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The 1940 Under the Volcano

The University of Ottawa Press gratefully acknowledges the support extended to its publishing list by Heritage Canada through the Canada Book Fund and by the Canada Council for the Arts. This book has been published with the help of a grant from the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, through the Awards to Scholarly Publications Program, using funds provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Copy editing: Barbara Ibronyi

Proofreading: Michael Waldin

Typesetting: CS

Cover design: Lisa Marie Smith

Cover image: Red Volcano by Dr. Atl, 1921–23

Reproduced with kind permission from the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Lowry, Malcolm, 1909-1957, author

The 1940 Under the volcano / by Malcolm Lowry ; a critical edition, edited and with an introduction by Miguel Mota & Paul Tiessen ; annotations by Chris Ackerley & David Large ; foreword by Vik Doyen & Patrick A.

McCarthy ; afterword by Frederick Asals.

(Canadian literature collection)

Includes bibliographical references.

Issued in print and electronic formats.

ISBN 978-0-7766-2315-3 (paperback).--ISBN 978-0-7766-2317-7 (pdf).--

ISBN 978-0-7766-2316-0 (epub)

I. Mota, Miguel, editor II. Tiessen, Paul, 1944-, editor III. Ackerley, Chris, 1947-, writer of added commentary IV. Large, David, 1982-, writer of added commentary V. Title. VI. Series: Canadian literature collection

PS8523.O96U5 2015




The 1940 Under the Volcano published with permission of Sterling Lord Literistic, Inc. Copyright 1994 by The Estate of Malcolm Lowry

©University of Ottawa Press, 2015













General Editor’s Note

This annotated edition of Malcolm Lowry’s 1940 version of his great 1947 novel, Under the Volcano, is the last of three related projects undertaken by an international team of Lowry scholars: Chris Ackerley (University of Otago), Vik Doyen (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven), Patrick A. McCarthy (University of Miami), Miguel Mota (University of British Columbia), and Paul Tiessen (Wilfrid Laurier University). The other projects are Doyen’s 2013 edition of the novella Swinging the Maelstrom (along with the distinct earlier version, “The Last Address”) and McCarthy’s 2014 edition of Lowry’s novel, In Ballast to the White Sea, previously thought to have been lost. Each edition is annotated by Ackerley, the present one in collaboration with David Large (University of Otago). Together, the three editions will provide scholars and other readers with detailed evidence of Lowry’s intentions and achievement during the period 1936–1944, a time of transition when he worked simultaneously on three books that he imagined as a Dantean trilogy: Under the Volcano as the Inferno; Swinging the Maelstrom as the Purgatorio; and In Ballast to the White Sea as the Paradiso.

For their invaluable assistance, advice, and support, the editors of these volumes would like to thank the University of Ottawa Press and Peter Matson. We would like to also thank the late Anne Yandle at the University of British Columbia Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections Division, whose early encouragement and guidance were so crucial to all who have worked on these projects. All three editions have been made possible by the support of a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, through its Editing Modernism in Canada (EMiC) project. For his ongoing support as director of EMiC, we owe special gratitude to Dean Irvine.


University of British Columbia


On 28 July 1934, his twenty-fifth birthday, Malcolm Lowry left Southampton for New York to be with Jan Gabrial, his wife of seven months. Already the author of one novel, Ultramarine (1933), Lowry was working on a sequel, In Ballast to the White Sea, and both he and Jan had high hopes that he would prosper in New York, the centre of the American publishing world. In most respects, however, the next two years were to prove disastrous for Lowry: not only was he often separated from Jan, but in the summer of 1935 he was accused of having plagiarized Ultramarine, and in May 1936 he had to be checked into the psychiatric ward at Bellevue Hospital, where he stayed for at least a week before Jan discovered what had happened and arranged for his release (Gabrial, Inside the Volcano 91). Even then, however, he was determined to make use of his experience, and soon he had a full draft of a novella, “The Last Address” (later revised and expanded as Swinging the Maelstrom), along with a nearly complete draft of In Ballast to the White Sea. By early September 1936, when he and Jan boarded a Greyhound bus for California and then Mexico, Lowry seemed to be making progress both personally and artistically. In Mexico Lowry planned to work on his marriage and on In Ballast, but his drinking led to more marital difficulties until late November 1937, when Jan left him. Even as his personal life fell apart, a series of incidents that seemed portentous to Lowry—perhaps starting with his arrival in Mexico either on or just before the Day of the Dead—led him to a new novel, Under the Volcano. A dying Indian by the roadside became linked in Lowry’s imagination to the death of a tourist called Erikson, the name of a character in In Ballast that he had modelled after the Norwegian author Nordahl Grieg, and both deaths were worked into Under the Volcano. An extended visit by Lowry’s former mentor Conrad Aiken led to long discussions and often drunken quarrels because of Aiken’s right wing views on world politics, including the civil war in Spain that had begun in July 1936 and that would become central to the novel’s political dimension. An innocuous sign in a public garden, essentially a request to keep children off the grass, became, through Lowry’s mistranslation, a threat of eviction, a modern version of the biblical expulsion from Paradise.

