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65.1 The tragedy.


The word ‘tragedy’ is derived from the Gk. tragdia, "the song of a goat" (from tragos, "a goat" and oide, "a song") and is variously explained as referring to a goat offered as a prize at the early dramatic contests, the goatskin dress of the performers, or the vellum on which the plays were written. For Lowry, the key association is with the Sp. cabrón, ‘a goat’, which has emphatic overtones of "cuckold": "The goat means tragedy (tragedy – goat song) but goat – cabron – cuckold (the horns)" [SL, 198]. In this opening phrase exists prepotentially all the anguish and disaster of the coming problems of infidelity and impotence that will form the emotional core of the chapter. Although "tragedy and lust" had been associated with the goat and dogs earlier, ‘debacle’ was crossed out and replaced by ‘tragedy’ [UBC 27-8, 77]. Significant motifs were often the product of surprisingly late revision.

65.2 crepuscular.

L. crepusculum, "twilight"; the Consul's world, as seen through his dark glasses, is a shadowy one.

65.3 perishing on every hand of unnecessary thirst.

As in Eliot's The Waste Land, the tragedy of the ruined garden and dry land is a projection of the sexual and psychological desolation of the central character. Compare Part V of Eliot's poem [lines 335-38]:

If there were water we should stop and drink
Amongst the rock one cannot stop or think
Sweat is dry and feet are in the sand
If there were only water amongst the rock

The one walking by the Consul's side, "suffering for him", directly echoes Eliot's "Who is the third who walks always beside you'?" [line 359]. For both Eliot and Lowry the allusion is to the risen Christ, who, having suffered, appears to two disciples on the road to Emmaus [Luke 24] but is at this point unrecognised.

65.4 like dying voluptuaries.

Those whose life is spent in the gratification of the senses and pursuit of pleasure.

65.5 Regard ... Touch

The "vaguely frenchified" style of address [Asals, Making, 96-7] is rooted in Eliot's Preludes. Asals suggests that the device internalises the action (through the Consul's eyes) yet also creates a voice, dramatising it as well.

65.6 Touch this tree, once your friend.


In Canto XIII of the Inferno, Dante and Virgil enter a pathless wood full of withered trees. Hearing a mournful wailing but seeing no one, the poet stops and is advised by Virgil to break off a twig from one of the trees. Dante does so; the tree becomes dark with blood and begins to cry: "Perché mi scerpi? / non hai tu spirto di pietade alcuno?" ("Why do you tear me? / Have you no spirit of pity?"). The trees are the suicides, those who have wantonly destroyed their lives and poisoned their souls and are therefore fixed for eternity in barren sterility.

Lowry may have found a similar story in Lewis Spence's The Magic and Mysteries of Mexico [62]: the butterfly-god, Itzpapalotl, "being in a garden of great delight, he pulled some roses, but ... suddenly the tree broke and blood streamed from it"; as a consequence, his followers were cast out of the garden and into the world.

65.7 Look up at that niche.

In Mexico, figures of Christ or the Virgin Mary are common features of house or garden walls as reminders of the suffering Christ assumed on behalf of all. The words also evoke the suffering figure of Faustus: the earlier ‘Regard’ recalls his hellish fall, but the emphasis here, as with the echoes of Eliot and Dante above, is on blood and sorrow and compassion. Faustus, in distress and anguish, cannot look up to heaven for the mercy that is there; one drop of Christ's blood would save his soul, but he cannot avoid despair. Like Faustus, the Consul is unable to ask for relief, even though it is so immediately at hand. In an early draft [UBC 29-8, 1] Lowry was more explicit: "You have always secretly longed, like Christ, even like your own brother, to die."

65.8 Consider the agony of the roses.

Eddie Lang

Lowry's immediate source is his own poem, 'Letter from Oaxaca to North Africa' [CP, #16], and its evocation of the death of Eddie Lang [lines 57-59]: "My heart a widowed spider trapping grief, / Its strings are wrung with agony of Ed Lang, / From floribundia to rose of gall and lung." Lang had died of complications following a tonsillectomy.

Conrad Aiken's 'The Charnel Rose', the first section of the longer work, The Divine Pilgrim (1919-25), abounds in images of roses and pain, for example, Part I.2:

He saw red roses fall again:
Rose-wreathed skeletons advanced
And clumsily lifted foot and danced:
And he saw the roses drop apart
Each to disclose a charnel heart.

Other images of blood and the suffering Christ are also present to demonstrate Aiken's theme, "That man's salvation rose through pain."

65.9 the plantains with their queer familiar blooms.

The plantain, Musa paradisiacal, closely resembles the banana and is extensively cultivated throughout Mexico. In Ushant [75], Conrad Aiken recalls being

at Cuernavaca with Hambo [Lowry], watching the lightning-flash flirtation of the hummingbird and the banana blossom, the flight-and-return vigil, with its ultimate reward, when at last the great voluptuous and fleshy blossom had disclosed its secret, its hidden honey, to be probed with bliss.


In the Consul's mind, however, any sense of bliss has been replaced by the image of the "hideously elongated cruciform bundle" of the almost obscenely phallic purple flower.

65.10 poison has become your daily food.

Ostensibly referring to the strychnine routine Hugh has imposed but as Robert Heilman comments in 'The Possessed Artist and the Ailing Soul’ [Woodcock, 23]:

How present the central conception – that of the ailing soul? There are endless symbols for ill-being, from having cancer to taking dope. But Geoffrey's tremendous drinking is exactly the right one. In greater or lesser extent it is widely shared, or at least is related to widely practised habits; it is known to be a pathological state; it may be fatal, but also it can be cured. It lacks the sinisterness of dope, the irresistibility of cancer; hence it is more flexible, more translatable. And Lowry slowly makes us feel, behind the brilliantly presented facts of the alcoholic life, a set of meanings that make the events profoundly revelatory: drinking as an escape, an evasion of responsibility, a separation from life, a self-worship, a denial of love, a hatred of the living with a faith.

66.1 Pedro.

Jan Gabrial recalls Pedro as their "resident gardener", a stocky handsome man who seemed at first loyalty itself, but who could not paint the pool without the paint floating off, and soon “treated the garden as his enemy” [Inside the Volcano, 109], selling the roses in the market-place. He refused to work, threatened Jan with violence, but finally gave notice; hence the Consul's heart-felt "Yes, thank God." In the typescript of Dark as the Grave [UBC 9-5, 316] Sigbjørn thinks he sees Pedro staring at him menacingly, and recalls that Pedro was probably responsible "for the wholesale robbery in his house".

66.2 Perro!

Sp. "dog"; here used as a mild expletive (roughly equivalent to an amiable "son of a bitch"). The dog appears ‘familiarly’ because he is in one sense the Consul's ‘familiar’; that is, as Charles Fort might say, an elementary spirit which follows the Consul around.

66.3 the garden's a rajah mess.

The Anglo-Indian slang acknowledges (without in the least assuming responsibility for) the dereliction of the garden and, by implication, of the Consul's own person, both of which, despite the efforts of the unpukkah Hugh [60], remain a mess.

66.4 debouched.

Fr. bouche, "mouth." The word usually has the sense of "emerged" or "issued forth", but here seems to be used in the sense of "narrowed into".

Villa at Calle Humboldt 62

66.5 imbricated.

L. imbricare, "to cover with roof tiles"; hence, lapped over each other, as indeed, the tiles of the Lowry bungalow were.

66.6 leaf-cutter ants.

Also known as "umbrella ants" or cuatalatas, these voracious creatures can destroy entire fields by cutting and carrying away bits of leaves to form their nests [de Davila, 95]. Jan Gabrial tells of an invasion of an army of umbrella ants, which consumed every visible leaf and shrub then attacked the adobe wall of the verandah, leaving a hole "as large as a dinner plate" [Inside the Volcano, 123]. They were countered by kerosene, Flit, creosote and boiling water, to little avail, until attacked with a Cyanogas pump.

66.7 The house was broken into one night

Jan Gabrial tells the story [Inside the Volcano, 162-63]: she returned to Cuernavaca on 27 October 1937 to find the house robbed and everything of value gone; Lowry’s response was to go out drinking. The events confirmed Jan’s decision to leave.

66.8 the Cosmic Egg.

The Cosmic Egg

A symbol of fecundity, of the earth, of order arising from chaos. Egyptian, Babylonian, Orphic, Indian and many other ab ovo creation stories exist, but Lowry has in mind primarily the Sacred Theory of the Earth of Thomas Burnet (1680-89), so central to his own cosmology [see #189.8]. Burnet maintained, as literal truth, that the earth was once a giant egg, but, the action of the sun making volatile the waters of the deep within, the shell cracked and the waters rushed forth (the Deluge), with fragments of the shell forming the mountains and continents of our present world. The Consul's cosmic egg is decidedly addled, the drains of Quauhnahuac quite unlike the life-renewing annual visitations of the waters of the Nile.

66.9 trumpet vine.

One of the Bignoniaceae family of vines and shrubs. In Aiken's Blue Voyage, Demarest reflects: "But how, then, had beauty come in? How had it managed to complicate itself with evil and sensuality and the danks and darks of sex? – It had come in with the trumpet vine. It had come in with the seven-year locust and the chinaberry tree" [65].

