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43.1 A corpse will be transported by express.

These ominous words, predictive of his own headlong rush to oblivion, are uttered by Geoffrey Firmin; they are reinforced by Fernando’s reply, "absolutemente necesario" and the "mysterious contrapuntal dialogue" ['LJC', 72] of Weber, the smuggler who flew Hugh down to Mexico and who is mixed up with the local thugs and sinarquistas ultimately responsible for the Consul's death. The words are not as strange as might appear: Geoffrey is studying a blue and red Mexican National Railways timetable [46], and, as Genviève Bonnefoi noted in her 'Souvenir de Quauhnahuac' [97-98], it was stipulated on page 5 of that document, under the rules concerning Transportation of Corpses, that this was to be done only by express and that someone responsible for tending the corpse and provided with his own ticket must travel in the same train.

The precise wording is recorded in a revision of Chapter X [UBC 31-6, 25]: "A corpse will be transported by express; the charges are equivilent [sic] to 2 adult passengers. It must be checked to the U. S. border of exit and accompanied by a person holding a first class ticket." Asals notes the effect in the 1941 revision of placing this sentiment, long present, at the chapter head: Lowry "seems to have seized on the principle of that dramatic opening as a touchstone for other chapters, and to have made use of the new focus through a single consciousness to achieve it" [Making, 95].

43.2 the Bella Vista.

Hotel Bella Vista

In 1938, the quality hotel of Cuernavaca; once the manor house of a great hacienda, it was remodeled into a hotel in 1910 by an Englishwoman, Rosa King, whose Tempest Over Mexico (1935) tells her story and that of the hotel during the Mexican Revolution. The hotel was the pick-up point for first-class cabs and carriages (which is why the taxi "insisted" on taking her there). The drop-off point at the Bella Vista was the Portel del Aguila del Oro, or "Gateway of the Golden Eagle" [de Davila, 91], which may account in part for Yvonne's confusion about the etymology of Quauhnahuac [see #44.8].

43.3 the tiny Quauhnahuac airfield.

Cuernavaca's airfield was little more than a landing strip. A marginal note [UBC 29-4, II] states: "it had been built this year, in 1938." Lowry wanted Yvonne to fly in to underline her almost ethereal quality. In the 1940 Volcano Hugh and Yvonne fly into Quauhnahuac from Acapulco in this manner.

43.4 "–just a bunch of Alladamnbama farmers!"

Lowry indicates to Clemens ten Holder [21 March 1951; CL 2, 345ff] that the voice beyond the glass partition is that of a man, Weber, "who belongs to a kind of sub-sub-sub-plot of the novel. He is not very important, in one way, and yet he has to be there, bracing something far down within the substructure of the whole." He is an Alabaman who refers to himself and his past regiment in the French Foreign Legion as ‘Alabama’. Although the Consul has not met him, Weber is "already involved with his destruction, his fate"; Lowry refers to this as a "contrapuntal device", a "motif" and an "instrument" of fate. Later [23 April 1951; CL 2, 382-83], Lowry said that the name derived from the Head of Weber's School of Modern German which he had attended in Bonn (Sept.-Oct 1928), an Englishman who lived in Danzig, "a truly frightening man" whom he had finally bettered in his favourite game of bumblepuppy [see #347.2], and on whom he revenged himself this way. In the 1940 Volcano much of this monologue was heard by Yvonne through her hotel wall in Acapulco, before she and Hugh flew north, piloted by Weber; in revision Weber crossed the border with Hugh and flew him down. Both are involved in dubious gun-running enterprises, but on different sides.

44.1 a hurricane of immense and beautiful butterflies.

Despite the clear sky and the beautiful day, Yvonne's arrival in Acapulco is not without intimations of Hurakán [see #16.2], of her own death (figured in the relationship of butterflies to the burnt letter [42]), and of the ascending soul [336]. The underlying reference is the story of Psyche and Cupid, as told by Apuleius in his Metamorphoses [Bks 4-6], of a maiden so beautiful that she aroused the envy of Venus, who sent her son Cupid to inspire her with love for the meanest of men. Cupid fell in love with Psyche, visited her by night, and warned of dire consequences should she look on him. Psyche's curiosity prevailed; she lit a lamp and saw the god of love at her side, but a drop of oil fell upon him, he awoke, reproached her, and flew away. Psyche set out to look for him, and after long wanderings was united with her lover and made immortal.

Frater Achad

Psyche as the personification of the human soul is depicted as a butterfly. The story is often interpreted as an allegory of the human soul guided by love eventually attaining happiness by purification through sorrow, as in Thomas Taylor's explanation [cited by Frater Achad, Psychomagia, 6], "designed to represent the lapse of the human soul from the intelligible world to the earth" (Taylor's "lapse of the human soul" becomes Achad's "lapse of the soul"). Yvonne may be identified with Psyche, wandering in search of her lost love, but her dream of reunification and complete happiness is not attained. 

44.2 the Pennsylvania.

A passenger ship of 18,000 tons, the S.S. Pennsylvania was in service between various west coast ports in the 1930s. It later sank off Vancouver [SL, 288]. Lowry and his first wife Jan arrived at Acapulco from San Diego on the Pennsylvania. Lowry claimed to have arrived on 1 November 1936, which he called the Day of the Dead [Day, 214], an error maintained in this chapter [but see #4.2]. The date of 1 November is confirmed by Jan Gabrial [Inside the Volcano, 98], but queried by Bowker, who notes that Lowry’s passport was stamped 30 October 1936 [Pursued by Furies, 205].

44.3 commotion.

In response to a query by Albert Erskine [UBC 2-6], Lowry linked the "commotion" of butterflies to a novel by Ronald Firbank, Sorrow in Sunlight (1924; the US title was Prancing Nigger,1925); the only likely image is from Chapter 3, the evocation of the Haiti shore: “Boats with crimson spouts, to wit, steamers, dotted the skyline far away, and barques, with sails like the wings of butterflies, borne by an idle breeze, were bringing more than one ineligible young mariner, back to the prose of shore.” Lowry offered a technical reason for the word, based on a distinction made by I.A. Richards between ‘commotion’ and ‘emotion’ in Coleridge on the Imagination (1934), suggesting that while the commotion includes the butterflies it equally refers to Yvonne's state of mind (thus, the comma after "commotion" in this sentence of truly Faulknerian proportions is absolutamente necessarío). Essentially, Richards proposes that we speak not of the emotions aroused in us by art, but of the commotions

44.4 a taxi strike that afternoon.

In early versions of the novel, this detail had a significance not apparent in the final text. Because the taxis were on strike, the projected trip to Guanajuato [146] could not take place (the Consul's car had broken down, and Vigil's offer did not then exist), which left open the bus trip to Parián – one more instance of how all elements inform against the Consul on this his last day.

44.5 its air of slumbering Harlequin.

Harlequin is a masked clownish figure, usually dressed in a diamond-spangled costume and carrying a wooden sword or bat. The figure had its origins in the commedia dell'arte, and first appeared in England in a 1685 adaptation by William Mountford of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus. Harlequinades reached the height of their popularity on the English stage 1806-36, combining burlesque and clowning with a tangled romance between Harlequin and Columbine, harried by Pantaloon and the Clown. The "air of slumbering Harlequin" refers to the scene in a typical Harlequinade before the transformation of the lovers into Harlequin and Columbine and the subsequent scenes of frenzied activity.

Ignatius Donnelly

Lowry would have found in Donnelly [210] the comment: "the Hellequin of France becomes the Harlequin of our pantomimes"; hence, as Kilgallin notes [157], the word "suggests not only Faustian drama but also the old French Hellequin, one of a troop of demon horsemen riding by night." This enforces the association between the equestrian statue of the turbulent Huerta and the demonic horse that rides Yvonne down.

44.6 the equestrian statue of the turbulent Huerta.

Victoriano Huerta (1854-1916), Mexican general and president, who came to power in 1913 in a military coup and by almost certainly murdering his predecessor, Francisco I. Madero. He resigned in July 1914 under American pressure and fled to Europe where he drank himself to death. His seventeen-month presidency was marked by corruption and violence, criminality and drunkenness. His equestrian statue is thus a demonic parody or inversion of the Consul, who has similarly abnegated responsibility.

Zapata statue

This detail and the air of "slumbering Harlequin" were very late additions, designed to enforce the parallels between Chapters I and XI. At the moment of her death, Yvonne confuses the horse about to trample her with the statue: "the horse, rearing, poised over her, it was the statue of Huerta, the drunkard, the murderer, it was the Consul" [336]. There is not, nor has ever been, a statue to Huerta in the zócalo of Cuernavaca, but equestrian statues (such as that of Carlos V in Mexico City) abound in Mexico. At the north entrance to Cuernavaca (at Zapata and Universidad) is a magnificent stone statue of Emiliano Zapata on a wild-eyed galloping horse; but as the plaque is dated 1879-1979, the centenary of Zapata's birth, it cannot be the force behind Lowry's inspiration.

