outlook. Volcano seems such a devastating apocalyptic novel that one marvels that its author would, or could, arrive at any comic resolution whatsoever.
Actually, though, I think it is just these readers' misreading of Volcano that keeps them from appreciating the later work. Volcano, after all, is not so much a tragic novel as a novel about the possibility of tragedy. The Consul's wasted life, his terrible death, is meant to serve as a warning, just as the final words of the novel serve as a warning: "¿LE GUSTA ESTE JARDIN QUE ES SUYO? ¡EVITE QUE SUS HIJOS LO DESTRUYAN!" What this coda implies, I think, is that the Consul has in some sense chosen his tragic end, and that we have the power, if we have the courage, to choose otherwise for ourselves. Correspondingly, many of Lowry's later stories are not so much comedies themselves as stories about the possibility of a comic vision, in the Dantean sense of...
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SOURCE: "The Novellas and Short Stories," in Malcolm Lowry, St. Martin's Press, 1989, pp. 78-101.
[In the following essay, Bareham discusses the defining characteristics of Lowry's short fiction.]
'Short fiction was never his forte,' says Douglas Day [in Malcoln Lowry: A Biography, 1973]. Time and time again Lowry begins with something that looks like a short story but uses it only as a means of expanding his ideas into some other form. There is also an intermediate stage which Lowry called 'novella'—as though this represented a finite and finished genre in itself. But often his novellas represent nothing more than short stories on their way to becoming novels. Apparently on many occasions he did not think about material and predetermine its mould; he simply worked it over and gave it whatever name suited its length at that particular juncture. He nowhere offers a precise definition of what, for him, forms the necessary boundary between short story, novella, and novel. Both Under the Volcano and October Ferry were planned as short stories, and simply grew until they had achieved novel-hood.
Equally symptomatic is the case of 'Elephant and Colosseum', the short story eventually placed fourth in Hear Us O Lord. This began as the entry for a sponsored short story competition. The sponsor imposed a limit of 1,000 words, but Lowry's final entry was...
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SOURCE: "Expanding Circles: Inductive Composition in Hear Us O Lord from Heaven Thy Dwelling Place," in Malcolm Lowry Eighty Years On, edited by Sue Vice, Macmillan, 1989, pp. 70-91.
[In the following essay, Head explores the motif of expanding circles in the short stories of Hear Us O Lord, maintaining that it affects Lowry's use of language and functions to link the stories.]
The stories in Hear Us O Lord From Heaven Thy Dwelling Place have a special significance in the Lowry canon, a significance that has not been fully acknowledged. Usually it is only Under the Volcano that is deemed, without serious qualification, to exhibit a highly sophisticated and innovative formal control. There is, however, a similar innovation operative in Hear Us O Lord, and this essay is primarily concerned with this element of textual tectonics. The design of each story conveys a sense of closure and this is an integral aspect of the short story form. Yet the real significance of these stories lies in the way their structure simultaneously cultivates and flouts this generic tendency to closure. The principle of the closed circle is played off against a concept of expanding circles, or widening horizons, and this formal dissonance results in certain structural fault-lines, the points which reveal (and mirror) Lowry's thematic concerns.
My argument is...
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SOURCE: "Hear Us O Lord and Lowry's Micro/Macro Text," in Swinging the Maelstrom: New Perspectives on Malcolm Lowry, edited by Sherrill Grace, McGill-Queens University Press, 1992, pp. 209-19.
[In the following essay, Linguanti views Lowry's short story collection Hear Us O Lord as a. macrotext, or as a work of "integrated unity."]
Like most devoted readers of Lowry I have developed my own opinions about which have to be considered the important and definitive works among all the many and often mixed-up papers he left when he died. After a few years of work on his published and unpublished works I find that I am ready to consider Under the Volcano, a couple of versions of Lunar Caustic, and the collection of short stories Hear us O Lord from heaven thy dwelling place as the bulk of literary production that Lowry has left to his readers, a bulk to which the papers so admirably collected at the Special Collections Division of the library at the University of British Columbia only add an impressive amount of material that makes the reader aware of the tremendous potential the man still had. This does not mean that I think it not worth working on those materials—I am sure that I have not yet finished with "Ghostkeeper," for example, and I would still like to work on the script for Tender Is the Night. It only means that the works I have...
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Bradbrook, M. C. Malcolm Lowry: His Art & Early Life: A Study in Transformation. London: Cambridge University Press, 1974, 170 p.
Introductory study interweaving biography and criticism. An appendix reprints two early stories: "A Rainy Night" and "Satan in a Barrel."
Bareham, Tony. Malcolm Lowry. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989, 133 p.
Full-length critical study of Lowry's work.
Benham, David. "Lowry's Purgatory: Versions of Lunar Caustic," in Malcolm Lowry: The Man and His Work, edited by George Woodcock, pp. 56-65. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1971.
Discusses various incarnation's of Lowry's novella.
Corrigan, Matthew. "Malcolm Lowry: The Phenomenology of Failure." Boundary 3, No. 2 (Winter 1975): 407-42.
Analyzes Lowry's fiction in terms of vision, failure, and his struggle to create order out of inner chaos.
Costa, Richard Hauer. Malcolm Lowry. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1972, 208 p.
Study of Lowry's major fictional themes and the significance of autobiography in his work....
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