Besides being one of the great talents of this century, Malcolm Lowry was also a ferocious drunk, fallen and exiled heir to the back parlor of the Establishment, seas truck fumble thumbed sailor, composer of hack foxtrots and banger of jazz ukeleles, remittance man, syphilophobe, masturbator, poet, myth maker and Faust. Despite the success of Under the Volcano, few knew him or cared when he died in 1957, because after Mexico and his discovery of the Consul in himself he bowed out and at last became only a writer.
I spent last May in England, seeking the young Lowry as he was before the Fall. He came to manhood in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, when Sebastian Flyte’s teddy bear was no epicene gesture but a profound symbol, and Aleister Crowley, the Great Beast 666, was a more appealing personage to undergraduates than any lecturer. Lowry traveled the conventional routes public school at The Leys, where James Hilton had found his Mr. Chips in one of those unbelievable housemasters, and St. Catherine’s College, Cambridge, where Lowry’s supervisor was the second most boring don in England. But even then he was beginning to move toward his own horizon. Still a schoolboy, he shipped as a deckhand to the Orient, moved in on Conrad Aiken as spiritual son, and wrote a novel.