44.7 nutant.

L. nutare, “to nod”; drooping, nodding.

44.8 where the eagle stops.

Where the eagle stops

Yvonne confuses the origin of Quauhnahuac, meaning "near the wood", with that of Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital and site of present day Mexico City. Her confusion is understandable, given that the terminal at the Bella Vista was the Portel del Aguila del Oro [see #43.2], but perhaps arises because Nahuatl quauhtli, “eagle”, is similar to cuáhuitl, “wood”, and has suggested to her the legend of the founding of Tenochtitlán.

In 1325 the wandering Aztecs halted near the lake of Texcoco and saw a magnificent royal eagle perched on a nopáli cactus with a serpent in his talons and his wings open to the rising sun; they hailed the auspicious omen as a sign from their god Huitzilopotchli that here was to be their future city. The emblem of eagle, cactus and serpent is depicted on the present-day Mexican flag and coat of arms. The glyph representing Quauhnahuac in the Aztec codices, depicting a talking tree [Bonnefoi, 95], confirms that "Louis" rather than Yvonne is correct, but the manuscripts of Under the Volcano reveal that up to the very last drafts Lowry too was in error: there was no mention of "near the wood", but another comment, subsequently deleted from Chapter XI, described the eagle as "of the kind for which the Aztecs had named Quauhnahuac itself" [UBC 31-10, 5], showing how much Lowry wanted the earlier reference to anticipate Yvonne's later freeing of the eagle. Lowry admits the error in a late note [UBC WT 1-9, 9], and in a rough marginal message [UBC 31-11]: "we're in slight trouble with ‘Where the Eagle stops’."

44.9 Louis.

For possible identification of this obscure figure, see #48.2.

44.10 a river of lapis.

L. lapis, “a stone”; but here lapis lazuli, the semi-precious stone whose azure colouring fits the heraldic setting. See: "this scrolled silver rim of wash striking the shore" [37].

44.11 the horn of Venus.

Venus, second planet from the sun and brightest star in the sky, as the morning star (Sp., "el lucero del alba") is also called Lucifer, “light-bearer”, and is considered in Toltec mythology to be the stellification of Quetzalcóatl, star of the morning. Yvonne sees the planet in its crescent phase, partly darkened on the side away from the rising sun, so that its illuminated part appears as a crescent, which thins out into two "horns", suggesting not only the horns of Lucifer but those of cuckoldry: Aphrodite (Venus), given in marriage to Hephestus (Vulcan), the lame smith, betrayed her husband with Ares (Mars) and was exposed to the ridicule of the gods. Yvonne's betrayal of Geoffrey with Hugh is thus implied in her identification with Venus.

44.12 Compañia Mexicana de Aviación.

Known at this time throughout Central America as the CMA, this airline was founded by two Americans in 1924 and by 1940 had quickly established itself as the leading airline of Latin America. Usually referred to as Mexicana, it was long the country’s flag-carrier.

44.13 winged emissary of Lucifer.

Macgregor Mathers

Lucifer, son of the morning [Isaiah 14:12], brightest of the angels before his fall, is commonly identified with Satan, but in occult literature usually considered one of the four chief spirits (with Leviathan, Satan, and Belial); A.E. Waite denies any connection between Satan and Lucifer on the grounds that the Zoharic prince of demons is never compared to the morning star or any other luminary of heaven [The Holy Kabbalah, VII.ii, 276]. One derivation of Lucifer is given in MacGregor-Mathers's The Sacred Magic, 110, where a long list of "emissaries" can be found: "Lucifer: –From Latin, Lux, Light, and Fero, to bear: A Light Bearer. There is a name ‘Lucifuge’ also employed occasionally, from Lux, Light, and Fugio, to fly from = He who shuns the Light." Although Chapter II is mediated by Yvonne’s [un]awareness, these forces are present, and particularly for Geoffrey.

45.1 the Servicio de Ambulancia within Cortez Palace.

Cortés Palace

Until 1965 the Cortés Palace was used as the ayuntamiento, or civic administration centre (later relocated in the Palacio Municipal). In early drafts Lowry had emphasized that the ambulance drivers were on strike to increase the Consul's later guilt by his knowing that the dying Indian was even less likely to receive aid.

45.2 Hotel Bella Vista Gran Baile Noviembre 1938 a Beneficio de la Cruz Roja. Los Mejores Arzistas del radio en acción. No falte Vd.

Sp. "Hotel Bella Vista Grand Ball November 1938 for the benefit of the Red Cross. The best radio stars in action. Don't miss it." The Consul's attendance at this ball is in marked contrast with his later inability to render the dying Indian first aid.

45.3 the Spanish Main.

A phrase, redolent of piracy and romance, normally restricted to the Atlantic seaboard and waters between Spain and the New World plied by Spanish merchantmen.

45.4 like young Tritons.

Triton fresco

Triton, a sea deity, son of Poseidon and Amphritrite, is usually depicted with the head and upper body of a man and the tail of a fish and as carrying a conch shell trumpet to raise or quieten the waves. He gave his name to other strange creatures, half man, half fish, which played lasciviously among the waves, blowing noisily upon their conches. Writing to Conrad Aiken, the young Lowry invoked Blue Voyage [16], the sea sound in strange waters, "like the hush in a conch shell" [Aiken / Lowry Letters, 9].

45.5 the little towns ... their humped churches .... cobalt swimming pools.

Hints of a malformed or demonic mode of existence corresponding with the normal one are present even at this moment as Yvonne flies towards the volcanoes: the word ‘cobalt’, from Ger. kobold, “a goblin”, the demon of a mine, picks out what is suggested only obliquely by the other adjectives (though ‘humped’ churches may have for Lowry a vague connotation of the Hunchback of Notre Dame).

46.1 wearing no socks.

Because his feet and ankles are swollen from excessive drinking, but also a sign of psychic disorder [see #29.1]. The name Oedipus means "swell-foot", and the Consul's affliction (like his limp) suggests the identification.

46.2 Cafeaspirina.


In Mexico, Cafiaspirina (Lowry spells it correctly in most of the drafts, but probably could not resist the pun) is a common variety of aspirin that has caffeine as one of its active ingredients. In the drafts Lowry toyed with the idea of doing something with the Bayer company's German origins, but the idea was dropped. Cafeaspirina is important thematically because, among other things, it claims to give relief from "dolores".

The acronym "CAFÉ" stood for "Camarades Arriba Falange Española", a Spanish Fascist movement begun secretly in 1934; that Lowry knew this is indicated by the explicit Bayer connection [UBC 31-5, 10], as much as by the pun.

46.3 tequila añejo.

Sp. "old Tequila"; presumably Tequila Añejo de Jalisco [see #127.3], a bottle of which the Consul has secreted in his garden before the coming of Hugh.

46.4 absolutamente necesario.

Las Manos de Orlac

Sp. "absolutely necessary"; or, in one of Lowry's deft translations [UBC 31-5, 12], "indispensable". The advertisement for Cafeaspirina is next to that for Las Manos de Orlac, now playing (as one year later) at the local cinema, and the juxtaposition of the two signs touches on Yvonne's sense of guilt. A like phrase is used by Dr Gogol in Las Manos de Orlac. Asals shows how the Consul's "Absolutamente no" in Chapter l2 helps create a sinister parody of this scene, its courteous barman and scarlet woman transposed into Diosdado "angrily drying glasses" and the Consul not paying "for Mehican girl" [Making, 357].

46.5 her scarlet bag.

The oblique reference to the Whore of Babylon [Revelation 17:4] suggested by the woman’s scarlet brassiere is reinforced and then further asserted by Weber's "We came through with heels flying", which had for Lowry the force of a private allusion to (as he believed the case to be) the flagrant infidelities of his first wife Jan's. The association is spelt out in Conrad Aiken's Ushant [349]: "the faithless little heels were all too faithlessly and obviously going away ... a flat declaration that the heels were damned well going to be unfaithful"; but it is also manifest later in the novel: Yvonne's heels are red [187], and there is a reference to "whore's shoes" (the antithesis of good-luck symbols on a wedding cake) [140]. In the Consul's mind at least, Yvonne is coloured as a scarlet woman, and his sub-conscious resentment of her infidelity triggers off the following sexual puns.