Whether sober or drunk, Lowry always jotted down notes in copybooks or on scraps of paper: poetic descriptions, fragments of conversation, signs, random thoughts, anything that caught his imagination. Soon, two characters started taking shape as he planned Under the Volcano: on the one hand Hugh, a young idealist who feels duty bound to volunteer on the side of the Loyalists in Spain; on the other hand “the Consul,” a cynical drunk who strongly objects to any interference, whether in international politics or in private matters such as his drinking or his failed marriage. The link between these two ideological counterparts is Yvonne, the Consul’s daughter, who has come to Mexico on the Day of the Dead, hoping to restore her parents’ marriage by convincing her father to stop drinking. In Mexico, however, she happens to meet Hugh, with whom she had a romantic encounter in Paris after a series of sordid affairs. Hugh realizes that his love for Yvonne has priority over his urge to fight in the Spanish war, while Yvonne realizes that she won’t be able to help her father and that she can start a new life with Hugh. For them the Day of the Dead ends with a consummation of their love. For the Consul, his alcoholic self-destruction culminates in death when he is shot in a drunken quarrel.

None of the pre-1940 typescripts for Under the Volcano survive, so what Arthur Calder-Marshall saw in Mexico in 1937 when he mentioned a forty-thousand-word draft and what Carol Phillips retyped in Los Angeles in 1939 remain a mystery. In the first half of 1940, while Lowry worried about being conscripted into the British army, the novel was entirely retyped in Vancouver by Margerie Bonner, who later became his second wife. We do not know whether Hugh’s decision to choose love instead of fighting in Spain was inspired by Lowry’s new-found love for Margerie or whether it was part of the plan for the novel earlier. In any case, the conclusion of Chapter XI is one place where the two extant versions of Under the Volcano, from 1940 and 1947, point in different directions. In 1940 there was still hope for love: not for the Consul, but at least for Yvonne. In the 1947 version, however, Yvonne is the Consul’s ex-wife, not his daughter, and his tragedy becomes hers as well, as the last moments of his life lead directly to her death. It must come as a surprise to readers familiar with the 1947 Volcano that in the 1940 text Yvonne’s experience of love is described in words that are echoed in the later version when she is trampled to death by a stampeding horse. But that is a perfect example of how Lowry revised this novel until it turned into one of the masterpieces of twentieth-century literature.

Although the most important differences between the 1940 and 1947 versions of Under the Volcano involve style and perspective, readers of this version will probably be most alert to the extent to which the two narratives differ. The general structure is much the same in both cases, with the first chapter set on the Day of the Dead, the anniversary of the Consul’s death. In each case the opening chapter focuses on Jacques Laruelle, a French film director and long-time friend of the Consul (named William Ames in 1940, Geoffrey Firmin in 1947). His perspective shapes our early view of the novel’s protagonist, whose voice is first “heard” in an unposted letter to his ex-wife (Priscilla in 1940, Yvonne in 1947) that Laruelle finds in a book he had borrowed from the Consul. The next two chapters are quite different in the 1940 Volcano from the more familiar final version. Chapter II turns back the clock two or three years (not just one, as in 1947), to the eve of the Day of the Dead, with the Consul’s daughter, Yvonne, having arrived in Acapulco, intending to go on to Quauhnahuac to see her father and perhaps convince him to give up drinking and return to his wife. In Acapulco she encounters Hugh Fernhead, whom she had known in Spain and had seen several times. Fate seems to have brought them together, and she accepts his suggestion that they fly together to Quauhnahuac. In Chapter III they meet the Consul, who is determined to keep on drinking. Believing that she can better handle her difficult father alone, Yvonne asks Hugh to leave them now but to join them for lunch. The remainder of the novel generally follows the sequence of events that remained intact through 1947, the major exception being that Chapter XI concludes with the sexual union of Yvonne and Hugh, not with Yvonne’s death. Apart from changes in the relationships of Hugh and Yvonne to the Consul, most of the characters—even minor ones like the old woman with a chicken and dominoes who appears early in the novel and reappears in the last chapter—are much the same in both versions. There are also striking passages in the 1940 text that survive intact, or with minor stylistic changes, through 1947. One example is the ending of Chapter IX, where “an old lame Indian” carries on his back an “older and more decrepit” Indian. Lowry made a highly significant change: in the 1947 text the lame Indian carries not only the older man but also “the weight of the past.” This strengthens the connection between this passage and the novel’s theme of the past, the personal and universal repository of guilt, even as it heightens the contrast between the Indian’s willingness to shoulder another person’s burden and the Consul’s fixation on his own past.

