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Literary Criticism Canadian

Sursum Corda!

The Collected Letters of Malcolm Lowry, Volume II: 1947-1957

by (author) Malcolm Lowry

edited by Sherrill E. Grace

University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division, Jonahtan Cape
Initial publish date
Dec 1996
Canadian, Letters
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Dec 1996
    List Price

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The general tone of this second volume of letters is considerably darker than that of the first. Though Under the Volcano (published in 1947) was behind Lowry, it would never leave him alone. The success of the novel became a curse: he could not avoid helping his translators; he longed for a film treatment of the book; he found it difficult to become fully engaged in new work; the celebrity associated with a best-seller was, as he put it in a poem, a 'disaster' akin to your house burning down.

Illnessses, the death of friends, threats of eviction from his beloved foreshore Dollarton home, and drink plagued Lowry. And yet, he made repeated attempts to escape his personal abysses. He made new friends, re-established a good working relationship with his editor Albert Erskine, began several new projects, and continued to write superb letters. The more than 400 included here, all written during the last decade of his life, reveal a man fascinated with films, bristling with plans for his masterwork The Voyage That Never Ends, eager to discuss the virtues of Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Cocteau, and the work of friends like Gerald Noxon or Jimmy Stern. There is also a selection from his several hundred 'love notes' written to Margerie Lowry and pinned to places in the Dollarton shack or to trees along the 'forest path to spring.' These notes, like much else in the volume, are published here for the first time, providing interesting glimpses into Lowry's private world. The letters written just before his sudden death in England in 1957 are among his most moving; they reveal a weariness of spirit, a deep regret for the loss of his Dollarton paradise, but also the courage, self-deprecating humour, love of language, and keen intelligence that characterize everything he wrote.

In addition to a critical introduction and detailed chronologies, this volume includes photographs, many of the drawings with which Lowry illustrated his letters, and reproductions of holograph letters.

About the authors

Malcolm Lowry was born in 1909 in northwest England, near Liverpool. During the 1930s he lived in London, New York, Mexico, and Los Angeles before moving to British Columbia in 1939. This move marked the start of a startlingly fertile period in Lowry’s career as a 20th-century literary modernist. The 1940 Under the Volcano formed the basis for his masterpiece, Under the Volcano (1947)—one of the last great modernist novels.

Malcolm Lowry's profile page

Sherrill E. Grace is professor of English, University of British Columbia, and the author of Inventing Tom Thomson.

Sherrill E. Grace's profile page

Editorial Reviews

'The two volumes will be a monument to what may be the last great age of letter writing ... Sherrill Grace has done an imaginative and exhaustive job of transcribing, editing and annotating these letters ... [Her annotations] underline the richness, exuberance and complexity of Lowry's experience, and why, in spite of the living hell that so often encompassed his life, he could end so many of his letters with the words that Grace has chosen for the overall title of her two volumes: "Sursum Corda" - Lift up Your Hearts!'

The Globe and Mail

'Sursum Corda! shows Malcolm Lowry as a dedicated and painstaking man, as well as a driven one. The letters collected in it are all of a piece with the best of his prose and his verse. They tell of Lowry as a lonely man (perhaps only he knew how lonely), but a man completely confident and at home in his own great gifts. I think they bear comparison with the letters of any other artist of our century.'

Scotland on Sunday

Other titles by Malcolm Lowry

Other titles by Sherrill E. Grace