Jan Gabrial
Conrad Aiken

Jan Gabrial took exception to Conrad Aiken's "apparent fixation" with her high heels [Inside the Volcano, 5], claiming that she had never owned them, and that even if she had she would "hardly have elected to wander the by-roads of Mexico decked out like Tennessee Williams' Blanche Dubois" [162]. Jan took her revenge [125], by describing Aiken’s arrival in Cuernavaca: "And Mephistopheles appeared fullblown in our midst, sprung not from flame and brimstone but in the rotund persona of Malcolm's father-surrogate, that bottle-a-day bard with full blown sexual neuroses: Conrad Aiken."

46.6 as she knew he must see her.

Yvonne's arrival has for the Consul a peculiar unreality that it cannot have for others. In a state of delusional insanity, "a sort of religious mysticism turned upside down" [see #222.1], things that should suggest salvation to an initiate only confirm the Consul's sense of death. Light is shunned, lightbulbs shattered, sunflowers stare into his room all day; he is haunted by pariah dogs, snakes and scorpions, and the insect world closes in. He is thus condemned by a paranoid consciousness that creates fearful visions and selects from the natural world the symbols of damnation that it seeks.

Las Manos de Orlac

Yvonne sees herself as she believes the Consul must see her, jaunty, a little diffident, but tangibly there. The problem is, Geoffrey does not see her thus. He has been studying the timetable, with its "express" conditions about transportation of a corpse; he refers to Lucifer; a "scarlet" woman is on the wall, next to the advertisement for Las Manos de Orlac (bloody hands and a heroine named Yvonne); and he has spent part of the night howling and praying for his wife's return. Her "apparition" in apparent answer to his prayers, on this the Day of the Dead when the living may communicate with souls lost to them, invests her in his mind with the unreality of an incubus. And for the rest of the day, no matter what Yvonne might do, she cannot divest herself of those delusional qualities.

47.1 From Acapulco, Hornos.

The Hotel Mirador where Yvonne stayed overnight is not really near the Playa Hornos in Acapulco, the beach celebrated for its afternoon swimming. The word ‘hornos’ means in Spanish "furnace" or "oven"; but the Consul underlines the themes of hell and cuckoldry by referring to Cape Horn (Sp. "Cabo de Hornos"), on Horn Island, just south of Tierra del Fuego, that tip of the tail to the scorpion-shaped south of the American continent; and thereby anticipates his favourite story [338], of the scorpion surrounded by flames stinging itself to death.

The 1940 Volcano describes Acapulco in greater detail. Much of Chapter II was set in the Mirador Hotel (Quebrada 74) and scenes later recalled by Yvonne were described directly. The tiny Acapulco airport was at Hornos. In her memoir [Inside the Volcano, 10lff], Jan Gabrial tells of the Miramar Hotel, of pelicans diving for fish, a visit to the cemetery on the Day of the Dead, and the child's funeral, reset in Quauhnahuac [UTV, 56]. Other details from the 1940 Chapter II reappear in Chapter XI of the later novel.

47.2 San Pedro – Panama Pacific.

San Pedro is a port in the extreme south of Los Angeles harbour. Panama Pacific was a Steamship line operating along the west coast of Mexico and the USA; one of its ships was the Pennsylvania [see #44.2].

47.3 bull-headed Dutchmen.

Andersen suggests [135], that this phrase and Weber's "with heels flying" constitutes a reference to the legend of the Flying Dutchman, who, having challenged heaven and hell, was condemned to sail the seas until Judgment Day, unless, on one day every seven years, he can find the woman who will redeem him by her faithful love. The "bull-headed" Consul, unlike Wagner's Dutchman, refuses the chance of such redemption.

47.4 Alas!


Alas is a Mexican brand of American cigarette (Wings) whose dolorous name recurs to the Consul during the day. Cigarettes are used throughout the novel as emblematic of the small value of a human life: as in the submarine burning helplessly, "a smoking cigar aglow on the vast surface of the Pacific” [32]; the Consul's cigarette "consuming itself in an ashtray" [46]; Hugh's cigarette "that seemed bent, like humanity, on consuming itself as quickly as possible" [101]; and the "ravaged cigarette" dropped down the ravine [102]. Lowry was concerned that this symbolism be explicit, noting in the margin [UBC 30-8, 5], "at least have some reflection here about their eternal cigarettes, somewhat on the lines of my poem: ‘Our lives we do not weep / are like wild cigarettes’" [CP, #158].

47.5 wagging its tail.

The reference is to the scorpion [see #47.1 & #50.2]. Lowry told Clemens ten Holder [21 March 1951; CL 2, 354] that Cape Horn's bad habit of wagging its tail derives from the old maritime belief (and philosophical truth) that after rounding the Cape the worst danger lies ahead.

47.6 Calle Nicaragua, cinquenta dos.

Sp. "Nicaragua Street, 52"; in Cuernavaca, the Calle Humboldt (named after Baron Alexander von Humboldt, explorer and man of science and letters). A certain mystery surrounds the location of Lowry's house in Cuernavaca, clearly the model for that of the Consul: Day [215], locates it as No. 15, at the intersection of Calle de Humboldt and Calle de Salazar, but this tallies neither with the description in the novel nor with letters written by Conrad Aiken from Cuernavaca, where Lowry's address is given as 62. In Dark as the Grave [123 & 153], the numbers are given as 65, by 1945 changed to 55. Lowry offers in the typescript [UBC 9-5, 334] one reason for the change of address: "in my book, 52 adds up to 7”; this also constituting an oblique reference to the night of the culmination of the Pleiades [see #29.4].

Calle Humboldt 62

Jan Gabrial confirms that the address was Calle Humboldt 62, an attractive tile-roofed house with a 30-foot verandah, three bedrooms and "a breath-taking view of the volcanoes" [Inside the Volcano, 103]. The monthly tab was $42, originally split with "a fellow wanderer" named Alan Mondragon. They moved in on 18 November 1936, and after Alan left (or was asked to leave) Jan took his room, which opened onto the verandah. In the novel, the Consul's house is located well down the Calle Humboldt, in a desirable residential area where several embassies, including the British, maintained weekend houses. Lowry probably had a specific place in mind, but frequent changes of numbering since 1938 and the demolition of many houses in the area make a precise identification of either Lowry's or the Consul's house difficult.

Nicaraguan 20¢ stamp

An obscure anecdote may underlie the choice of the name, ‘Nicaragua’: when the canal through Central America was contemplated, a Nicaraguan Canal was favoured by many, but when pro-Panama lobbyists drew attention to a Nicaraguan stamp (1902, 20¢ red) that featured the smoking Momotombo volcano (which was both dormant and far from the proposed passage), support in the American Congress for the alternative (and perhaps more logical) route was eroded.

47.7 Yvonne pressed a tostón on a dark god.

A tostón is a silver coin worth 50 centavos. The dark god is possibly an ironic allusion to D.H. Lawrence's The Plumed Serpent (1926) and its strange cult of primitivism; Lowry had read the novel and found it "pretty dreadful" [Kilgallin, 160], and references to it in Under the Volcano are conspicuously absent [see, however, #54.6 & #254.1].

47.8 'Have a drink?' ... '–'.

Costa comments [71], that the dash is all Yvonne can answer in response to the Consul's brazen invitation to drink, since, after all, she left him because of his drinking. As Asals points out [Making, 212], the quoted dash surely borrows from film, the visual reaction shot that cannot be conveyed by words.

48.1 Fort Sale ..... shoeshot ..... Brownings:

Fort Sale is probably Lowry's phonetic version of Fort Sill, a U.S. Army reservation at Lawton, Oklahoma, and home of the Army's Field Artillery School; the name is mildly ironic in the context of gun-running. Shoeshot is probably Shurshot, a kind of Winchester repeating rifle, and Brownings are BAR's (Browning Automatic Rifles).

48.2 Louis.

This figure could be based on Arthur Calder-Marshall, who had visited Lowry in Cuernavaca, then went to California. Alternatively, it could suggest Louis Fischer (1896-1970), the journalist with The Nation who was the first American to enlist with the International Brigades and later helped the Republicans to purchase arms; Hugh's career and politics are similar to those of Fischer, whose Men and Politics (1941) Lowry could have read. The name ‘Louis’ was a late change to the manuscripts, earlier versions reading “Tom Taylor” (the ‘Tom’ who rings from America [76]).

48.3 To Oaxaca.


Although Yvonne and Geoffrey "had found each other once" in Oaxaca, the Consul's experiences there since her departure [see #35.11] render his toast somewhat ambivalent.

48.4 the great tree.

