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Malcolm Lowry: Another Tortured Genius

If you thought Hemingway had issues, then you should read about the life of Malcolm Lowry.

During my routine research, I discovered this brilliant, in-depth New Yorker article about Lowry’s life, marriage, brutal alcoholism and drug addictions—and his genius mind that eventually succumbed to an early death.

After meeting Lowry at a party in which he was severely inebriated in New York, Dawn Powell said this: “He is the original Consul in [Under The Volcano], a curious kind of person—handsome, vigorous, drunk—with an aura of genius about him and a personal electricity almost dangerous, sense of demon-possessed.”

From reading about Lowry’s life, and if the Consul in Under The Volcano is based on him, then Lowry lived most of his life drunk.

His second wife, Marjorie, who helped him edit and develop Under The Volcano, wasn’t much better. Depictions of their life together seem more like two crazy, drunk pit bulls thrown into a ring together. At different times, they both attempted to kill and/or strangle each other.

One of Lowry’s biographers even proposes that it was Marjorie who killed him. She called it a suicide, and the coroner called it a “death by misadventure.” Lowry supposedly overdosed on gin and pain pills–but the question is whether or not he was drunk when his wife gave him the lethal pills. He had been used to her giving him vitamins when drunk, so he likely wouldn’t have noticed if she gave him something else.

Regardless, Lowry died young—at age 47. He was called the successor to James Joyce, who passed away six years before Under The Volcano was published in 1947.

After having now read most of the book, it’s easy to see the similarities. Lowry’s writing is complex and rich with symbolism.

So even though I might not be a huge fan of Lowry’s style, it’s hard to argue the merits of his genius—a brilliant guy who seemingly wasted a lot of unused potential.

It’s been a reoccurring theme on this blog: Why are so many of the great writers so screwed up? Tortured geniuses, if you will.

If you have a little time today, check out the full New Yorker article. This is an amazing look at Lowry’s difficult life.

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11 Comments Post a comment
  1. I wonder if many of the great writers struggle with their art and their faith. I’m going to guess many wouldn’t call themselves Christians. So I wonder if they struggle with using this great talent they have been given in a way that helps them understand where this is all coming from and where it is all going to. I can only imagine how hard it would be to have such an amazing talent and not know there is a reason for it. It would be hard to not know there is a purpose and a plan for the gift you have been given. Just my opinion.

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    May 3, 2012
  2. Informative. I’ve never read anything by Lowry but I recall from your last post that he’s the author whose style is comma comma comma? Still, I’ll keep an eye open for something by him.

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    May 3, 2012
    • That’s the guy. My current read, Under The Volcano, is by him. That’s his classic. It’s a dense read, though.

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      May 3, 2012
  3. I feel like writers have to have something in their brains that connects differently than “normal” people, because how else, really would they be able to create, in the space of their minds, such rich, detailed, believable and relatable fallacies? It seems that to write great fiction, one has to step a little bit to the outskirts if reality and risking losing hold of it entirely.

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    May 3, 2012
    • Kind of like the blessing becomes a curse, I guess.

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      May 3, 2012
    • Yet I find it very difficult to generalize in these cases. True, there seem to be more psychologically unbalanced people among great artists. But there have also been many quite “normal” people (I use the word as you have here.) Even so, I agree that with great artistic genius comes some risks. There is no shortage of examples.

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      May 3, 2012
  4. Siuon #

    I know quite a few hobby writers and some are very sensitive and may sometime overread circumstances that laymen like me would consider normal. Writers turn predicaments that they encounter into literature, which, in my opinion, is a method to avoid having a head-to-head confront with the situation. In other words, they may not be able to solve the issues in another way nor can they seek help from others.

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    May 4, 2012
    • If that’s true, then it’s a wonderful way to deal with conflict. Although, perhaps in some cases, like Lowry’s for instance, it may not be enough. Nonetheless, it’s quite a valuable skill to be able to turn a conflict into artistic creation!

      Like

      May 4, 2012

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  1. Book #41: Under The Volcano | 101 Books
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