66.10 runnel.

OE rinnan, "to run" or "to flow"; a small stream or rivulet, or the bed of such. The Consul will later discover a dead scorpion in the runnel of the mingitorio [352].

66.11 floribundia.

More accurately, floribunda; a kind of rose derived from crossing polyantha and tea roses. They grow in clusters and have no fragrance.

66.12 tyrant flycatchers.

A large family (over 360 species) of songbirds that catch insects in flight; they range from South America to Canada.

66.13 mistress to some gnarled guardian of the mine beneath the garden.

Another reminder of the existence, within the Consul's mind at least, of the demonic mode of existence that runs in correspondence with the natural one. Gnomes are listed (with sylphs, undines, and salamanders) among Éliphas Lévi"s "elementary daimons" [Transcendental Magic, 62] and are associated particularly with the element earth.

66.14 the trapeador or American husband.

A trapeador is simply a floor-mop, but the word possesses the slang meaning of something worthless or contemptible, thus reflecting the common Mexican opinion of the American male as dominated by his wife.

66.15 Concepta.

The maid's name changed from Josefina (1940) to María to Concepta. A hint of María remains [54, 65]; a "previous" maid. Jan Gabrial describes Josefina as "a tidy woman, always stiffly starched, her small face crinkled as a nut" [Inside the Volcano, 104]. She had been wife to a soldier in the Revolution and borne eleven children of whom only six survived. She was Pedro's aunt [see #66.1], but was finally as anxious as the Lowrys to see him gone. Her sister Trinidad came to do the laundry and make Malcolm new shirts.

67.1 Here is your history.

Hotel Canada
The Town House
Hotel Astor

The labels range from Honolulu, before Yvonne met Geoffrey; to Spain, where they met and married [see #39.11]; to various consular appointments at Galilee (first stage of the Via Dolorosa), Algerciras (where, in earlier drafts, Geoffrey had been “full consul” in 1932-33 [see #258.1]), Paris (where Hugh entered the story [see #98.3]), London (where they met again at the Alhambra Palace [see #39.10]), and finally Mexico. The Regis Hotel (Avenida Juárez) is the quality hotel where they first stayed in Mexico City; the Hotel Canada (Cinco de Mayo 47) forms the shabby scene of their parting (the Penguin punctuation is confused). Yvonne recalls the Hotel Astor, New York [265], and the Town House, LA [264]. ln Acapulco she stayed in the Hotel Mirador, the "Lookout Hotel" [see #47.1], the oldest in Acapulco, before catching the small red plane of the Mexican Aviation Company [see #44.12]. In a letter to Jan [April 1934; CL 1, 147], Lowry recalled her bag, "its dear injured labe1s" looking "so strange and homeless".

67.2 the S.S. Ile de France.

The pride of the French line, Transatlantique compagnie générale, built in France in 1926, and at 43,500 tons one of the largest liners of her time, running a regular mail and passenger route between Le Havre and New York. Lowry's first wife Jan travelled to New York on the Ile de France alone in 1934, shortly after their marriage, a parting that formed the basis for Lowry's short story, 'In Le Havre'.

67.3 your old room.

Asals clarifies the "indirect point" of this, that at the end of their marriage the Consul and Yvonne were not sharing a bed [Making, 415]. Geoffrey offers her little choice. 

67.4 the machine.

To Albert Erskine [UBC 2-7], Lowry linked the mower with Cocteau's infernal machine: "Machine of fate's first appearance in the Volcano is as a mowing machine in III." Such a machine is thrice mentioned in Aiken's Blue Voyage [4, 36 & 67].

67.5 –por qué no, agua caliente.

Sp. ["And] why not, hot water."

67.6 a University City in the snow.

Ixtaccihuatl is a twin volcano with an irregular cone. It is associated with the Consul's ideal university of Tortu [see #56.4] in a vision of whiteness that merges with his vision of Granada [302]; ‘jagged’ suggests the ruins of University City, Madrid [see #101.3].

68.1 they had painted it … blue:

Jan Gabrial recounts the sorry reality of this effort, when Pedro painted the pool a splendid blue, which sloughed off and lay in dismal strips along the bottom of the pool; a further effort stayed on, until the pool was filled, whereupon it turned all the water a heavenly blue [Inside the Volcano, 103].

68.2 from which the Consul averted his eyes.

Because he is aware of the temptation offered by the bottle of tequila that he has hidden among that "indescribable confusion of briars".

68.3 uncomfortable stuffed Quixotes.

Straw figures of Don Quixote mounted on his sorry nag Rosinante, the discomfort being more in the Consul's mind than the knight-errant's body. The presence of these figures on the wall affords a constant critique of the Consul's inadequate romantic performance.

68.4 strychnine.

Strychnine is an alkaloid obtained from the seeds of the Indian tree, strychnos nux vomica. It is colourless, odourless, bitter and highly poisonous. Commonly used as a rat poison, in small doses it can be a tonic or stimulant to the central nervous system. Its efficacy in Geoffrey's case seems dubious, but Lowry had been subjected to this treatment in Cuernavaca [Day, 228].

68.5 wormwood.

Specifically, Artemisia absinthium, a bitter tasting oil using in making absinthe; more generally, any bitter liquid, hence the strychnine. Compare Revelation 8:10-11:

And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of the waters;

And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.

68.6 a voice said in the Consul's ear.

The first appearance of Geoffrey's "voices" or "familiars" which, like the good and evil angels in Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, battle for his soul. The challenge they make to the Consul's sense of duty is unequivocal: is he the man to drink at this critical and longed-for hour of Yvonne's return, or will he be able to resist the temptation? His answer to the challenge is implicit in the words "five hundred drinks" [see #286.8].  Like Helen, like Malinche, like the traitorous Tlaxcalans, the Consul will betray himself and Yvonne. At this moment, however, as his "Not even a straight wormwood?" has implied, he seems to feel that she has betrayed him, for the third time, by refusing to drink with him.

69.1 casuistry.

The misapplication of doctrine (such as church dogma) to problems of morality or law.

69.2 cassis.

Fr. "black-currant"; a black-currant syrup often mixed with liquors.

69.3 cabrón.

Sp. "goat"; but as the Consul is well aware, the word also means "cuckold" [see #65.1].

69.4 that would be the beginning of the end.

The tequila, hidden in the garden, is a temptation because it would lead to mescal, and mescal, as the Consul says [216], "would be the end" [see #281.1 and #337.1].

Johnnie Walker

70.1 nació 1820 y siguiendo tan campante.

The slogan on the Spanish label of a bottle of Johnnie Walker Scotch whisky: "Born 1820 still going strong." Johnnie Walker established his "spirits business" in Kilmarnock, Scotland, in 1820.

70.2 I said three times ... for Pete's sake have a decent drink.

Peter denied his master three times; the allusion, together with the "dead calm in the garden", echoes Christ's agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.

70.3 somewhere, out of the heavens, a swan, transfixed, plummeted to earth.

Kilgallin, who had access to Charles Stansfeld-Jones’s The Chalice of Ecstasy, notes [167] that Geoffrey's mental and sexual impotence is implied through the symbol of the swan and that Lowry has in mind a Cabbalistic interpretation of the drama of Parzival, in which the swan shot down "represents Ecstasy brought down to earth" [Chalice, 6]. By not yielding, Parzival was "able to exercise the true Power of Love and thereby to perform the Miracle of Redemption" [9]. As such, it defines the challenge as Geoffrey sees it [see #93.1]. Like QBL and The Anatomy of the Body of God, this text helps define Lowry's use of arcane materials. It seeks "the transcendental truth" within the Human Heart, the Ecstasy attained when the Mind and being is aflame with the Sacred Fire of the Holy Spirit; it is the path of the arrow from Yesod the Foundation to Tiphererh the Sphere [see #89.4].

Richard Wagner's opera Parsifal in turn suggests the wider applications of the legends of the Holy Grail, the Waste Land, and the impotence of the Fisher King to Geoffrey's physical and spiritual condition. Act l opens with the knights of the Holy Grail guarding the vessel used at the Last Supper and the Spear which pierced Christ's side at the crucifixion. Their ruler, Titurel, has appointed his son Amfortas to succeed him, but Amfortas has yielded to the enchantress Kundry (in 'LJC', 81, Lowry identifies Kundry with Yvonne), has been wounded with the sacred spear, and awaits relief from his wound. Parsifal enters, having in innocence killed a wild swan, but failing to understand what is required of him, he is thrust roughly forth. In Act II, in the magic garden, Kundry tries to entrap Parsifal with a kiss, but Parsifal's mission is suddenly revealed to him, and in Act III it is accomplished: the wound of Amfortas is healed, the Holy Grail revealed, and Kundry, her long pilgrimage accomplished, sinks lifeless before it.

Yvonne is further identified with the swan [84] when the Consul's impotence brings him down to earth with a thump, and the scene becomes reminiscent of the beginning of Aldous Huxley's 1936 novel, Eyeless in Gaza (set partially in Mexico).  Having made unsatisfactory love, Antony Beavis and his mistress Helen Amberley are sunbathing naked; suddenly, out of a clear blue sky, from an aeroplane passing overhead, a dog falls, splattering them with blood from head to foot and ending the affair.