A giant ahuehuetl or cypress, now dying despite the best efforts to save it, at the village of Santa María de Tule a few miles from Oaxaca on the road to the ruins at Mitla. The tree, some 135 feet high and impressively wide with an immense bole, towers above the nearby church. It is said to be the oldest living thing in Mexico, at least 3,000 years old. Cortés reputedly dined beneath its branches on his way to Honduras in 1524. Jan Gabrial recalls seeing it [Inside the Volcano, 124], noting that for Lowry, “admittedly something of a tree-freak”, as a living relic it held a sacred quality.

48.5 Etla and Nochitlán.

The village of San Pedró y San Pablo Etla and the town of Ascunsión Nochixtlán, respectively some twenty and eighty miles north of Oaxaca on the road to Cuernavaca.

49.1 damas accompañadas de un caballero, gratis!

Sp. "ladies accompanied by a gentleman, free!"

49.2 the ancient fragrant Mayan air.

In evoking the magic of a past civilization, Yvonne (or Lowry) is in error: the Mayans, whose civilization reached its height between 300 and 900 AD before inexplicably declining, built their cities in Central America and the Yucatán but did not extend their rule north to Oaxaca, the centre in turn of the Olmec, Zapotec and Mixtec civilizations.

49.3 You get to like the other.

For Lowry’s concern that the reader should pick up the echo of "the other" by the swimming pool in Chapter III, see Asals [Making, 437].

49.4 cluster-lamps.

On cargo ships, a cluster-lamp was a large lamp some eighteen inches in diameter attached to the end of a long rope to be lowered into hatches to facilitate unloading at night. The "curious familiar glare" in Geoffrey's eyes seems to indicate that the ship of his soul is very much under the control of some other malignant force.

50.1 Ras Algethi.

Ar. "Head of the Kneeler": a giant red star (one of the largest known) of variable brightness in the constellation Hercules; also known as Alpha Herculis. It is described in Olcott's Star Lore [218] as "a beautiful double star, with a fine contrast of colours in its orange red and bluish green stars."

50.2 Antares.

In popular etymology, anti Ares, "the rival of Mars"; also known as "the Scorpion’s Heart" (Ar. Kalbal 'Akrab). A star of the first magnitude in the centre of the constellation Scorpio, described [322] as "raging to its end – a smouldering ember yet five hundred times greater than the earth's sun." These intimations of disaster are borne out by the fact of the novel's action being set in Scorpio.

50.3 an old woman from Tarasco.

The Tarascans (or Purépechas) were an Indian tribe who resisted Aztec rule and attained a considerable level of culture in pre-Columbian times, but they declined in numbers and importance after their subjugation by the Spaniards in 1533. The Tarascan language is still spoken, and the name Tarasco (not to be confused with the gulf state of Tabasco) applies generally to an area of lagoons and mountains in the northeast of Michoacán State. There was a cantina, El Tarasco, near the old market place in Cuernavaca.

The old woman is a figure of fate, for the chill Yvonne feels is the presentiment of death. The word ‘domino’, originally signifying a cloak or half-mask, suggests the black death-mask invariably worn by Mixcóatl, the Aztec god of death, and by various Mayan deities whose presence boded ill. The dominoes, Epstein suggests [80], are for "reading fate by means of gematria", numerical values used to interpret the secret mystery of words; while the chicken, pecking among the dominoes, may suggest the Roman tripudium or the art of divination by the way food fell from the mouths of the sacred chickens. The prophecy of death is obscurely present, would the Consul but heed it.

This passage, almost like this, is in the 1940 Volcano [71], a poetic "mosaic" that did not change. Underlying it is the sentiment, from William James, Varieties of Religious Experience [378], that the "drunken consciousness is one bit of the mystic consciousness, and our total opinion of it must find its place in our opinion of that larger whole"; that our "normal waking consciousness ... is but one special type of consciousness, while all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different." What has changed from the 1940 text is its filtration through Yvonne's awareness.

51.1 William Blackstone.

William Blackstone (1595-1675), graduate of Cambridge and minister of the Church of England, left England in 1623, several years before the main body of Puritans. Solitary by nature, he moved across the Charles River to what is now Boston, but in 1635, after a dispute with the Puritans, he moved off to what is now Rhode Island ("away from the people with ideas" [UTV, 92]), to spend the next forty years on his farm at Study Hill on the river later named after him. He was said to have a large library, to have grown apple trees, to have ridden a bull instead of a horse, and to have been a friend to the Indians (who nevertheless fired his house after he died).

Blackstone was Conrad Aiken's literary discovery and was used by him in a 1937 essay, 'Literature and Massachusetts', as the figure of the man who wished to be alone. As the prototype of solitary American individualism he figured in Aiken's 1947 poem, 'The Kid':

Where now he roves, by wood or swamp whatever,
the always restless, always moving on,
his books burned, and his own book lost forever,
under the cold stars of New England, gone.

In Ushant [291], Aiken suggests that Lowry felt a "mystic identification" with the figure of William Blackstone. Lowry was much taken with the theme, announced to Aiken that Blackstone was henceforth his property [Day, 223], and romanticised his life into the legend of "the man who went to live among the Indians" – a myth which, like his father's disappearance, caters to the Consul's desire for oblivion and his hatred of interference.

51.2 tabid.

L. tabere, "to waste away"; progressively thinning, wasting away. The word, with overtones of neuritis and atrophy, seems more applicable to the Consul than to the music.

51.3 army and navy.

Like the word ‘consular’, the phrase has a ring of spruce efficiency. The Army and Navy stores headquarters in Victoria Street, London, offer a dazzling range of quality merchandise; as their name implies, they began as suppliers to the armed forces.

52.1 the ragged Mexican with the dark glasses.


Apparent confirmation of the Consul's fears, expressed by Laruelle [30], of being "around the town pursued by other spiders". As to whether these followers are real or "figments of a paranoid brain" [Jakobsen, 10], there is no easy answer, since Yvonne too is aware of them. To Clemens ten Holder [21 March 1951; CL 2, 347], Lowry said that the Consul has "a first-class case of alcoholic persecution mania", but the people with dark glasses are, or have become, real: "even Yvonne sees them". Their presence, real or imagined, suggests a correspondence, as the Consul would put it, between the subnormal world and the abnormally suspicious [UTV, 34]; but recent evidence in the form of telegrams from Mexico to Liverpool has confirmed that Lowry’s suspicions of being followed were not entirely without foundation [see #30.4].

52.2 what a card he is.

The "joke" is that the Consul has deliberately wished the ragged young Mexican "Buenas tardes" ("Good afternoon") when it is still early in the morning ("buenas dias" is the correct greeting). The notion of the Consul as a joker, and the word "card" suggests the likelihood, in terms of the Tarot, of the Consul as the Fool, one for whom the abyss lies waiting [Ouspensky, A New Model of the Universe, 227].

52.3 The fiesta .... The bright banners, the paper streamers ... the great wheel.


A marginal note in the manuscripts makes specific reference to Eisenstein's ¡Que Viva Mexico!, one part of which was to be called ‘Fiesta’ [see #4.12]. Eisenstein's more important contribution, however, is the technique of montage that Lowry uses in the following scene, juxtaposing shots of the background against those of the characters.

52.4 Box! .... ARENA TOMALÍN, Frente al Jardín Xicotancatl. Domingo 8 de Noviembre de 1938. 4 Emocionantes Peleas .... ¡BOX! Preliminar a 4 Rounds. EL TURCO (Gonzalo Calderón de Par. de 52 kilos) vs. EL OSO (de Par. de 53 kilos) .... ¡BOX! Evento Especial a 5 Rounds, en los que el vencedor pasará al grupo de Semi-Finales. TOMÁS A GUERO (el Invencible Indio de Quauhnahuac de 57 kilos, que acuba de llegar de la Capital de la República). ARENA TOMALÍN. Frente el Jardín Xicotancatl.

Xicotancatl Garden

Sp. "Boxing! .... Tomalín Arena. Opposite the Xicotancatl Gardens. Sunday November 8 1938. 4 thrilling contests .... Boxing! Preliminary of 4 Rounds. The Turk (Gonzalo Calderón weighing 52 kilos) vs. The Bear (weighing 53 kilos) .... Boxing! Special event of 5 Rounds, from which the winner will pass into the Semi-final group. Tomás Aguero (the Invincible Indian from Quauhnahuac of 57 kilos, who has just returned from the Capital of the Republic). Tomalín Arena. Opposite the Xicotancatl Gardens."