When he began writing Under the Volcano, Lowry could not have imagined that he would endure “nine solid years of continual failure,” as he put it in Dark as the Grave Wherein My Friend Is Laid (179), before the book would be accepted. After just three and a half years of work, he had enough confidence in the novel to send the typescript to Whit Burnett at Story Press. Lowry had good reason to believe in his novel’s potential: despite obvious weaknesses in dialogue, characterization, and perspective, the 1940 Under the Volcano was quite promising, enough so that a sympathetic publisher would have asked that it be resubmitted after significant revision. Had that been the course adopted by any of the twelve publishers who rejected the book during the months to come, Under the Volcano would have enjoyed some success, and Lowry would have been spared much of the anxiety that he experienced over the next years; but without far more extensive revision, it is doubtful that the Volcano would have been ranked among the best novels of the twentieth century. As it turned out, however, the rejection of the 1940 Volcano was fortunate because it led to the years of revisions that transformed the novel in essential ways, as Frederick Asals has demonstrated in his indispensable study, The Making of Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano (1997).

Even so, the 1940 Under the Volcano deserves our consideration as a novel, not as a prelude to one. There is much to admire in the novel at this stage, for example Lowry’s handling of alternating voices in the final chapter, when the Consul reads letters from his ex-wife Priscilla while a German silver miner, Wilhelm Bunge, tells him a strange dream about his dead sister. Priscilla is not dead, but the Consul regards his separation from her, represented by these letters that he had left unread at the Farolito, as a kind of death: “Nothing was more homeless than these letters—worse, he thought, than letters arriving on board ship in port for a man who has died at sea” (235). Neither the Consul nor Bunge appears to pay attention to the other as the Consul immerses himself in Priscilla’s letters while Bunge narrates his own story of despair, and that is perhaps one reason for the scene: each is drowning in his own sorrow. The scene in some ways resembles the earlier one with Señora Gregorio in Chapter VII, as the Consul realizes later in Chapter XII:

And he saw too, how all the occurrences of the day, the arrival of Yvonne, the snake in the garden, the scorpion, his hideous quarrel with Laruelle, and later with Hugh, the infernal machine, the encounter with Señora Gregorio, Priscilla’s letters, the decision not to go to Guanajuato and afterwards this meeting with the German silver miner, and much besides, had all been as swiftly passing milestones on this last stage of his headlong flight downhill. (242–43)

In both chapters, there are barriers to communication. The barriers in Chapter VII are primarily linguistic—Señora Gregorio’s poor English, the Consul’s even worse Spanish—but in Chapter XII the problem is that the Consul and Bunge are each oblivious of the other’s sorrow. The narrative moves back and forth between Priscilla’s voice and that of Bunge’s dead sister. Each is present in the scene by proxy, Priscilla through her letter as the Consul reads it, the sister through Bunge’s recitation of his dream. Bunge’s character was deleted from the 1947 novel, but this is still a touching scene, ending as it does with Bunge’s plea for sympathy: “‘You see that to understand such beauty you can’t be entirely degraded, don’t you?’ pleaded Bunge” (238). It’s a remarkable question, similar in its intent to Gregor Samsa’s question in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis after his sister plays the violin: “Could he really be an animal since music touched him so?” Bunge is a complex character who elicits from the reader both sympathy (for his loss of his sister, which haunts him) and scorn (for his anti-Semitism).

Throughout the 1940 Volcano there are other passages like this. The novel at this stage is one in which many of the materials that will shape it into a masterwork are already in place, but in a rougher form: glistering pieces of diamond not yet chiselled into their final shape and sometimes hidden under sidetracks. Even passages that don’t quite work, and would have to be jettisoned, show Lowry working toward a more mature style than that found in his earlier works. Take for example the following passage, describing the moment in Chapter IX when Yvonne realizes she is in love with Hugh:

It was the experience of this feeling, but which she had possessed only for authors who were dead, for Keats, and then for Shelley, and, in her adolescence, for Ernest Dowson, that had brought her closest in her life to what she imagined it to be. She wondered now as she had wondered then if such an emotion, separated from its element of hysterical identification, could become, truly, the thing itself. And as she was trying whimsically to fancy how she might have behaved had Keats or Shelley been alive, her question was answered, and, simultaneously, she knew that, even now, she was falling in love with Hugh. (179)

In the next paragraph she sees the world as fundamentally changed by her recognition of her love for Hugh. Asals notes in the essay reprinted here as the afterword that this “great epiphany” is unconvincing because at this stage Lowry had not developed the close connection between narration and style he would use so effectively in the 1947 Volcano, where each chapter is tied to the perspective of one of four main characters. Yet if Lowry in 1940 had not yet found a way to present Yvonne’s consciousness directly, he was at least moving in that direction, and the appearance of passages like this, in which the thoughts of other characters—Jacques, Yvonne, Hugh—are allotted the same careful attention that Lowry would formerly have given only to the novel’s protagonist (and Lowry surrogate), is a major development in his fiction.