70.4 El Puerto del Sol.

La Puerta del Sol

Sp. "The Door of the Sun"; the cantina whose warmth arrives a few lines later. More correctly, ‘La Puerta del Sol’; but after Reynal and Hitchcock made the change Lowry changed it back, to accord with the cantina. Independencia is the main street of Oaxaca and the location of many of Lowry's favourite cantinas, but Lowry has based the name on the small abarrotes of this name in Mexico City, on Avenida 16 Septiembre (a name interchangeable with Independencia), opposite the Hotel Canada. Lowry would have known El Puerto del Sol as the central square of Madrid, the scene of much conflict in the Spanish Civil War (hence the reference to doomed men and a crash of trumpets).

70.5 doomed men ... crowding into the warmth of the sun.

Underlying this passage and that dealing with Consul's dislike of the sun [71], is the song from Shakespeare's Cymbeline [IV.ii.258-63]:

Fear no more the heat o' the sun,
     Nor the furious winter's rages;
Thou thy worldly task has done,
     Home art gone, and ta'en thy wages:
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney sweepers, come to dust.

The Consul, hiding behind his dark glasses, expresses his fear of the sun: "plenty of sun here .... Too much of it .... I don't like it." His reluctance to go into the sun is in the Swedenborgian sense turning from the love of God towards the darkness within himself.

70.6 the ursa horribilis of the night.

The ursus horribilis [sic] is the Grizzly Bear; with a pun on the Great Bear, in the constellation of Ursa Major. Significantly, the Consul has altered the gender of the bear. There is a celebrated statue of a bear in El Puerto del Sol, Madrid.

71.1 Arturo Díaz Vigil, Médico Cirujano y Partero, Enfermedades de Niños, Indisposiciones Nerviosas, Consultas de 12 a 2 y de 4 a 7, Av. Revolución Numero 8.

Sp. "Arturo Díaz Vigil, Physician, Surgeon and Obstetrician, Childhood Illnesses, Nervous Complaints, Consultations from 12 to 2 and 4 to 7, No. 8 Revolution Avenue"; a card similar to the sign in Dr Vigil's window [23].

71.2 'Strange,' the Consul commented.

At a moment of possible reconciliation the Consul insists on estrangement [see #64.4] and further alienates his affections by reaching for the drink that he has just refused.

71.3 to dispute with Lucretius.

Titus Lucretius Carus (99-55 BC), Roman poet, whose life work De Rerum Natura ("Concerning the Nature of Things") is a philosophical poem in hexameters, in six books, arguing that the course of the world can be explained without resorting to divine intervention and seeking to free mankind from terror of the gods. Lucretius argues that there need be no fear of God or death since man is "Lord of himself". Everything, he claims, is made up of atoms and the laws of nature control all. Thus it follows that the soul is also material and so closely associated with the body that whatever affects one will affect the other: the mind is begotten with the body, grows with it, and with it grows old; consciousness ends with death, and there is no immortality of the soul. These ideas are summed up in Book III.455-58:

ergo dissolui quoque convenit omnem animai
naturam, ceu fumus, in altas aeris auras;
quandoquidem gigni pariter pariterque videmus
crescere et, [ut] docui, simul aevo fessa fatisci.

("Therefore it follows that the entire nature of the soul is dissolved, / like smoke, into the high winds of the air; / since we see it born with the body, / and growing with it, and, as I have shown, at the same time becoming weary and worn out with age.")

72.1 Cliff ... Geoffrey.

Yvonne's first husband and dead child. Yvonne had married Cliff, described [263] as "six foot three of gristle and bristle", and had a son, Geoffrey, in 1932. The boy lived only six months and died the same year. They divorced in 1934 (the first ticket to Reno). Yvonne met the Consul in 1935 and, at the age of twenty-seven, married him in Granada (having lost the child, she has turned to a man of the same name).

72.2 Eisenstein.

Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein (1898-1948), celebrated Russian film director, whose completed works were Strike (1924); The Battleship Potemkin (1925); October (1928); Old and New (1929); Alexander Nevsky (1938); and Ivan the Terrible Pt. I (1944). Of greater relevance, however, is the unfinished ¡Que Viva Mexico! [see #4.12 & #254.4], one episode of which came out in 1933 as Thunder Over Mexico, while other footage was incorporated into Death Day, Eisenstein in Mexico, and Time in the Sun.


¡Que Viva Mexico! was to have been an epic representation of Mexico's history, a celebration of the nation's peculiar spirit, with emphasis on the clashes of life and death, beauty and corruption, freedom and oppression. There were to have been six episodes in all: a prologue, four novels or cameos, and an epilogue set on the Day of the Dead in which the "multi-threads of the preceding parts would be synthesized in a philosophical climax" [Kilgallin, 141]. Eisenstein himself drew attention to such aspects of his film as the eternal circle, Death Day in Mexico as the day of greatest fun and merriment, and the unmovable law of death. He said his film was to be "held together by the unity of the weave – a rhythmic and musical construction and an unrolling of the Mexican spirit and character" [The Film Sense, 197]. Spender [xiii] is largely correct in seeing Eisenstein as "the most direct influence on this extraordinary book" and its technique as "essentially cinematic"; for Lowry-Laruelle's debt to Eisenstein, see Kilgallin [139-46].

72.3 collapse ... like a heap of ashes.

Nordahl Grieg

In a note unsent to Albert Erskine [UBC 2-7], Lowry almost acknowledges Nordahl Grieg, with "culled from the Norwegian" (the final text reads "as Hugh would say"). The debt is to The Ship Sails On [163]: "And suddenly the rage was extinguished in the other man's face, his features collapsed like a heap of ashes, leaving an old man behind." Benjamin Hall encounters the Bosun, who first tries to provoke the lad before collapsing, to lament what a mess he has made of his life: "If only there was somebody waiting for me at home." Lowry placed the phrase at the end of Chapter X in the 1940 Volcano [314; UBC 26-3, 30], then moved it to this point, where the sense of sudden emptiness is related to the "demoted skipper's lost command".

72.4 the demoted skipper's lost command.

S.S. Samaritan incident

The image, with its suggestion of Lord Jim's failure of nerve and loss of ticket, has its origins in the Consul's own court-martial over the Samaritan affair [32].

73.1 Goethe's famous church bell.

As the bells chime and Yvonne twists her wedding ring the Consul is reminded of Goethe's poem, 'Die Wandelnde Glocke' ('The Wandering Bell') and its call to duty:

Es war ein kind, das wollte nie
Zur Kirche sich bequemen,
Und Sonntags fand es stets ein Wie,
Den Weg ins Feld zu nehmen.

Die Mutter sprach: "Die Glocke tönt,
Und so ist dirs befohlen,
Und hast du dich nicht hingewöhnt,
Sie kommt und wird dich holen."

Das Kind, es denkt: die Glocke höngt
Da droben auf dem Stuhle.
Schon hats den Weg ins Feld gelenkt,
Als lief’ es aus der Schule.

Die Glocke, Glocke tönt nicht mehr,
Die Mutter hat gefackelt.
Doch Welch ein Schrecken! hinterher
Die Glocke kommt gewackelt.

Sie wackelt schnell, man glaubt es kaum;
Das arme Kind im Schrecken,
Es lauft, es kommt als wie im Traum;
Die Glocke wird es decken.

Doch nimmt es richtig seinen Husch,
Und mit gewandter Schnelle
Eilt es durch Anger, Feld und Busch
Zur Kirche, zur Kapelle.

Und jeden Sonn- und Feiertag
Gedenkt es an den Schaden,
Lässt durch den ersten Glockenschlag,
Nicht in Person sich laden.

("There was a child who would never / agree to go to church, /and on Sundays he would always find a way / to go into the fields. 

His mother said, "The bell is ringing, / and that's an order for you, / and if you don't go / it will come and fetch you,"

The child thinks: the bell is hanging / up there in the belfry. / Already he is off to the fields, / as if he were running out of school. 

The bell, the bell rings no longer. / Mother was talking nonsense. / But what a terrible thing! / The bell is coming waddling after him. 

It waddles quickly, it's almost unbelievable. / The poor child runs in terror, as in a dream. / The bell will smother him.

But he scuttles off directly, / and with great speed / hurries through meadow, field and bush, / towards the church, towards the chapel. 

And every Sunday and holiday / he thinks of this misadventure, / and on the first stroke of the bell / doesn't wait to be invited in person.")

The "hellish Wesleyan breath" of the bell has followed Geoffrey all his life, but its call to duty cannot simply be blamed on the rigours of his Methodist schooling; the Consul's evasion is one of human responsibilities, as the bell continues to remind him, echoing the stern compassion of the dolente ... dolore at the end of Chapter I and the passing bell that rings out at his death [373]. Compare Melville's Redburn [Ch. 36], where the bells of St Nicholas "carry an admonition" as they remind the young hero to go to church.

