ADDICTION, LOST DREAMS, AND LITERATURE:
Today marks the date of the death of Malcolm Lowry at the age of 48 in 1957.
When the DTs were bad, the writer Malcolm Lowry had a trick to stop his shaking hands from spilling his drink.
He would remove his tie, place it around the back of his neck, wrap either end around each hand, take hold of his glass, then pulled the tie with his free hand,
which acted as a pulley, lifting the glass straight to his mouth.
Lowry drank anything, hair tonic, rubbing alcohol, after shave, anything.
But unlike most drunks, Lowry was a dedicated writer, a constant chronicler of his own life -
everything was noted down as possible material for his novels, and generally it was.
He couldn’t enter a bar or cantina without leaving with at least four pages of hand-written notes.
In 1947, when Lowry’s novel Under the Volcano was published, he was hailed as the successor to James Joyce,
and his novel hit the top of the New York Times Best Seller List.
Move ten years on, to the English village of Ripe, Lowry is dead from an overdose, at the age of forty-eight, penniless, forgotten, with his books out of print.
It was an ignoble death for such a brilliant writer,
a death that has since been clouded with the suspicion he was murdered by his wife, Margerie Bonner,
who may (it has been suggested) have force-fed him pills when drunk -
for the pills he swallowed were prescribed to Margerie,
and Lowry was unlikely to have taken his own life without writing copious notes of his final experience.
Here are some incidents of his life from Douglas Day's MALCOLM LOWRY:
•Lowry and his wife collaborate on a screenplay of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night for MGM. Despite being told that the project had been cancelled, they carry on, and mail in their 500-page script anyway.
A producer at MGM notes that it is “a total filmic evocation—complete with critical remarks, attached film theory, directions to actors, fashions, automobiles…,” and that it would make a six-hour film.
•The Canadian poet Earle Birney notes Lowry’s behavior at a party. Lowry moves rapidly “from exhilaration into tipsiness into drunkenness,” getting lost in “some extremely interesting and complex sentence.”
Before passing out, says Birney, he’d enter a final stage: “We no longer existed really. He’d needed us as an audience, now he’d invented his own audience, and hallucination was beginning to take over …
animals grotesque creatures, shades and spirits of various things, were in around the corners of the rooms and he would move over to a corner and sometimes he’d turn his back on us and go on with what he was saying….
•Lowry, drunk, falls off the pier at his squatter’s shack on Vancouver Island, injuring his back on the rocks. He is hospitalized, but he becomes too violent and is sent home with a back brace.
•Lowry’s old friend Dylan Thomas comes to Vancouver, a stop on his reading tour. The two meet for drinks, but before long Thomas is coaxed out of the bar by a woman; when done, he finds Lowry at his hotel, throwing darts at a naked light bulb and having a hallucinatory talk with a different old friend, one who had died in WWII.