Street advertisements

Boxing was a Saturday night tradition in Cuernavaca during the 1920s and 1930s. Lowry comments: "the recurring notices for the boxing match symbolize the conflict between Yvonne and the Consul" ['LJC', 72]. Other hints of conflict are also present: the name Tomás Aguero (suggesting Sp. tomar, "to drink," plus aguero, "omen"); the reference to the warrior Xicotancatl [see #301.3]; and the phrase "el vencedor pasará" with its echo of the Republican Civil War cry, "no pasarán" [see #301.4]. 8 November 1938 was not a Sunday, but a Tuesday; the day holds true for 1936 when Lowry arrived in Mexico and when the action of the novel was originally set [see #4.2].

Lowry commented to Albert Erskine [UBC 2-6]: "Spanish in the boxing advertisement is correct throughout by original advertisement in my possession, but I may have slipped up somehow. Par. means Parian. There is no state called Parian in Mexico." The published version is incoherent (or impressionistic). The bill has disappeared, but the drafts [UBC 26-5, A] indicate that Lowry has cut the original, which after "Semi-Finales" seems to have included "EL ESTILOSO vs ABELARDO DAZA. Pelea Estrella a 10 Rounds". The (missing) opponent of TOMÁS AGUERO was one "CHUCHO MEJIA ("Puños de Acero" de Parián, de 65 Kilos)", and it was he (with "fists of steel") who had just arrived from the Capital of the Republic. For the change of weight from 67K to 57K, see #3.6(e). The name of the Gardens, whatever its original, has been changed by Lowry to ‘Xicotancatl’ after the central square in Tlaxcala.

52.5 Or is it the sprue?

Psilosis, a chronic disease of the digestive system caused by poor absorption of fats and vitamins from the small intestine. It is characterised by a sore throat, raw tongue and digestive disturbance, and it occurs particularly in tropic countries. The word ‘sprue’ is of Dutch origin (the Penguin ‘O’ is a misprint).

53.1 mescalito!

A word used in the sense of "sot" or "drunk" (one who has had too much mescal), but this meaning is unusual [see #40.4], which may be why the Consul recalls it [211]. Though Lowry had assumed a connection between mescal and mescaline (there is none), any inference of Mescalito, the god of those who take peyote, seems misguided. La Mordida [199] offers a curious gloss: "Out of the darkness a man calls 'Burro' at him, very briefly, much as, in the French film of Crime et Chatiment, a man remarks quite mildly to Raskolnikov one night: 'Assassin'." The film is Crime et Châtiment, dir. Pierre Chenal (1935).

53.2 the little public scribe.

One who fills out forms, types documents and writes letters for the illiterate citizens of the town. In Mexico, such scribes may carry on their business in the public square.

53.3 change of worlds.

Despite Lowry's claim [SL, 144] that he had not then read Ulysses through, there is almost certainly "direct influence" at this point. In ‘Lestrygonians’, Martha Clifford mistakenly writes, "I do not like that other world"; and two hours later in the cemetery (‘Hades’), her words come back to Leopold Bloom: "There is another world after death named hell. I do not like that other world she wrote. No more do I." On a different level, the little scribe is an embodiment of Thoth, inventor of hieroglyphics and amanuensis to the gods [see #34.3], recording the last hours of the Consul's existence before his final "change of worlds".

53.4 La China Poblana.

La China Poblana

The name of the shop derives from the china poblana dress, originally the costume of Puebla village girls (poblana, the adjective from puebla, "village" or "town"; china, an Indian or Mestizo servant girl). The china poblana, now almost a national costume, consists of a red and green sequin-embroidered dress worn over many petticoats, a white blouse, and a rebozo, or shawl, worn crossed at the front. The shop is still (2005) to be found in Cuernavaca, in a small arcade just off the zócalo, selling handicrafts and souvenirs to tourists at prices unheard of in the villages.

53.5 Baños de la Libertad, Los mejores de la Capital y los únicos en donde nunca falta el agua, Estufas especiales para Damas y Caballeros.

Sp. "Liberty Baths, the best from the Capital, and the only ones where water is never lacking: special Stoves for Ladies and Gentlemen" (i.e., heating appliances for Turkish baths or saunas). Lowry has taken his Liberty Baths from those in Mexico City, once famous not only as public steam baths but as a training centre for Mexico's best boxers.

53.6 Sr. Panadero: Si quiere hacer buen pan exija las harinas ‚'Princess Donaji'.

Sp. "Mr Baker: if you want to have good bread, ask for 'Princess Donaji' flour." Princess Donaji was a Zapotecan noblewoman who was taken hostage by the Mixtecs, who later killed her and buried the body where none could find it. However, a young shepherd who took animals to pasture at San Agustín de las Juntas found a Madonna lily flower, and, instead of cutting it off, dug around it to take it out with its roots. In doing this, he discovered a human head in perfect condition, which, because of its rich decorations, was thought to be that of the Princess Donaji.

54.1 Peegly Weegly.

Piggly Wiggly Southern is a supermarket chain based in Georgia and Florida. It never operated in Mexico, but its success in the USA encouraged independent operators to use the name without authorisation. There was in 1938 a celebrated one, the first of its kind in Mexico City (on Independencía), with a small branch in Cuernavaca, on Guerrero, one block north of the zócalo. Both have long disappeared. Yvonne's grief and the Consu1's sudden contrition is something of a mystery, even more accentuated in the manuscripts [UBC 29-2, 10]: "I'm all right now. Only don't say Peegly." There may be a reference to the nursery rhyme, "This little piggy went to market", and one can only speculate that the Consul has somehow tactlessly reminded Yvonne of her own dead child or of the children that they do not have.

54.2 desperate as a winze.

A winze in a mine is a shaft or inclined passage sunk from one level to another, but not rising to the surface. Compare Swedenborg's Heaven and Hell [#588]: "There are also hells beneath hells. There are communications between some of the hells by passages." Lowry notes in Dark as the Grave [121] that the steep narrow street adjacent to the palace had gone when he returned in 1945.

54.3 an ocean creature .... coppered .... charioting the surf

Yvonne, already identified with Venus [see #37.2], is now described in the terms of the birth of Aphrodite, who rose from the foam on the island of Cyprus (or Cythera). She is "coppered" because copper is the alchemical metal associated with Venus. The chariot of Venus is usually pulled by doves, but Lowry may have in mind the sea-shell depicted in Botticelli's Birth of Venus (1485).

54.4 windrows.

A row in which mowed hay or corn is laid before being piled up and tied into sheaves. The Penguin ‘windows’ is an error.

54.5 the already spinning flywheel of the presses.

A flywheel is a heavy metal wheel attached to a machine to regulate its speed and uniformity of motion. Lowry draws attention ['LJC', 72] to this wheel as one of his wheels; that is, as an unobtrusive reminder of the infernal machine and the forces inexorably drawing the Consul to his fate.

54.6 La Despedida.

Sp. "The Parting." The split rock, incongruously among wedding invitations and prints of "extravagantly floriferous brides", symbolises for Yvonne the inevitable disintegration of her life with Geoffrey and the impossibility of their being one again. Kilgallin suggests [160] that Lowry may have taken the word from D.H. Lawrence: the words "Despedida, despedida Eran fuentes de dolores" ("Parting, parting, they were fountains of sorrows") occur in a letter of 3 October 1924 to Middleton Murry [Letters, 615], and ‘despedida’ is to be found in Chapter 18 of The Plumed Serpent, in the hymn ‘Jesus’ Farewell’: "Farewell, Farewell, Despedida! / The last of my days is gone." Lowry noted to Albert Erskine [UBC 2-6] that the "original picture" (not identified) was called ‘The Parting’ in English. The more ironic, then, that the Spanish title was supplied by Lawrence.

The split rock is a favourite Lawrentian image (Lawrence uses it very differently), but Kilgallin [160] is probably right to suggest that Lowry's immediate source was Conrad Aiken's Great Circle (1933), where the rock as a symbol of suffering is used to convey Andrew Cather's sense of separation from his adulterous wife. The episode as a whole, Sherrill Grace argues, may have been suggested by a scene in Murnau's Sunrise [see #200.7], where the man and his previously unwanted wife, reconciled after near disaster, gaze at wedding photographs in a window ['Expressionist Vision', 106].

54.7 detritus.

The material left after disintegration, rather than the force of disintegration itself.

55.1 It was inevitable.

The phrase reinforces ‘absolutemente necesario’ [43] and anticipates the end of Chapter VII: "Es inevitable la muerte del Papa."

55.2 some fanciful geologic thaumaturgy .... a superlapidary effort.

Deliberate hyperbole to emphasize the immensity of Yvonne's task; a task as difficult, ultimately as impossible, as the alchemist's search for the philosopher's stone:

(a) thaumaturgy. Gk. thaumatourgia, from thauma, "a wonder," and ergon, "work"; a working of miracles or magic. In Eliphas Lévi's Transcendental Magic [360 ff.], the thaumaturge is a physician, one who makes things whole, but this thaumaturgy is beyond the powers of Geoffrey Firmin, magician manqué.

