Malcolm Lowry and Margerie Bonner Walk, Deep Cove BC
And let’s face it, it may be more a stumble – and that’s perfectly acceptable on this stroll.
Malcolm Lowry and Margerie Bonner
Malcolm Lowry and Margerie Bonner Walk
In Cates Park there is a walk called the Malcolm Lowry Walk: named after author, Malcolm Lowry, who squatted in the park from 1940-1954 in a shack with his wife Margerie Bonner. He wrote much of the classic novel Under the Volcano. This short trail takes you through a forest path, past a children’s play area, then along the waterfront to a nice pebble beach with a view of Indian Arm towards Bedwell Bay.
… The twin obsessions which would dominate his life, alcohol and literature, were firmly in place. Lowry was already well travelled; besides his sailing experience, he made visits to America and Germany between terms.
After Cambridge, Lowry lived briefly in London, existing on the fringes of the vibrant Thirties literary scene and meeting Dylan Thomas, among others. He met his first wife, Jan Gabrial, in Spain. They were married in France in 1934. Theirs was a turbulent union, especially due to his drinking, and because she was upset about homosexuals being attracted to him. After an estrangement, Lowry followed her to New York where, almost incoherent, he checked into Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital in 1936, following an alcohol-induced breakdown. When the authorities began to take notice of him, he fled to avoid deportation, and then went to Hollywood, where he tried screenwriting. It was about this time that he began writing Under the Volcano.
The couple moved to Mexico, arriving in the city of Cuernavaca on 2 November 1936, the Day of the Dead, in a final attempt to salvage their marriage. Lowry continued to drink heavily, though he also poured more energy into his writing.
The effort to save their marriage failed. Jan saw that he wanted a mother figure, and she did not want to fill that role. She then ran off with another man in late 1937. Alone in Oaxaca, Lowry entered into another period of dark alcoholic excess, culminating in his being deported from the country.
In summer 1938, Lowry left Mexico under mysterious circumstances. His family put him in the Hotel Normandie in Los Angeles; his father’s cheques went directly to the hotel manager. He continued working on his novel, and met his second wife, the actress and writer Margerie Bonner.
In August Lowry moved to Vancouver, Canada, leaving his manuscript behind. Later, Margerie moved up to Vancouver, bringing his manuscript with her, and the following year they got married. At first they lived in an attic apartment in the city. When World War II broke out, Lowry tried to enlist, but was rejected. Correspondence between Lowry and Canada’s Governor-General Lord Tweedsmuir (who was known as the writer John Buchan) during this time resulted in Lowry writing several articles for the Vancouver Province newspaper. The couple lived and wrote in a squatter’s shack on the beach near Dollarton in British Columbia, north of Vancouver. In 1944, the beach shack was lost to a fire, and Lowry was injured in his efforts to save manuscripts. Margerie was an entirely positive influence, editing Lowry’s work skilfully and making sure that he ate as well as drank (she drank, too). The couple travelled to Europe, America and the Caribbean, and while Lowry continued to drink heavily, this seems to have been a relatively peaceful and productive period. It lasted until 1954, when a final nomadic period ensued, embracing New York, London and other places. During their travels to Europe, Lowry twice attempted to strangle Margerie.
Lowry died in a rented cottage in the village of Ripe, Sussex, where he was living with his wife. The coroner’s verdict was death by misadventure, and the causes of death given as inhalation of stomach contents, barbiturate poisoning, and excessive consumption of alcohol.
It has been suggested that his death was a suicide. Inconsistencies in the accounts given by his wife at various times about what happened at the night of his death have also given rise to suspicions of murder.
Lowry is buried in the churchyard of St John the Baptist in Ripe. Lowry reputedly wrote his own epitaph: “Here lies Malcolm Lowry, late of the Bowery, whose prose was flowery, and often glowery. He lived nightly, and drank daily, and died playing the ukulele” – the epitaph does not appear on his gravestone.
The younger sister of silent screen star Priscilla Bonner, she also appeared in several films (spelling her first name Marjorie), among them Cecil B. DeMille’s The King of Kings (1927), The Sign of the Cross (1932), and the talkie Cleopatra (1934). By the late 1930s her movie career was over and she was working as a personal assistant to the actress Penny Singleton.
Relationship with Malcolm Lowry and writing career
On June 7, 1939, she met British author Malcolm Lowry on the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Western Avenue at the time he had had begun the second draft of Under the Volcano. They married in 1940 and settled in a beach shack in Dollarton, a small town near Vancouver, British Columbia. Bonner wrote scripts for CBC Radio and worked with Lowry on a screenplay for the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel Tender Is the Night. She wrote three novels during the 1940s. Two were mystery novels, The Shapes That Creep (1944) and The Last Twist of the Knife (1946) (both “in the vein of Agatha Christie”); a third was “a more ambitious novel about human passions, dreams, and failure”, Horse in the Sky (1947). A fourth novel, The Castle of Malatesta, was a psychological novel that remained in manuscript.
Under the Volcano
She is chiefly remembered for her unsung role in the creation of Lowry’s masterpiece, Under the Volcano (1947). Not only did she provide the supportive environment her husband needed in order to write, she meticulously edited the novel’s manuscript while various passages were rewritten at her suggestion. Since Lowry had a tendency toward verbosity, her most frequent editorial comment was “cut”. She is widely “considered to be the model for its central female character, the consul’s wife, Yvonne.”
After Lowry’s death in 1957, Margerie Bonner returned to Los Angeles and co-edited with Douglas Day the unfinished novel Dark as the Grave Wherein My Friend Is Laid in 1968, and edited his Psalms and Songs in 1975.
In 1955 Lowry was persuaded by her to return to Ripe, a small village in Sussex, England, where he died two years later “after a fatal mixture of gin and sodium amytol: the coroner’s verdict was ‘Death by misadventure.'”
‘Foul play at White Cottage’, an article by biographer Gordon Bowker published in the Times Literary Supplement on 20 February 2004, outlined inconsistencies in the various different accounts of Lowry’s death offered by Margerie.
A 2007 collection of texts by Lowry suggests “he either committed suicide or was in fact murdered by his wife.”
Malcolm Lowry outside his shack in Dollarton, Deep Cove BC.