73.2 Might a soul bathe there and be clean or slake its drought.

The noise of the water evokes Marvell's lines from ‘Clorinda and Damon’ [see #10.11], with the implication that the time for salvation is fast running out.

73.3 a touch of the goujeers.

A spurious form of ‘goodyears’ (from Du. goedtjaar, "good year"), usually taken to mean "the French disease"; but elsewhere "used in imprecatory phrases as denoting some undefined malefic power or agency" [OED]. In an early version [UBC 29-8, 8], the Consul's troubles were identified as meningitis, which would explain the glare in his eyes and the need for dark glasses without reference to undefined malefic power (Yvonne's child, Geoffrey, died of meningitis). In Lowry's short story, 'June 30th 1934', the clergyman narrator is named Goodyear.

73.4 Die Glocke Glocke tönt nicht mehr.

Ger. "The bell, the bell rings no longer." Goethe's bell is on its way; the moment of confrontation cannot be put off much longer.

73.5 neuritic.

Neuritis is any inflammatory or degenerative condition of the nerves, accompanied by pain, the loss of reflexes, disturbances of the senses (such as hallucinations), and, in extreme cases, paralysis. One form of neuritis is caused by alcoholism and may result in a severe swelling of the muscles of the arms and legs.

74.1 Mariana and the moated grange.

The reference is to Shakespeare's Measure for Measure [IV.i.1-8]: "The moated Grange at St Luke's" is the home of Mariana, who sings:

Take, O take those lips away,
     That so sweetly were forsworn;
And those eyes, the break of day,
     Lights that do mislead the morn:
But my kisses bring again,
bring again;
Seals of love, but seal'd in vain,
Seal'd in vain.

Directly appropriate is Tennyson's poem ‘Mariana’, which uses "Mariana in the moated grange" as its epigraph. The desolate garden setting, the sense of blighted love, and Mariana's wish for death all explain the Consul's allusion. The poem concludes:

Then, said she, "I am very dreary,
     He will not come," she said;
She wept, "I am aweary, aweary,
     O God, that I were dead!"

Lowry noted to Clemens ten Holder [23 April 1951; CL 2, 377] that in Tennyson's poem there is a ball that goes on all night, "as in the Volcano".

74.2 suppose ... you abandoned a besieged town to the enemy.

John Donne's "Batter my heart, three person'd God" [Divine Poems, XIV] likens the self to "an usurpt towne, to another due." The analogy of the soul as a besieged city is a Christian commonplace from St Augustine's De Civitate Dei (413-27 AD) to Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (1679-84).

74.3 the same green graces.

In theology, grace is unmerited favour extended by God to man. In Grace Abounding [#108], Bunyan speaks of "those Graces of God that now were green on me." Yvonne had noted [58] that the grass was not as green as it should be. Compare Marvell's 'The Garden', its "a green thought in a green shade" and flight of a bird as the Platonic form of the soul; it reflects: "Two paradises 'twere in one, / To be in Paradise alone."

74.4 the awful bell.

The large bell-shaped flower of the hibiscus, with its phallus-like stamen, fuses in the Consul’s mind with Goethe's bell (the poem makes no mention of the bell's tongue) and with childhood memories of sexual guilt and joyless discipline to form a composite image of inevitable doom.

74.5 the Canyon of the Wolves.

Canyon of the Wolves

The Cañon de Lobos is in El Cerro de Barriga de Plata y las Tetillas, a low range dividing the cañada of Cuernavaca from the Yautepec Valley; about fifteen miles west of Cuernavaca, a little beyond the (misnamed) town of El Progreso, on the road to Yautepec and Cuautla. A winding steep valley of scrub and grass and, incongruously, a rich source of marine fossils, the canyon is physically unprepossessing, and Lowry seems attracted more by its name than its physical appearance. In Lowry's poetry the wolf is frequently used as a figure of the self-reliant solitary wanderer (a Steppenwolf), an image perfectly in keeping with the William Blackstone theme sounded here.

75.1 Trogon ambiguus ambiguus.

Coppery-tailed Trogon

As the Consul says, this is the scientific name of the coppery-tailed trogon, described in Peterson's Field Guide [102] as about 111/2 inches long, with head and upper parts a dark glossy green and underparts bright rose-red; tail square-tipped and moderately long; bill stout and pale; with a slightly Parrot-like profile and a cry consisting of a rapid series of low coarse notes. There are over thirty species, from North America to Argentina, but the trogon ambiguus ambiguus is out of its natural habitat, being usually confined to the mountains of south Arizona. The most important member of the trogon family is the quetzal, also known as the "paradise trogon". The Consul identifies with the trogon's solitary nature and, imagining it living in the Canyon of the Wolves, away from the people with ideas, associates it with his private myth of William Blackstone. The detail dates from the early ‘Pegaso’ notebook [UBC 12-14], the words barely changing; but the identification is finally more the Consul's than the ornithological certainty it earlier was.

75.2 completely obliterated in spinach.

Yvonne's feeble jest likens Popo to Popeye the Sailor, the popular cartoon figure whose favourite spinach always gives him the strength to deal with his immediate problems. Lowry offers a sketch of the mountain in a letter to Jan [July 1937; CL 1, 166], with the words: "Old Popeye that's too much spinach."

75.3 Pariah: that meant drums too. Parián.


The word ‘pariah’ derives from the Tamil paraiyar, plural of paraiyan, and the name of the largest lower caste in India; commonly used in the sense of "untouchable". The word ‘paraiyan’ means "drummer" and derives from Tamil parai, a large drum beaten at festivals. The words ‘pariah’ and ‘Parián’ are to be found side by side in the OED, from which Lowry has taken their etymologies [see also #130.3]. Lowry would be aware, from W.H. Prescott and Lewis Spence, of the Aztec huehue, the large sacred drum in the temple of Huitzilopotchli, sounded at times of danger or sacrifice; and he might also have read in Spence [M of M & P, 16] of the Toltec legend of Huemac:

Tovego, a cunning sorcerer, collected a great concourse of people near Tollan, and by dint of beating upon a magic drum until the darkest hours of the night, forced them to dance to its sound until, exhausted by their efforts, they fell headlong over a dizzy precipice into a deep ravine.

Parián was where Lowry last saw "Vigil-Cerillo" alive, as Sigbjørn recalls [DATG, 208]

75.4 horror, the horror of an intolerable reality.

A strong echo of Eliot's The Waste Land, to which Eliot had originally intended to affix as epigraph Conrad's "The horror! The horror!" from Heart of Darkness. In Eliot's poem, the remembered ecstasy of the Hyacinth Garden has become in the present of the poem an unrelieved horror, and the so-called real world has assumed the illusory quality that Conrad's Marlow experiences on his return from Africa.

75.5 what some insane person suffers.

Behind the Consul's fearful vision is the image of John Clare (1793-1864), poet and madman, whose last twenty years were spent in Northampton County Asylum and who in such poems as 'The Dream' and 'The Nightmare' (1821) spoke of the horrific mystery of his existence. Kilgallin [18] suggests that the particular reference is to Clare's 'Written in a Thunderstorm July 15th, 1841', which begins:

The heavens are wroth – the thunder's rattling peal
Rolls like a vast volcano in the sky;
Yet nothing starts the apathy I feel,
Nor chills with fear eternal destiny.

76.1 the timber line of Popocatepetl ... like a gigantic surfacing whale.

Moby Dick

Popocatepetl is to the Consul what Moby Dick is to Captain Ahab. In the final version of Under the Volcano this relationship is never insisted on, but in the drafts it is often explicit and Moby Dick is mentioned by name. The allusion is to the final words of Chapter 1 of Moby Dick: "one grand hooded phantom, like a snow hill in the air" (an image repeated in Chapter 133). A note in Prescott suggests the devious route by which this terrestrial whale grounded itself on the volcano. Discussing the shape of Ixtaccihuatl from a similar vantage, he writes: "This mountain ... with its neighbour Popocatepetl ... has been fancifully likened, from its long dorsal swell, to the back of a dromedary" [V.vii [495]. Lowry knew his Conquest of Mexico, and probably appreciated Prescott's tendency to use latinate words in their original etymological sense, but ‘dorsal’ would here seem incongruously inappropriate: very like a whale.

76.2 the gardener.

Slashing his way through the tall grasses, the gardener is a figure of Death the Reaper, who will garner the Consul in Chapter XII. The Tarot card XIII, Death, which rules over Scorpio and the end of the year, depicts such a figure.

76.3 Tom's muted voice.

The call remains deliberately mysterious. "Tom" is ringing from America, about some property [82] that has been confiscated, presumably under President Cárdenas's reforms. The call has something to do with silver, and part of the mystery as to why the Consul is staying on in Quauhnahuac is clarified by earlier versions of the novel that indicate his involvement in a get-rich deal with silver. The United States stopped buying Mexican silver in March 1938, in reprisal for Mexico's appropriation of oil holdings; wild speculation in silver continued throughout the year; and the Consul may be involved in such shady activities. Lowry originally made an emphatic analogy between the Consul and the conquistadors, and he attributed much of the Consul's later guilt to the knowledge that he too was exploiting the Indians for his own gain. In the final version, Lowry has downplayed this background to increase the mystery about the Consul's reasons for staying on and to relate his guilt more specifically to his feelings for Yvonne.