(b) superlapidary. A supreme effort in stone; from L. lapis, "a stone," and supra, "above"; a neologism suggesting the philosopher's stone of the alchemists, by the agency of which base metals might be transmuted into gold and imperfect man made spiritually whole.

55.3 Calle Tierra del Fuego.

Calle de Las Casas

Sp. "Street of the Land of Fire". In Cuernavaca, the Calle de Las Casas (named for the early Spanish missionary, Fr. Bartolomé de las Casas, famous for his charity to the Indians), leads from the centre of town past the Cortés Palace towards the Calle Humbolt (Nicaragua); Lowry has exaggerated its length and steepness. Tierra del Fuego, the "Land of Fire", is the cold inhospitable island at the south tip of South America; Yvonne relates the name to the fires that have split the rock and to what the Consul has earlier said about Cape Horn [see #47.1].

55.4 Molino para Nixtamal, Morelense.

Molino de Nixtamal

Sp. "Milled by Nixtamal, of Morelos." Nixtamal (from Nah. nextli, “ash” or “lime” and tamalli, “tortilla”) refers to the process whereby cornmeal is boiled with lime to soften it, then cooled and ground, the unleavened saltless flour thus formed being ready-mixed for tortillas. Morelense is the adjective from Morelos, the state; the slightly odd syntax is explained not by the vagaries of advertising but by Lowry's misreading of a sign long extant on the Calle de Las Casas (there in 1982, but gone by 2005): "Molino para Nixtamal, El Morelense"; the latter the name of the shop. Lowry probably misread this in 1946, during his later visit to Cuernavaca, as the detail was added only on the galleys.

55.5 Lechería.

Sp. "milk-shop" or "dairy" (with a pun on ‘lechery’).

56.1 chorizos.

Small spicy sausages, made of pork ground up with spices and peppers and usually served chopped up in egg, bean, or mixed meat dishes.

56.2 the abarrotes.

Roughly translatable as "grocery store"; but the typical abarrotes sells wines, spirits, beers and alcoholic drinks, with other products an almost secondary concern.

56.3 Eggs.

As Jakobsen notes [66] the Spanish huevos, "eggs", also means testicles; the ruffianly male laughter hence implies that those in the shop think the Consul is trying to buy virility, to cope with "the beautiful layee", whereas he is probably having a hair-of-the-dog prairie oyster or a similar egg-based drink to steady himself. The detail reflects Lowry's skill in manipulating his textual revisions: the expression had earlier been Vigil's in Chapter V [Asals, Making, 214]; but now a curious blending of ‘diablo’, ‘capon’ and ‘Al Capone’ insinuates the diabolical (anticipating a like usage in Chapter XII).

56.4 Tortu ... the ideal University.

More correctly, Tartu University, in Tartu (or Yuryev) in Estonia. Founded by Gustavus Adolphus II of Sweden in 1632, it was suppressed from 1656 to 1802 and was at its best during the brief period of Estonian independence, 1918-40. The university is built around an old fortified hill topped by a restored thirteenth-century cathedral (the site of the university library). The "ideal university" of the Consul's aspirations is in marked contrast to University City, Madrid (also with a library built on a hill), the scene of a violent pitched battle during the Spanish Civil War [see #101.3]. In the 1940 Volcano [120] the Consul had gained a degree in languages at Liverpool, was a lecturer in Zoology at Helsingfors, spoke Finnish and Hungarian, was an expert on Tolstoy, and "Then he was at Tortu, Lithuania, for a time" [UBC 25-20, 25]; the references to Tortu and War and Peace are the only traces of this background.

57.1 La Cucaracha.

'La Cucaracha' (song)

Sp. "The Cockroach"; a jaunty song of obscure origin that became popular during the Revolution, with its satirical jabs at revolutionary leaders and events. It begins:

La cucuracha, la cucaracha,
ya no puede caminar,
porque le falta, porque le falta
mariguana que fumar.

("The cockroach, the cockroach, / can't walk any more, / because it lacks, because it lacks, / marijuana to smoke").

Even on the Day of the Dead, the song is hopelessly inappropriate for a child's funeral. In her memoir, Jan Gabrial records seeing a child’s funeral from the balcony of their hotel, with an undersized white casket, mourners, and five or six musicians [Inside the Volcano, 102]. The detail made its way into the Acapulco scene in Chapter 2 of the 1940 Volcano [61].

57.2 the bizarre house.

Jacques' zacuali

That belonging to Jacques Laruelle, with its crazy towers and its inscription "No se puede vivir sin amar" ("one cannot live without loving"), which Yvonne does not wish to see. Lowry, superstitious at the best of times, became almost mesmerized by coincidence when he revisited Cuernavaca in 1945 and rented an apartment in this very house, which he had previously observed only from the outside [DATG, 124]. The house still stands in Cuernavaca, on the Calle Humboldt directly opposite the Calle Las Casas; it was long almost unrecognisable as that of the book, the towers, one of which had disappeared by 1945 [DATG, 153], having gone completely, and the shabby facade (half-hidden by an enormous Pepsi sign) giving no hint of its former impressive stature. It has recently been rescued from decay and transformed into the 4 star Bajo el Volcán Hotel, cashing in on the Lowry associations but wrongly claiming that this was where the novel was written.

58.1 lunar potholes ... state of frozen eruption.

An anticipation of the Valley of the Moon and "freezing of culture" themes so central to Chapter IV [see #95.2 & #101.10].

58.2 She saw the mountains again.


In 1938, Popocatepetl and Ixtaccihuatl could be seen distinctly from Cuernavaca, though Lowry has exaggerated their dominance (in Dark as the Grave [121], Sigbjørn tries to show them to Primrose, but they look in vain). Today, with increased atmospheric pollution, the truly magnificent volcanoes can be observed only with difficulty even under favourable conditions.

58.3 Mauna Loa, Mokuaweoweo.

Mauna Loa (13,675 feet), on the island of Hawaii, is the largest single volcano in the world (though not the highest). There had been a large lava flow from it in 1935-36.  Mokuaweoweo, on the summit of Mauna Loa, is the second largest of its numerous craters and one of the largest active craters in the world. The sight of the Mexican volcanoes and their tragic romantic story [see #318.2], remind Yvonne that "she'd had volcanoes in her life before" [53].

58.4 Bishop Berkeley.

George Berkeley (1685-1753), bishop of Cloyne, whose esse est percipi summarises his contention that material things exist only insofar as they are perceived and that the mind, being conscious of subjective impressions only, cannot therefore know external things.

58.5 the four o'clock mirabilis jalapa.

The mirabilis jalapa (L. mirabilis, "wonderful", and Jalapa, the state capital of Vera Cruz) is a plant of the four o'clock family: an ornamental plant with spikes of various coloured flowers, which open in the late afternoon but remain closed in the morning.

59.1 the White Russian Embassy in Zagreb in 1922.

In the civil war after the Russian Revolution of 1917, the White Russian armies under General Deniken and later General Wrangel were beaten back from all Russian soil by the spring of 1920. Forced to retreat from the Crimea to Istanbul and thence dispersed through Eastern Europe, the army attempted to maintain itself in the Balkans, even though its troops were fading away. As an effective entity, White Russia was dead by the summer of 1921, but most Western nations, including Britain, were reluctant to accept the Reds and retained nominal recognition of Wrangel's White Army as the provisional ruler of Russia (though the British had made a de facto recognition of and entered into a trade treaty with the Bolsheviks by April 1921). A group of White-guard emigrés calling itself a Russian Consulate operated in Zagreb up to the beginning of 1924. Compare the curious reference in Dark as the Grave [150] to "the angelic Baron Wrangel", and the suggestion there of a "genteel Siberia".

Although the British had maintained consular offices in Sarajevo, Belgrade and Zagreb, Lowry's reference to the last is rather puzzling, since the capital and diplomatic centre of Yugoslavia was Belgrade; in the 1940 Volcano [74; UBC 25-19] the Consul, talking to Yvonne, who was then his daughter, had said that her mother "was never attaché to the White Russian Embassy in Belgrade in 1922."

59.2 a British Q-ship.


A "mystery ship"; that is, a gunboat (such as the S.S. Samaritan [32]), disguised as a merchantman, with false bulkheads and concealed guns, used to lure enemy submarines into easy range before opening fire [see #131.8]. The Consul's reference to Tottenham Court Road (in the middle of London) mocks Yvonne's inexperience and, by implication, her limited understanding of his guilt and responsibility.

