British novelist, whose life was a long and unsuccessful battle against alcoholism. Although his most important book was published during his lifetime, much of his work was published posthumously.
The son of a prosperous cotton broker, Lowry went to the Leys School, Cambridge. He then made a voyage to the China Seas (1927) and visited the American writer Conrad Aiken (1899–1973) in Massachusetts before returning to Cambridge to study English at St Catharine's College. His first novel, Ultramarine (1933), was based on his experiences during his 1927 voyage. Even as an undergraduate Lowry had a serious alcohol problem, to which his marriage (1934) to Jan Gabrial did not provide a solution. In 1934 Lowry went to the USA and thence to Mexico (1936). Drinking heavily again, he was deserted by his wife. In 1938, after an interlude in gaol, Lowry left Mexico and went to Los Angeles. Nonetheless he had gathered the material that was to form the body of his most highly acclaimed book, Under the Volcano (1947), a symbolic semiautobiographical novel, set in a Mexican town, that follows the decline of the alcoholic British consul. This was mainly written while Lowry was living in a shanty at Dollarton, British Columbia, with his second wife Margerie Bonner, whom he married in Canada in 1940. A second visit to Mexico (1945–46) furnished him with material for two more novels, which he left unfinished at his death.
In 1955 Lowry and his wife settled at Ripe, Sussex, where Lowry died of barbiturate poisoning. Among his posthumously published works were a collection of short stories entitled Hear Us O Lord From Heaven Thy Dwelling Place (1961), Selected Poems (1962), Lunar Caustic (1963), a novella based on his treatment for alcoholism in New York in the mid-1930s, Dark as the Grave Wherein my Friend is Laid (1968), his second Mexican novel completed and edited by his wife and Douglas Day, and October Ferry to Gabriola (1970).