The Myth of Malcolm Lowry
OSCAR WILDE once suggested that it was second-rate artists who were most interesting as personalities; in the case of greater artists, he implied, their fascinating eccentricities were subsumed in their work. Malcolm Lowry is one of the cases in which Wilde appears to have been proved wrong. For he was an artist of the first order who became transformed into a hero, but-and this after all brings Wilde his justification-transformed mainly because of his limitations as an artist. When Lowry died in England in 1957 (on first report through choking on food but in fact-as later revealed-from reinforcing alcohol with sleeping pills), he was still a relatively little known writer. A readership small enough to regard itself as a kind of esoteric cult had recognized that one of his novels-Under the Volcano-was among the fictional masterpieces of the century. But by 1957 Lowry had published nothing else that resembled Under the Volcano in either dimension or quality. His only other printed novel, Ultramarine, was an apprentice work in which it is difficult to find, even in retrospect, the least premonitory hint of the literary power that emanated from Under the Volcano.
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