59.3 Cuckoldshaven.

The town of Cuernavaca (from Sp. cuerna, "a horn") is linked to Cuckoldshaven, on the Surrey side of the Thames, a mile or so below London Bridge, by the common bond of cuckoldry: according to tradition, in King John's reign the beautiful wife of a miller living there attracted the King's favour, the miller being compensated by a grant of as much land on that side of the river as he could see from his house. The location was formerly distinguished by a tall pole topped by a pair of horns.

Kilgallin [159] senses an allusion to the Jacobean play Eastward Ho! (1605), by Chapman, Jonson and Marston and links it to the motif of "cuckold-shaven" [see #11.5 & #173.4]. Lowry confirmed this attribution to Clemens ten Holder [21 March 1951; CL 2, 355], where he explained that the Conquistadores could not pronounce Quauhnahuac so called it Cuernavaca, meaning "cow's horn"; then suggests that the Consul lifted the joke from "the Elizabethan play Eastward Ho! by Marston, Ben Jonson, and – I think – Haywood –surely the worst play ever written by such a galaxy of genius." The third star was not Thomas Heywood [sic], but George Chapman.

59.4 the lost love of Maximilian and Carlota.

Maximilian and Carlota

For the tragic history of Maximilian and Carlota, see #14.3 and #14.12; given the context of cuckoldry, it is possible that Lowry is here hinting at the fascinating but little-known story of Maximilian's secret life.


Sp. "Boxingl Tomalín Arena. The Balloon vs. the Bouncing Ball" (as the Consul translates the names [188]).

60.1 ¡BOX! ARENA TOMALÍN. FRENTE AL JARDÍN XICOTANCATL. Domingo 8 de Noviembre de 1938. 4 Emocionantes Peleas. EL BALÓN vs EL REDONDILLO .... Las Manos de Orlac. Con Peter Lorre. 

Street advertisements

Sp. "Boxing! Tomalín Arena. Front of the Xicotancatl Gardens. Sunday 8 November 1938. 4 thrilling contests. The Balloon vs. the Bouncing Ball .... The Hands of Orlac. With Peter Lorre." The cinematic juxtaposition of the boxing against the film further underlines the tension between Yvonne and the Consul [see #52.4 & #24.4].

60.2 unpukka.

‘Pukka’ is a Hindi word meaning "first class" or "genuine." It was often used by the English military and colonial officers living in India during the heyday of the Victorian Empire. ‘Unpukka’ thus implies an inauthenticity about Hugh's costume.

Lowry told Clemens ten Holder [21 March 1951; CL 2, 347] that Hugh crossed the border with Weber in a cattle-truck, "which is why he's wearing cowboy clothes". He says that Hugh did so because it was cheaper to wear them than pay duty on them, which is why his other clothes were impounded.  He adds that this really happened to a friend of his; and that his reason for portraying Hugh thus was to dress Hugh's communism in "supraromantic, even operatic clothing". In Dark as the Grave [164], Sigbjørn claims that an American who had come down in a cattle truck on a bet from Texas, and who was with him and “Señora X” [Jan] at the scene of the dying Indian, was dressed thus because his clothes had been impounded at the border.

60.3 Hoot S. Hart in the Riders to the Purple Sage.

William S. Hart (1870-1946) was the leading screen cowboy of innumerable silent westerns between 1914 and 1925, but there is a suggestion of Edward "Hoot" Gibson, another popular cowboy star. An early revision [UBC 29-2, 17-18] crosses out the surname of ‘Hoot Gibson’ and substitutes ‘S. Hart’; the Consul is thus mocking Yvonne, rather than being careless. There are several film versions of Riders of the Purple Sage (1918, 1925, 1931, 1941), based on the 1911 novel by Zane Grey, but none star the kind of poker-faced hero typically played by Hart. The story concerns a crooked lawyer, run out of town, who takes a woman and her daughter with him as hostages. Jim Lassiter, the woman's brother, sets out to find them, falls in love on the way, finds and kills his man (now a judge), and flees the posse to a canyon, where he rolls down a boulder to seal off the only entrance, leaving the lovers together but doomed.

60.4 Weber .... flying to meet me.

An ominous nexus of verbal motifs: the Consul will meet Weber in Chapter 12; his life, like his pipe, will be "knocked out" [see #368.3]; the combination of ‘heel’ and ‘flying’ is a reminder of Yvonne's infidelity [see #46.5], suggesting not only Yvonne's arrival but also the Consul's departure, like Faustus, headlong into the earth [see #34.1].

61.1 the London Globe.

Fictitious. The Globe, founded in 1803, was an evening paper, at first espousing Whig principles but by 1866 supporting Tory policies. It folded in 1921. Hugh's London Globe is perhaps modelled on the Daily Herald [see #94.1], founded in 1912, taken over by the Labour Party in 1923; it had by 1939 a circulation of about two million.

61.2 The Consul decapitated a dusty coquelicot poppy.

The Consul's decapitation of the scarlet coquelicot or corn-poppy (the name of which suggests "coquette") effectively underlines his willed separation from Yvonne.

61.3 I gather he had some idea we might let—.

Hugh's idea remains a mystery but may involve Geoffrey's connivance in his now-limited consular capacity with some aspect of his gun-running plans (which the Consul seems to suspect, but refrains from telling Yvonne). If so, then both are curiously complicit in the crime for which Geoffrey is condemned in Chapter XII.

61.4 his fine Italian hand.

The words usually apply to calligraphy (perhaps Italics) but here suggest poisoning, associated above all with the infamous Borgia famiIy of Renaissance Italy.

61.5 to play Theodore Watts Dunton. To my Swinburne.

Theodore Watts-Dunton (1832-1914), a serious and well-meaning man, took care of Algernon Swinburne (1837-1909) during the last nine years of the poet's life, restoring him to physical health mainly by stopping his drinking (weaning him gradually from brandy to port to burgundy to claret to beer).  This "progresión a ratos" was "successful" in that Swinburne's health improved, but disastrous in that, it is commonly believed, the poet's genius was stifled. The Consul's rejection of Hugh's interference is in part a reaction against being brought back to such well-intentioned normality.

61.6 mute Swinburne.

The Consul's allusion is not so much to Thomas Gray's 'Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard' [line 59]: "Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest"; as to the comment sometimes made about that line: there are no "mute inglorious Miltons"; if they are mute, they are not Miltons. Swinburne, after Watts-Dunton, was not Swinburne.

61.7 like a red rag after a bull.

Hugh’s story is outlined in his cable [94]: the German Legation is actively behind a campaign to expel small Jewish manufacturers from Mexico. Lowry’s image is various:

(a) D.H. Lawrence, Fantasia of the Unconscious [Ch. 2]: "And you may be sure that a red rag is, to a bull, something far more mysterious and complicated than a socialist's necktie."

(b) Charles Fort, Book of the Damned [229]: "Sometimes it may seem as if all science were to us very much like what a red flag is to bulls and anti-socialists."

(c) Lowry, a note deleted from Chapter 6 [UBC 30-3, 33]: "Yet I also loathe the sea, its nauseous belly, while longing for it, as, for Patagonia, longed W.H. Hudson, who oddly also saw how the dream that lures men on may take the form of a red flag."

62.1 ¿Quien sabe?

Sp. "Who knows?" As Yvonne's confusion reveals, the Consul's reply has brought out the ambiguity of ‘we’ and indirectly answered Laruelle's question [31]: "But why had all this happened? ¿Quien sabe?"

62.2 a very popular front.

The idea of the Popular Front (the solidarity of all anti-capitalist and anti-bourgeois elements of society) was advocated by the Seventh Congress of the Communist International in Moscow in August 1935 and taken up enthusiastically by several countries. In Spain, it consisted of a number of anti-fascist parties that gained the day in the elections of February 1936, though, by the quirks of Spanish electoral law, their majority in the Cortes was greater than their share of the total votes; this discrepancy, plus the Front's dubious support by the Anarchists opposed even to it, afforded the Nationalists an opportunity to exploit its weaknesses and reassert themselves.

In Mexico, a Popular Front was called for by the C.T.M. [see #94.3] and consisted of the principal worker organisations, the peasants, government employees, the army and small businessmen; that is, a general front rather than a homogenous unit with a concerted policy or aim. The Front received the qualified support of the Cárdenas administration, which did not, however, lose control of it, and in collaboration with the government it pressed for several socialist reforms. The Consul is mocking the often uncritical support that English liberals and intellectuals offered to such movements in the 1930s, and in so doing he expresses his fundamental reservations about "people with ideas."

62.3 that romantic little urge.