As a novel, then, the 1940 Under the Volcano may be read on its own and in relation to the 1947 version. As editors of the other Lowry editions in this series, Swinging the Maelstrom (2013) and In Ballast to the White Sea (2014), we also want to stress the importance of this edition in relation to its predecessors, each of which preserves part of a projected trilogy that Lowry called “The Voyage That Never Ends.” The meticulously researched introduction to this volume, by Miguel Mota and Paul Tiessen, sets forth in detail the nature of this voyage and much more besides. The editors demonstrate why Lowry was devastated by Whit Burnett’s rejection of the 1940 manuscript; assess the strengths and weaknesses of the novel at that stage; explore the roles in the novel of the sea, music, and radios; and call attention to many ways in which the 1940 Under the Volcano may be read. Any such reading will be greatly enhanced by the annotations compiled by Chris Ackerley and David Large, which plunge us headlong into the marvellous abyss of Lowry’s imagination. By pointing to Lowry’s half-hidden allusions and quotations, the annotations reveal the larger socio-cultural and political context of Lowry’s intellectual world. At the same time, like the introduction, they offer a bridge to the 1947 Under the Volcano, starting with annotation I.1, on the Day of the Dead. Finally, the afterword by Frederick Asals makes available an essay that is just as valuable today as it was in 1994, when it was first published. It would be hard to improve on Asals’s concise statement about the essential difference between the 1940 and 1947 versions of Under the Volcano: “the music of these two texts is altogether different, a contrapuntal pop tune as opposed to a baroque cantata” (487).

Of course pop tunes have their value too, especially for a writer who once aspired to be a successful composer of foxtrots. This edition of the 1940 Under the Volcano reveals that the “failed text” of 1940, though not as complex or fully integrated as the more famous 1947 version, and certainly not as funny, has its own music, its own charms.


Katholieke Universiteit te Leuven


University of Miami


Our thanks go first and foremost to the annotators of this volume, Chris Ackerley and David Large. While editing Malcolm Lowry’s The 1940 Under the Volcano, we were, for a while, simply—or complicatedly—observers, occupying a spot along the sidelines, while the two annotators did their hard work. Over a period of many months we received regular progress reports from Ackerley and Large, including bursts of cheering and sounds of groaning, as they worked relentlessly on the annotations for this book. Their wise and witty performance of seemingly limitless erudition has created a significant parallel text, deepening and transforming our understanding of Lowry’s 1940 manuscript. Please note that Ackerley and Large’s own acknowledgments appear later in this volume, near the start of the annotations section.

This volume has benefited enormously, too, by our ongoing conversation with Vik Doyen in Belgium and Patrick McCarthy in the United States, the editors, respectively, of Swinging the Maelstrom (2013) and In Ballast to the White Sea (2014). Ours has been a years-long conversation about the Lowry trilogy, supported by our having been brought together in 2009 by Dean Irvine through the opportunities provided by the Editing Modernism in Canada (EMiC) project.

Our long-standing interest in Lowry’s project received early support from George Brandak and the late Anne Yandle of the Rare Books and Special Collections Division of the Library at the University of British Columbia, as well as Joanne Buchan and Deborah Harmon at Wilfrid Laurier University. Our heartfelt thanks to all of them. Norman Levi, of Victoria, B.C., generously allowed us to examine a copy of the original typescript of the 1940 version of Under the Volcano, now in his possession (after having found it many years ago on the beach at Dollarton soon after the Lowrys had left their home there). And we are grateful, too, for having the opportunity to include as an afterword in this volume Frederick Asals’s excellent critical account of the 1940 manuscript. Both of us have benefited in our Lowry research from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and we are grateful for its support, and, as always, for the support of Peter Matson and Sterling Lord Literistic of New York. Of course, none of this would have been possible without the encouragement of the University of Ottawa Press. We thank the two anonymous readers of the manuscript for their judicious and useful corrections and advice as well as Elizabeth Schwaiger and Barbara Ibronyi for their meticulous and instructive copy-editing. And especially we thank Dominike Thomas, whose wisdom and good humour has kept us going throughout.

And last, but certainly not least, for their ongoing advice and patience, and for generally putting up with each of us, we would like to thank Margaret Linley and Hildi Froese Tiessen.



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