Throughout the novel, telephone calls are used as a mode of communication between the natural and spiritual worlds, and it seems likely [see #48.2] that Lowry associates in his own mind "Tom" with Thomas Taylor the Platonist (1758-1835), author of The Hymns of Orpheus and commentator upon the Eleusinian and Bacchic mysteries [see #318.3]. The Consul's act of hanging the receiver the wrong way may be an involuntary attempt to frustrate such communication.

In the first drafts this was "Bill", ringing from Tlaxcala. The "Evans Letters" at UBC contain Lowry's notes from Mrs Evans, who discussed the revolution in 1918 and the expropriation of her property, mentioning briefly a British Consul; these give vague insight into the Consul's reasons for "staying on". Lowry mentions Rosalie Evans in the typescript of Dark as the Grave [UBC 9-5, 324].

76.4 Erikson 43.

A telephone number on the Erikson (more correctly, Ericsson) exchange. As Jakobsen notes [70], the Swedish firm L.M. Ericsson built one of Mexico's early telephone systems; since there were two systems (mutually incompatible), the name of the system would be listed with the number. Lowry commented in a draft of Dark as the Grave [UBC 9-5, 331], "Half the telephone numbers in Mexico are Erikson something or other. It's a Swedish company that owns the telephone exchange. So there's nothing very mysterious about that."

The mystery began when Lowry gave a character of In Ballast to the White Sea the name of Erikson, then arrived in Cuernavaca to find that his own number was Erikson 34 [UBC 9-5, 331]. It deepened when he read about an American shot in Taxco and thrown down a barranca, the murdered man's name being William Erikson [UBC 9-5, 336-39: the Consul's name at this point was William Ames]. In Dark as the Grave Lowry uses ‘Erikson’ for a character based on Nordahl Grieg; like Grieg, he died in a bomber raid over Berlin in 1943, and Lowry's Erikson 43, an inversion of his own 34, commemorates that death: they got his number. Grieg died as an observer in a British bomber shot down over Berlin, having made the trip to write about the experience.

77.1 Never had it seemed such a long way to the top of this hill.

Calle Humboldt

Echoing Christina Rosetti's 'Up-Hill': "Does the road wind up-hill all the way? / Yes, to the very end." Though there is a distinct hill at this point on the Calle Humboldt in Cuernavaca, the road stretching on "like a life of agony" seems to have derived its physical qualities from a steep rocky hill in Yautepec [DATG, 183], the Calle de Mirador, and its symbolic implications from Christ's walk to Calvary.

77.2 900 pesos.

The silver peso was worth, officially, about 22 cents in 1938. Hence 900 pesos would equal $198.00; а bottle of whisky would cost $1.98; and а bottle of tequila about $0.22.

77.3 Argal.

A corruption of L. ergo, "therefore": often used, as here, as a self-conscious admission of specious logic. As Jakobsen says [70], "Wel1-known from the graveyard scene in Hamlet and associated with clownish reasoning."

77.4 Away! Away!

From ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ [lines 31-34], by John Keats (1795-1821):

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
     Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
     Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:

The allusion is magnificently incongruous: the Consul, head aching and a drowsy numbness paining his sense, half in love with easeful death, is seeking to "drink, and leave the world unseen"; or, like William Blackstone, "fade away into the forest dim." However, he cannot escape the shakes, the sorrows, the leaden-eyed despair, and instead of "flying" he crashes facedown on the deserted street.

77.5 a whiskerando.

A rough, bewhiskered, but picturesque character; the word modelled on desperando. One Don Ferolo Whiskerandos appears in Sheridan's 1779 play The Critic, but Lowry found the word in the first chapter of Melville's Redburn: "three whiskerandoes in red caps, and their trowsers legs rolled up, hauling in a seine." This word was not used until the late revisions, but the cantina, proprietor and Borges-like cat came from Chapter I, from a cantina that Laruelle had thought to visit, where he would have been presented with one of Geoffrey's unpaid bills [Asals, Making, 194, 217; TM 6, 57 verso].

77.6 a dog guarding it.

Suggestive of Cerberus, guardian of the gates of Hades, who prevented the living from entering the infernal regions and the dead from escaping. The detail of the lane “branching to the left” echoes the earlier suggestion of Dante’s Inferno [see #23.2].

77.7 carte d'identité.

Fr: "identity card". Before World War I, the passport was generally sufficient identification, but after the war most nations required more elaborate documents.

77.8 the passport ... whose number I remember to this day is 21312.

In earlier drafts, the number of Hugh's passport was 43343 [UBC 29-8, 9]. The Consul, later in the day and in an apparent reversal of the earlier predicament, will find himself "in a fix" because he is without his passport. For a curious connection, see #329.2.

78.1 since Father went up into the White Alps alone.

In an earlier draft [UBC 26-12, B], Hugh was drawing parallels between his Socotra and Geoffrey's Kashmir and commented: "All this must be like Kashmir must have been. Now I understand why Geoff  – though it was before he came here – kept quoting that line of Webster's or somebody's, about Father: Nurse I am sick, oh my love is slain, I saw him go up into the White Alps alone." The line is not in any of Webster's plays, but from John Donne's 'Elegie: On His Mistris' [lines 52-53], the nightmare of one starting from her sleep having dreamt that her lover is dead:

When I am gone, dreame mee some happinesse,
Nor let thy lookes our long hid love confesse,
Nor praise, nor dispraise mee, blesse, nor curse
Openly loves force; nor in bed fright thy nurse
With midnights startings, crying out, oh, oh,
Nurse oh my love is slaine; I saw him goe
Ore the White Alps, alone; I saw him, I
Assayld, fight, taken, stabb'd, bleede, fall, and dye.
Augure mee better chance, except dreade Jove
Think it enough for mee, to'have had thy love.

78.2 this valley ... the Valley of the Indus.

Vale of Kashmir

A comparison between Kashmir and Mexico is made by Aleister Crowley in his Autohagiography [Pt.2, Ch.35], which Lowry assuredly had read. The Consul's analogy is otherwise forced: although the Valley of Cuernavaca is surrounded by hills, it is not dominated by mountains the way that the Vale of Kashmir is by the Himalayas.

78.3 Taxco ... Srinigar.

'Turbaned trees' at the Cervecería Modelo

The "turbaned trees" of Taxco are royal palms (palmas reals), whose leafy upper boles resemble turbans, but there is otherwise little in common between the Mexican silver-mining centre with its quaint cobbled streets, in the hills of Guerrero, and the Kashmiri capital, Srinagar (Lowry has mis-spelt it) with its waterways, in the Vale of Kashmir.

78.4 Xochimilco ... the Shalimar.

Two celebrated gardens:


(a) Xochimilco. The floating gardens of Xochimilco, now an impressive tourist trap in the southeast of Mexico City, are all that remain of a unique system of agriculture that once was the basis of Aztec self-sufficiency in food. With much of the Valley of Mexico a vast lake (now drained) and land at a premium, intensive gardening was carried out on the chinampas; not strictly artificial islands, but rafts made of stakes and excavated mud which eventually became rooted to the shallow lake bottom and on which up to seven crops per year might be produced.

Shalimar Gardens

(b) the Shalimar. The Shalimar Gardens, on the hill-slope of the east bank of the Dal Lake, were laid out in 1619 by Mogul Emperor Jehangir and extended in 1633 by Shah Jehan. They are arranged in four terraces, through which a stream flows in beautiful stone chutes, creating fountains and reservoirs on its way to the lake. Although celebrated for their exquisite pavilions, cascades, fountains, lawns and shady walks, the gardens are by no means floating ones; the Consul seems to have associated the Shalimar with other floating gardens of the Dal Lake and with the houseboats that are a feature of Srinagar.

78.5 Damchok.

More usually, Demchok (though both spellings are found), a town marked on the map accompanying Francis Younghusband's Kashmir as being on the Tibetan side of the Tibet-Kashmir border, on an ancient trade route up the Indus between Ladakh and Tibet. Since Ladakh is commonly taken as the back of beyond in northern India and Demchok is beyond that, it perfectly suits the Consul's vision of nowhere.

78.6 the P. and O., the old erratic Cocanada.

The Peninsular and Oriental, shipping line of the East India Company, established 1837 and travelling between England, Gibraltar and the East. Cocanada (or, Kakanada) refers to the once-important port on the coast of Andhra Pradesh, near the delta of the Godavari river. The S.S. Cocanada would not have been very old when Hugh and Geoffrey travelled on her, for she was built in 1910 (her staysails made her seem as if from an earlier era). She was owned by the British India Steam Navigation Co. (a subsidiary of P & O, but jealous of its independence) and acted as a troop-ship in World War l. She was used on the Rangoon-Coromandel run during the 1920s, and her career came to an unheroic end in January 1947 when she overturned in dock at Bombay. Earlier she was named the Nawanipur. Asals suggests [Making, 178] that Lowry may have been attracted by the canada’ in ‘Cocanada’.

78.7 too many surrogates in Harrogate.