Spanish Civil War

Alluding to a cynical account from the Spanish Civil War whereby an old embittered Communist said this entirely without pity of another, a non-Marxist, who had come to Spain and promptly been killed [this is noted on the Texas Manuscript]. Lowry repeated the story to Clemens ten Holder [21 March 1951; CL 2, 347], making it sound as if it were from an acquaintance of his own (John Sommerfield?).

62.4 the Good Samaritan.

In Luke 10:30-36, Jesus replies indirectly to the question, "And who is my neighbour?":

And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.

And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.

And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.

But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,

And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.

And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.

Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?

S.S. Samaritan incident

Christ's parable is at the heart of Lowry's novel and brings together the three key scenes of the S.S. Samaritan, the dying Indian, and the Consul's death [see #32.2, #247.2 & #373.6]. The Consul may or may not see himself as a priest (but one who has betrayed the mysteries [289]), or as a Levite (a disciple of Éliphas Lévi – see #175.1); but he knows that he has not been a neighbour. Compare Jacob Boehme's admonition in Signatura Rerum [VII, #36; cited by Grace, 52]: "Now wilt thou be a Magus? Then thou must become the Samaritan, otherwise thou canst not heal the wounded and decayed; for the body which thou must heal, is half-dead, and sorely wounded."

63.1 bougainvillea.


A tropical vine with red and/or purple leaves; used consistently throughout the novel as an emblem of deceit [see #142.3].

63.2 a watchtower, the eternal mirador of Parián state.

Prison mirador

A mirador (Sp. mirar, "to see" or "to behold") is a balcony or observation point commanding an extensive view. Like that of Laruelle's house [194] this watchtower surveys the town of Parián, an ever-visible temptation to the Consul (there are hints, perhaps, of the watchman of Ezekiel 33).


The state of Parián is fictitious. Walker comments [263]: "Parián itself is an apocryphal state located in the northeastern corner of the actual state of Morelos. It is clearly very close to Popocatepetl and Ixtaccihuatl, on the other side of which lies the state of Tlaxcala." More simply, it can be assumed that Lowry has equated his fictional Parián with the actual state of Morelos without having closely defined his borders. For more details about the name ‘Parián’, see #75.3 and #130.3.

63.3 less Mexico than a Spaniard's dream of home.

An apparent allusion to Graham Greene's The Lawless Roads [253], where Greene evokes the Virgin of La Soledad [see #6.8]: "Spanish of the Spanish, a Velasquez Virgin – and the loneliness she solaced, one imagines, was a Spanish loneliness of men heartsick for Castile."

63.4 dark open sinister bunkers.

Hell Bunker
S.S. Samaritan incident

The bunkers where the carbon (coal or charcoal) is kept have been anticipated [57, 58], but now reveal their ominous implications. The reminder of the Hell Bunker [21] not only evokes the furnace room of the S.S. Samaritan and the sinister fate of the German officers, but it also anticipates the "numerous little rooms, each smaller and darker than the last" [200] of the Farolito. To that last dark bunker, which opens out upon the abyss, the Consul (as cabrón, no anagram intended) is fetched by a different María. The subterranean geography is full of demonic insinuations, expressed in the imagery of Coleridge's 'Kubla Khan' but opening out into Swedenborg's hell: the high walls concealing the houses are similar to those girdling round Coleridge's "gardens bright"; the gutters running underground before tumbling out into the sunlight demonically invert the sacred river and mighty fountain; and the "dark entrance in the ditch", which opens up to the abandoned iron mine running beneath the Consul's garden, not only suggests "caverns measureless to man" but also forms a gate to Swedenborg's hells, as described in Heaven and Hell [#583-84]:

The hells too are not seen, because they are closed, except the entrances, which are called gates .... The hells are everywhere, under the mountains, hills, and rocks, also under the plains and valleys. The openings or gates to the hells, which are under the mountains, hills, and rocks, appear to the sight like holes and clefts of the rocks .... They all appear dark and dusty when looked into, but the infernal spirits in them are in a light such as arises from burning charcoal.

63.5 the rising waters of possible catastrophe.

Thomas Burnet

The gushing gutters intimate disaster: in general, the threat of the Deluge or Second Flood [see #29.3]; in particular, Thomas Burnet's sense of "the rising world" perched precariously over the troubled waters of the abyss beneath [see #20.2(e) & #189.8]. The fountains of the deep seem likely to break open at any moment.

64.1 the little church that had been turned into a school.

Church on Calle Humboldt

On the Calle Humboldt there is a little church, with a school for small children right behind it. Lowry has given the facts a small twist to suggest the political tension between church and state, in turn underlining that between the Consul and Yvonne.

64.2 the abandoned iron mine.

Although Cuernavaca was never a mining centre, iron ore in minable quantities had once been found there, but the mines were quickly worked out and abandoned [Díez, 29].

64.3 To and fro from school ... / Popocatepetl / It was your shining day.


This "poem the Consul liked" [318] is 'Romance', by W.J. Turner, which (its author claims in The Duchess of Popocatepetl, 208) "is included in nearly every anthology of English poetry published since it was first printed in 1916":

When I was but thirteen or so
     I went into a golden land,
Chimborazo, Cotopaxi
Took me by the hand.

My father died, my brother too,
They passed like fleeting dreams,
I stood where Popocatepetl
In the sunlight gleams.

I dimly heard the Master's voice
And boys far-off at play,
Chimborazo, Cotopaxi
Had stolen me away.

I walked in a great golden dream
To and fro to school –
Shining Popocatepetl
The dusty streets did rule.

I walked home with a gold dark boy
And never a word I'd say
Chimborazo, Cotopaxi
Had taken my speech away:

I gazed entranced upon his face
Fairer than any flower –
O shining Popocatepetl
It was thy magic hour:

The houses, people, traffic seemed
Thin fading dreams by day,
Chimborazo, Cotopaxi
They had stolen my soul away!

The happy song hints ominously at the Consul's coming fate; by the end of the day Popocatepetl will have indeed stolen his soul away [see #318.1].

64.4 strange.

As Jakobsen notes [27], an illusory and momentary sense of peace is disturbed by the fact of this word also being the Consul's reaction to La Despedida [54] (this former reference a much later addition to the manuscripts). The comment is made [65]: "alas, that that which you have known in the blood should ever seem so strange"; and the Consul replies to Yvonne's half-assertive "Here I am, aren't I?" [71] with the word ‘strange’; once more betraying his deliberate distancing and willed estrangement of her.

64.5 A hideous pariah dog followed them in.

A pariah (Tamil paraiyan, "outcast" – but see also #75.3) is typically "a yellow vagabond dog of hideous aspect and low breed which frequents towns and villages of India and South East Asia" (OED). As Hugh remarks [106], such dogs seem to shadow his brother everywhere. The dog is a familiar, or accompanying evil spirit, representing essentially the state of the Consul's soul and corresponding to the black poodle of Goethe's Faust, in which guise Mephistophilis first appears.

In Conrad's Lord Jim, at the enquiry into the Patna affair [see #33.1], a yellow dog is present, and Jim takes the remark, "Look at that wretched cur", as a reference to himself. Marlow comments in Chapter 5:

I am willing to believe each of us has a guardian angel, if you fellows will concede to me that each of us has a familiar devil as well. I want you to own up, because I don't like to feel exceptional in any way, and I know I have him – the devil, I mean. I haven't seen him, of course, but I go upon circumstantial evidence. He is there right enough, and, being malicious, he lets me in for that kind of thing. What kind of thing, you ask? Why, the inquiry thing, the yellow-dog thing ... the kind of thing that by devious, unexpected, truly diabolical ways causes me to run up against men with soft spots, with hard spots, with hidden plague spots.

As Lowry was tempted to note to Albert Erskine (the pencil draft is deleted) [UBC 2-7]: "I could make you a book on the significance of the dog that would take in everything from the Rig Veda to Erich von Stroheim's Foolish Wives, & from the Eleusinian mysteries to Djuna Barne's Nightwood." At earlier points the dog was associated (in the Consul's mind) with Hugh following Yvonne [UBC 31-4, 22], and (in Hugh's mind) with "the buggers and blackmailers" in Proust who follow Charlus [UBC 29-12, 18]. The Fool of the Tarot pack is accompanied by a dog.

Lowry's poem 'Xochitepec' (1940), which begins "Those animals that follow us in dream", was suggested, Lowry told Ralph Gustafson [23 May 1957; CL 2, 903] "by an article by J.B. Priestley on being followed in a dream by some beastie perhaps of the fifth dimension"; Sherrill Grace identifies this [904] as Priestley's essay, 'The Berkshire Beasts', published in Open House (1929) [see #341.2]. The familiar, finally so dominant, was by no means immediately to the fore.

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