Eight years following the Selected Letters of Malcolm Lowry (1965), Douglas Day's monumental biography of Lowry was published. Now a further and more focused volume-length perspective on this life has become available. Compiled by Malcolm Lowry Review editor Paul Tiessen, with the assistance of Nancy Strobel, The Letters of Malcolm Lowry and Gerald Noxon, 1940-1952 extends and clarifies our picture of the author during and following his work on Under the Volcano.
More specifically, the eighty missives collected here (including letters, cards, and telegrams housed at The University of Texas and The University of British Columbia) reconstruct Lowry's twelve-year relationship with Canadian radio dramatist, film critic, poet, and novelist Gerald Noxon and help complete a portrait of Lowry's second wife, Margerie Bonner Lowry, who herself pens a number of the letters to Noxon. What emerges from this correspondence is the great degree to which Noxon functioned as Lowry's devoted friend, enthusiast ("amongst the books of our time," he assured Lowry of Under the Volcano, "it will endure"), money-lender, and "first editor": "we did discuss for many hours," Noxon later recounts, "the very opening sentence of [Under the Volcano], and we re-wrote it together perhaps twenty times until it assumed the shape which it has in the novel today." In return, Lowry and Margerie read portions of Noxon's works in progress, making detailed suggestions for revision and offering encouragement. [End Page 811]
Perhaps even more important, we learn from this series of epistles facts about Lowry's own literary consumption while drafting Under the Volcano. We learn, for example, that Lowry read and admired a number of Joseph Conrad's works, whereas he had a less positive reaction to T. S. Eliot's The Family Reunion, which he found, for Eliot, unsurprisingly "necrophilic." Further, these letters provide numerous examples of Lowry's boundless verbal energy and wit, such as when he concludes a letter to the Noxons with his rhyming "Advice to authors": "Believe Matson [Lowry's literary agent] O.K.: the first 150 years are the worst. He had no belief in the Volcano had not even read it—we both told him to go to hell then he sold it." Less humorous but equally revealing, Lowry at another point describes how he had the uncanny feeling of being the protagonist of his own fiction when writing the Volcano: "It is . . . disarming to be as it were inside a novel, the protagonist . . . rather than the author; but fate was such an extraordinarily good artist in this case that one forgives it for having seemed capable of stopping at nothing at all in order to gain its ends. . . ."
Tiessen's editorial work is masterful here, in everything from his fine introduction and transitional material to his useful chronology and index. In bringing this Lowry-Noxon correspondence to light, Tiessen admirably accomplishes his goal of offering "an altogether fresh introduction to the life of Malcolm Lowry," one which counters the popular view that Lowry's dipsomaniac existence was little more than solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.