A surrogate is a legal term for one who acts for another; here, a guardian. Like the Firmin brothers, Lowry was controlled by surrogate parents for much of his life, with trustees responsible for administering his allowance each month. Harrogate, in West Yorkshire, is known for its mineral springs with supposedly medicinal properties, but the Consul seems more interested in the rhyme than the location. The phrase was a late addition to the manuscripts but develops the significance of "I continue in a bottle": there is probably an allusion to Huxley's Brave New World [Ch. 1], where the embryos in their bottles in the decanting room are given a rich surrogate; as Webb notes [115], the substitute mother theme is reinforced [91], when the Consul murmurs "I love you" to his bottle of whisky.

79.1 it is not yet over.

The Consul is implying, as Laruelle has done or will do [9], that in either case "one's own battle would go on."

79.2 God has little patience with remorse.

Because, as Geoffrey is well aware, it differs from penitence in being still oriented towards the self and therefore stresses the importance of that self. In 'Garden of Etla' [see #12.1], Lowry noted that every man was, in a sense, his own Garden of Eden, but:

one of the most certain ways never to return was by excessive remorse, or sorrow for what you had lost. This to a Zapotecan was more of a sin than it was held to be by the Catholics ... it was another form of boasting: the assumption of the uniqueness of your misery.

79.3 the inevitable bladder on the brain.

Lowry is using ‘bladder’ in the obsolete sense of "a morbid vesicle containing liquid of putrid matter; a boil, blister, pustule" [OED] to suggest a build-up of pressure that can be relieved only by sudden release; but he also refers to the pig's bladder attached to a stick with which clowns hit each other. The ‘sawdust’ that follows is that of a circus ring.

79.4 Elizabethan plays.

The thumbed maroon volume

When the Consul gave Jacques the volume [27], he did so with the implication that the book would become an emblem of something that could not be returned. In like manner, the Consul's "gift" of Yvonne to Laruelle and Hugh has altered the case by creating a condition that cannot be reversed.

79.5 seven hundred and seventy-seven and a half.

Frater Achad

The Penguin "seven hundred and seventy-five and a half" is an error. The phrase echoes Genesis 5:3l: "And all the days of Lamech were seven hundred seventy and seven years: and he died." The Consul may be recalling the question put to Christ by Peter [Matthew 18:21-22]: "Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven." 777 was the occult signature of Frater Achad, just as 666 was of Aleister Crowley.

79.6 like Don Quixote avoiding a town.

Don Quixote is often depicted as refusing to enter a town on the grounds that knights-errant should rather sleep in the fields and forest, but the only reference to his avoiding a town "invested with his abhorrence because of his excesses there" is to Part 2 [IV.lix], where the Sorrowful Knight avoids the town of Saragossa because of false rumours (recounted in the spurious continuation of the first part by Alonso Fernandez de Avellaneda) of his previous exploits there. A year from now, Jacques Laruelle, "a knight of old", will take a left cut to avoid his own house [see #23.2].

79.7 the English 'King's Parade' voice.

King's Parade is a main street in Cambridge, England, and the spruce Oxbridge tones of the good Samaritan remind Geoffrey how badly he is letting down the old school; he springs to his feet instantly, "sober as a judge".

79.8 an M.G. Magna.

A British sportscar made by Morris, of 1929 vintage, and like its owner incongruously out of place; according to Day [133], "the only car Lowry ever drove, let alone owned." The car was acquired by Lowry from Tom Forman, to whom Ultramarine was dedicated. Given James Stern's chuckles in a letter of 6 January 1947, this scene could be his early "conte" which Lowry "remembered unfailingly" [UBC 1-64]. In October Ferry [117], Ethan Llewelyn recalls being caught drunk at the wheel of a 1932 model (the date perhaps referring to Lowry's time of ownership).

79.9 the English striped tie, mnemonic of a fountain in a great court.

Trinity Court

The tie, which the Consul recognizes as being that of Trinity College, Cambridge (dark blue, with thin diagonal red and yellow stripes), brings to his mind Trinity's Great Court (the largest of any in the Oxbridge Colleges), and its fountain, commissioned by Sir Thomas Nevile in 1602 and an outstanding piece of English renaissance work. The image of the fountain in turn evokes the lines of an old Trinitarian, Andrew Marvell, whose 'Clorinda and Damon' [#10.11] sums up the Consul's inability to slake his thirst.

80.1 Trinity .... Caius.

Colleges of Cambridge University:


(a) Trinity. Trinity College was founded by Henry VIII in 1546, absorbing King's Hall (founded by Edward III in 1336) and Michaelhouse (founded by Harvey de Stanton in 1323), as well as some minor hostels. The most celebrated Cambridge college, it is remarkable for its Great Court, its Great Gate and its library (designed by Sir Christopher Wren), which contains such rare treasures as the first sketch of Paradise Lost. Through its portals have passed such illustrious figures as Herbert, Newton, Byron, Thackeray, Macaulay and Russell, as well as writers like John Donne, Andrew Marvell and John Cornford, who contribute so much to Under the Volcano that one can almost talk of a Trinity motif.


(b) Caius. The College of Gonville and Caius (pronounced "keys") was founded by Edmond Gonville in 1348 and enlarged by Dr. Caius in 1557. It is a lesser Cambridge College, which accounts for the Englishman's merry face becoming a shade redder as he is caught out unexpectedly in a minor breach of decorum.

80.2 Burke's Irish.

Burke's Whiskey

Burke's Three Star Irish Whiskey, incongruously offered by the English samaritan, is made by Edward and John Burke Ltd., Export Bottlers, 57 Upper O'Connell St., Dublin.

81.1 Bungho.

An expression of farewell, with faintly ludicrous connotations.

81.2 the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores.

Sp. "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs". The passage was one that Lowry was prepared to omit ['LJC', 72], but the unexpected presence of the card prefigures the discovery of the telegram in the other jacket [369]. In earlier drafts Lowry had considered using the Columbian government to assert a parallel with British Columbia; Caracas (as the Consul's "Why not?" seems to indicate) forms an anagram of Sp. cáscara, "husk" or "shell" [see #189.10]: the possibility of Eden is replaced by a touch of hell.

81.3 Erect as Jim Taskerson.

That is, with the distinct manly carriage [see #17.5] on which the Taskersons prided themselves; but (“married now too, poor devil”) ‘erect’ will assume a terrible irony.

81.4 A gaily coloured Oaxaqueñan serape.


A serape is a woollen blanket or shawl, often brightly coloured, worn as an outer garment. Those of Oaxaca are particularly renowned. For Eisenstein, the serape was a symbol of his film ¡Que Viva Mexico! [see #72.2 & #254.4], the different themes and motifs "held together by the unity of the weave." For the Consul at this moment, however, the underweave of the blanket is the suggestion of Oaxaca [see #35.11].

81.5 ranchero eggs.

Fried eggs with a hot chile sauce, served on a tortilla and usually accompanied by frijoles (beans); the common breakfast of the ranches of the north.

81.6 The magazine was the amateur astronomy one she subscribed to.

The Sky, a monthly magazine published by the Hayden Planetarium in New York. As Larry Clipper discovered, the issue is specifically that of June 1939, which features on its cover the three domes of the Yerkes Observatory (likened by the Consul to Roman helmets), silhouetted against a cloudy night sky illuminated by lightning. It contains an article entitled 'The Astronomy of the Mayas' by Clifford N. Anderson of the Bell Telephone Laboratories, which concludes [21]: "Although their Venus tables are very accurate and the Mayas were in general far advanced in observational astronomy, it is doubtful if they had any insight as to the mechanism or ever suspected a Copernican system." There is an anomaly of Yvonne's reading on the morning of 1 November 1938 a magazine not to be issued until the following June, but the relevance of cover and content to the characters and events of Lowry's novel explains the anachronism.

In a late revision [UBC 29-9, 9], the dialogue was extended to Jupiter's Red Spot and the discovery of that by Cassini in 1665 (from the same issue of The Sky), to underline astronomy as a shared interest that might bring them together again. The domes were there described (not in the magazine) as "circumcised".

81.6 The Mayas ... were far advanced in observational astronomy.

With the simplest of instruments (they had no telescopes), the Mayans could predict with amazing accuracy the synodical revolutions of the major heavenly bodies, the likelihood of eclipses, and the heliacal risings and settings of the morning and evening stars. Their lunar and Venus tables were astonishingly detailed and accurate and formed the basis of a sophisticated calendrical system [see #82.1]. As Prescott says [I.iv, 72]:

that they should be capable of accurately adjusting their festivals by the movements of the heavenly bodies, and should fix the true length of the tropical year with a precision unknown to the great philosophers of antiquity, could be the result only of a long series of nice and patient observations, evincing no slight progress in civilisation.

81.7 a Copernican system.

Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543), Polish astronomer and mathematician; often regarded as the father of modern astronomy because of his De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, which pothumously proved that the planets, including the earth, revolved about the sun.

82.1 the "vague" years of the old Mayans. And their "pseudo years" .... And their delicious names for the months.

Although the Mayans strictly had only one calendar, their astronomers kept both Venus and lunar tables, and their calendar thus comprises two distinct cycles: one, a Venus cycle of 260 days; the other, a cycle of 365 days (the "vague year"). A complete calendar round, whereby the first day of the first cycle again matched that of the second cycle took place only after fifty-two vague years [see #29.4].

An understanding of why this should be involves a basic comprehension of the Mayan calendrical system. The Mayans had twenty names for the days, arranged in an unvarying series: Ik, Akbal, Kan, Chicchan, Cirni, Manik, Lamar, Muluc, Oc, Chuen, Eb, Ben, Ix, Men, Cib, Caban, Eznab, Cauac, Ahau, and Imix. In addition, the numbers 1 to 13 were applied to the day names in regular sequence. Since each day had both a number and a name, there would be no exact repetition for 13 x 20 = 260 days. This 260-day period (the tzolkin) formed one cycle.

The other cycle was a 365-day year, divided into eighteen months of twenty days each, plus a final month, Uayeb, of five days. The months in order were: Pop, Uo, Zip, Zotz, Tzec, Xul, Yaxkin, Mol, Chen, Yax, Zac, Ceh, Mac, Kankin, Muan, Pax, Kayab, Cumhu, and Uayeb. The positions in each month were numbered 0 to 19 (Uayeb 0 to 4); thus, 0 Pop, the beginning of the year, occurred every 365 days. This second cycle is called the "vague year" because it does not reproduce the seasons on the same date each year. Clifford N. Anderson [20] calls this cycle a pseudo-year and does not make the distinction the Consul implies [see #81.6]. 

There is a mathematical incompatibility of the first cycle (based on 20 x 13) with the second (based on 18 x 20, plus 5). The following table shows how a year might be tabulated, beginning with 0 Pop falling on 1 Ik. The second year would not be identical, because 0 Pop would fall on 2 Manik; the third year would begin with 3 Eb, the fourth with 4 Caban, the fifth with 5 Ik ... the fifty-second with 13 Cabab –which would end a calendar round, since the next year would again see 0 Pop fall on 1 Ik. A complete calendar round thus consists of a day number (1 to 13), a day name (one of 20), a month position (0 to 19), and a month name (one of 19); for example, 1 Ik 0 Pop, or 12 Ben 16 Pax. Such dates can repeat only once in fifty-two vague years (seventy-three tzolkins) or 18,890 days (18,890 being the lowest common multiple of 13 day numbers, 20 day names and 365 positions in the year). These notes are indebted to John E. Teeple, 'Maya Astronomy', Contributions to American Archaeology 1 (August 1930): 36-38.

82.2 Mac.

The month of fertility for the Mayans; although Yvonne's reason for liking Mac has more to do with her Scottish heritage (Uncle Macintyre) than that.

82.3 And Uayeb: I like that one most of all.

Uayeb is the last short month of the Mayan year, its five days being considered particularly unlucky. Lewis Spence comments [M & M of M, 226]:

During the five days at the end of the year people in Mexico were careful not to fall asleep during the day, nor to quarrel or trip in walking .... On these days men left the house as seldom as possible did not wash or comb themselves, and took special care not to undertake any menial or difficult task.

The Consul violates each of the above conditions during his final day, thereby inviting the divine retribution that these precautions were designed to ward off.

82.4 the philosophical section of War and Peace.

War and Peace (1865-72), by Count Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy (1828-1910), is an epic tale of the Napoleonic Wars, counterpointing the fortunes of individual members of the Rostov and Bolonski families against the wider sweep of historical destiny. The novel concludes with two epilogues, the second of which is a long philosophical section called ‘The Forces That Move Nations’ [see #308.5], in which Tolstoy assesses the relationship between individual freedom and historical necessity, concluding (in a passage directly relevant to the Consul's "choice" of destiny) that history teaches us to renounce a freedom that does not exist and recognize a dependence of which we are not conscious.

82.5 the rigging of the Cabbala … a St Jago's monkey.


For the Cabbala, see #39.3. Likening its intricacies to those of a ship's rigging is not inappropriate (both aspire to the heavens). Chapter 24 of Melville's Redburn is subtitled 'He Begins to Hop about in the Rigging Like a Saint Jago's Monkey'; it deals with Redburn's growing confidence aloft, "hovering like a judgement angel between heaven and earth." As Harold Beaver notes [Redburn, Penguin edition, 425], a St. Jago's monkey is "a deft and nimble Portuguese sailor from Sao Thiago, the largest and most populous of the Cape Verde Islands."

The Tolstoy theme was established by 1940, but the Cabbala came later. Lowry read Redburn late in 1943, according to a letter to Gerald Noxon, in the Collected Romances, a gift from Margerie [28 Sept. 1943; CL 1, 429]. Details from Redburn are copied into the ‘Varsity’ notebook [UBC 12-14], which is headed ‘In Ballast to the White Sea’; the typescript of that novel makes extensive use of Redburn.

82.6 that Napoleon's leg twitched.

From War and Peace []. When General Balashev visits Napoleon to bring him a letter from Czar Alexander, insisting that the French withdraw beyond the Nieman as a condition of peace, Napoleon becomes angry and his left leg begins to twitch increasingly. Despite the Consul's claim to have remembered only this small vulgar detail, he recalls much of the "philosophical section" later in the day (at the end of Chapter X). The reference to Napoleon is linked to the Cabbala through a passage a little further on in War and Peace [IX.xix], where, by gematria, the words, L'Empereur Napoléon are shown to possess the numerical significance 666, thereby revealing him to the Beast of Revelation [see Killgallin, 185, and #188.2].

82.7 They haven't my number yet.

The Consul is referring to his mysterious interests in silver [see #76.3], but the words have ominous overtones of death and anticipate the extensive telephoning in Chapter XII, when his fate is decided.

82.8 But for one's habit of making money.

As Lowry would have known, William Spratling of Taxco, author of Little Mexico (1932), was reputed among the British and American community of Cuernavaca to be "the American gone native" [de Davila, 174], but he had nevertheless made a fortune in silver and built up a superb collection of pre-Columbian art. The local example of this other William may play some small part in the Consul's dramatisation of William Blackstone. In an earlier draft [UBC 29-8, 14] "Tom" had previously been "Bill", and the Consul (then named William Ames) had said to him "we no longer need a consul in Quauhnahuac, yet we still do make money enough, God knows how, in the midst of disaster" (Lowry writes ‘disastar’, a favourite spelling). The Consul's reasons for staying on in Quauhnahuac, and for wanting to become a Mexican subject, are intricately bound up with his speculation in the silver market [see #76.3 & #212.2].

83.1 the pictures on the wall.

These pictures by the Consul's mother are excellent imitations of those by Major Edward Molyneux, collaborator with Francis Younghusband on the book Kashmir (London: A. & C. Black, 1909). The book contains a set of seventy water-colour illustrations, rather charming, but with little relation to the accompanying text. Two are easily recognisable from the Consul's description: 'Laila Rookh's Tomb, Hassan Abdal,' plate 50 [opposite 162]; and 'Gorge of the Sind Valley at Guggangir’ [sic], plate 37 [opposite 108].

83.2 Lalla Rookh's tomb.

Lalla Rookh's Tomb

Lalla Rookh, by Thomas Moore (1779-1852), published in 1817, comprises four oriental verse tales connected by a story in prose. It tells of the journey of Lalla Rookh, daughter of the Emperor Aurungzebe, from Delhi to the Vale of Kashmir, where she is to be given in marriage to the young king of Bucharia. On the way she is entertained by and falls in love with Feramorz, a young poet of Kashmir, who, on arrival at the Shalimar Palace, reveals himself to be the young king. The four tales, presenting a variety of verse forms and subjects of a romantic "oriental" kind, are: 'The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan', 'Paradise and the Peri', 'The Fire-Worshippers', and 'The Light of the Haram'.

83.3 the ravine at Gugganvir.

Gorge of the Sind Valley at Gugganvir

More precisely, 'Gorge of the Sind Valley at Guggangir', a watercolour by Edward Molyneux in Francis Younghusband's Kashmir [see #83.1]. Guggangir, more commonly Gagangir, is a small village in the Sind Valley ten miles west of Sonamarg, on what was reputed to be the roughest part of the route between India and Turkestan.

83.4 the Shalimar looked more like the Cam than ever.

For the Shalimar Gardens, see #78.4(b); the emphasis here is on their romantic associations, perhaps as described in Thomas Moore's notes to Lalla Rookh:

In the centre of the plain, as it approaches the lake, one of the Delhi Emperors, I believe Shah Jehan, constructed a spacious garden called the Shalimar, which is abundantly stored with fruit-trees and flowering shrubs. Some of the rivulets which intersect the plain are led into a canal at the back of the garden, and, flowing through its centre, or occasionally thrown into a variety of waterworks, compose the chief beauty of the Shalimar.


In his mother's painting, the "magnificent Shalimar" has become the gentle Cam, the river running through Cambridge, associated most with the pleasures of punting.

Lowry has a marginal note [UBC WT 1-12, 10]: "The Bridge of Burbur Shah, Chenar Bagh, Srinagar (almost like the Cam with a bridge like our pier)." The note is headed ‘Pictures in the Consul's house’, and describes 'Lalla Rookh's tomb' and the 'Gorge of the Sind Valley at Guggangir' [sic] as in the novel.

83.5 a distant view of Nanga Parbat from the Sind.

Nanga Parbat

Nanga Parbat (Kashmiri "naked mountain") is at 26,660 feet the seventh largest mountain in the world; it is in the West Punjab Himalayas to the northwest of Srinagar. The Sind Valley here is not that of the lower Indus, but a side valley extending from the Vale of Kashmir, some forty miles northeast of Srinagar. Lowry commented of Nanga Parbat [UBC WT 1-12, 10]: "Mountain vaguely like Popo". This draft confirms Lowry's careless conflation of two of Edward Molyneux's water-colours, 'Distant view of Nanga Parbat from the Kamir Pass [Younghusband, 246]; and 'In the Sind Valley' [254]. Nanga Parbat has been the goal of a number of disastrous climbing expeditions, for example, in 1934 and 1937, when several climbers were killed, and in 1895, when the noted climber A.F. Mummery disappeared in a way not altogether dissimilar to Geoffrey's father.

83.6 speculation ... seigniorage.

The Consul may be involved in silver speculation. Seigniorage is a technical term referring to the tax collected by a government from a manufacturer of coins, equal to the difference between the face value of the coin and the metal value of its composition.

83.7 to tighten, if almost imperceptibly, a screw.

The infernal machine is operative [see #209.1]; here, perhaps, with a hint of Henry James's The Turn of the Screw (1898), a mysterious tale of ghastly apparitions and psychic terrors, provoked by a neurotic governess, which increasingly close about two unhappy and apparently haunted children and lead to inevitable tragedy and death.

83.8 Goethe's church bell was looking him straight between the eyes.

'Die Wandelnde Glocke' [see #73.1] has now caught up with the truant child, who has nowhere further to run and must turn to face his responsibilities.

84.1 a Bleecker Street mummer.

Bleecker Street, in downtown Manhattan, is part of the jazz area near Greenwich Village; if Lowry means to imply that it is in Philadelphia, he is wrong, but Philadelphia rather than New York is famous for its mummers' clubs and elaborate parades.

84.2 Newcastle .... Charleston.

New Castle is a small town on the Delaware River; its cobbled streets are carefully maintained. Charleston, South Carolina, is one of the oldest and most charming cities of the American South, noted for its old homes and gracious living. In the manuscripts [UBC 25-19, 10] these towns were described as "a bit of heaven, but the fellow wanting to get out a week later cut his throat."

84.3 the paths and spheres of the Holy Cabbala.

Frater Achad

The aim of the Cabbalist is to develop from a spiritual neophyte into an adept by retracing the paths of God's lightning that lead from Malkuth to Kether [see #39.3]. These paths constitute thirty-two in all, comprising the ten Sephiroth (usually depicted on diagrams of the tree of life by spheres) and the twenty-two paths, each associated with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet and corresponding with one of the Major Arcana cards of the Tarot pack, connecting the spheres. As Frater Achad notes [QBL, 20]: "We are clearly told that the Paths of Wisdom are thirty-two in all, that is to say, the Ten Numerical Emanations and their connecting links formed by the Twenty-two Letters."

85.1 yes, the importance of a drunkard's life.

In terms of la vida impersonal [see #12.1], the Consul's error is to attribute "formidable value" to his sufferings; this precludes his regaining the lost intimacy with Yvonne.

85.2 Bloodthirsty, did I hear you say bloodthirsty, Commander Firmin.

Memories of German friends [see #290.4(h)] rise relentlessly to the surface of the Consul's mind.

85.3 nux vomica or belladonna.

Poisons: nux vomica is the tree from which strychnine is derived [see #68.4]; belladonna (It. "Beautiful lady") is the deadly nightshade, atropa belladonna, from which is made the potion so beloved of Renaissance poisoners.

86.1 new data on Atlantis! The most extraordinary thing of its kind since Donnelly.

Ignatius J. Donnelly (1831-1901), lawyer, politician, and writer, is described by his editor Egerton Sykes [xi] as: "a great liberal mind, an impassioned champion of the eternal verities, and the founder of the modern science of Atlantology." Donnelly's Atlantis: The Antediluvian World (1882) tried to demonstrate that Plato's fabled island of Atlantis actually existed; that it was the original Garden of Eden and Garden of the Hesperides; that it was the cradle of all civilisation; that the Atlanteans colonised Egypt and America, invented the alphabet (Mayan and Phoenician), first smelted iron and worked precious metals; and that as a result of a terrible convulsion of nature the island was submerged by the ocean, a few people escaping to pass to different nations related legends of the golden age and deluge.

Ignatius Donnelly

Donnelly's main proof of the existence of Atlantis was based upon the notion of “intercourse between the opposite sides of the Atlantic” [see #16.2]: that is, the existence of relations and resemblances of plant and animal life; geological similarities; linguistic, religious and cultural correspondences; and common mythologies. His approach to his evidence has been described as legalistic rather than scientific since he chose what suited his case without scrupulous regard to the facts that might argue against it; as a result, his conclusions are a mixture of the strangely pertinent and the totally fanciful. Despite its uncritical acceptance of dubious authorities, Donnelly's book quickly achieved a remarkable air of authority itself and stimulated an interest in Atlantology that has far outlasted his own time. The Consul's interest in Atlantis (and alchemy) is an occult and mystical one. He dreams of assembling from the ruins of a rediscovered Atlantis the secret knowledge which can lead to spiritual perfection; in practice, he finds only disaster.

86.2 Marvellous. For the Consul's private sense of this word, see #232.5, the story of the parrot linked (in his imagination) to Deluge legends and Atlantis. Words like ‘marvellous’, ‘strange’ or ‘obscure’ invariably have for the Consul (and Lowry) a hidden hieroglyphic, an intimation of the esoteric. 

86.3 the Bishop of Tasmania.

In all probability, Henry Hutchinson Montgomery (1847-1932), father of Viscount Montgomery of Alamein. Born in India, educated at Cambridge, and ordained in 1872, he was appointed Anglican bishop of Tasmania in 1889 and remained there until recalled in 1901. An excellent administrator and zealous in his work, he often walked long distances to remote parts of the country [see #279.2].  Known in his later years as a visionary and mystic, he published in 1909, 1913 and 1915 three books entitled Visions, which argue that personal mystical experience is of crucial importance in the human soul's finding direct communication with God and which occasionally draw on the imagery of alchemy to describe the transmutation of the human soul that turns to God; these probably form the basis for the Consul's regarding him as an alchemist.

86.4 Coxcox and Noah.

The Consul alludes to the chapter in Donnelly's Atlantis entitled 'The Deluge Legends of the Americas', where Donnelly points out in detail similarities between the Biblical accounts of the Flood (the story of Noah) and the various deluge legends of Central America. He cites [99] the story of Coxcox, "the Noah of the Mexican cataclysm", who saved himself and his wife Xochiquetzal on a raft.

Prescott [Appendix I, 693] tells the story in even greater detail, and both he and Donnelly give another version of the Michoacán Tezpi, who escaped the deluge in a boat full of various kinds of animals and birds. After the god Tezcatlipoca decreed the waters should retreat, Tezpi sent forth a vulture, which did not return (it remained to feed on the bodies of dead giants that were in the earth in those days); then a dove (or hummingbird), which came back with a leafy branch in its beak. It were to be wished, says Prescott, "that the authority for the Michuacán version were more satisfactory." Lewis Spence, in The Gods of Mexico [53-54], discusses what he calls "the Coxcox fallacy", showing that attempts to prove such parallels between Coxcox and Noah are based on mistaken interpretations of the codices; the glyph assumed to be Coxcox floating simply represents the wanderings of the Aztecs in the Valley of Mexico. There are deluge myths in the Americas [see #29.3], but in the light of Spence's rebuttal of the theories advanced by Prescott and Donnelly, it is difficult to imagine what more the Consul might "work in" to his own book.

Ignatius Donnelly

Essentially, however, the Consul’s advance on Donnelly [see #86.1], his Great Work, will be to further the Atlantean theme by tracing its origins back to their Aryan roots, in much the way that Jessie Weston had done for the Grail Legend in her From Ritual to Romance (1920) that had so deeply influenced T.S. Eliot. Hence his interest in Vedic mysteries, and in the curious parallels that seem to exist between the Valley of Mexico and the Vale of Kashmir. 

86.5 a publisher interested too; in Chicago.

Collegium ad Spiritum Sanctum

The New Aeon Publishing Co., acting for the Collegium ad Spiritum Sanctum (Chicago, Ill.), a group of theosophists led in the 1920s by Lowry's later friend and neighbour Charles Stansfeld-Jones (Frater Achad), who himself had a number of Cabbalistic books and tracts published by the Collegium. There is a neat irony here, as the Consul is aware, since Chicago is better known as a major centre of stockyards and abbatoirs.

86.6 how the human spirit seems to blossom in the shadow of the abattoir.

This idea is presented later [317], in the image of vultures defiling themselves with blood and filth, yet capable of rising above it to the heights. It is central to Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal, for example, 'Réversibilité', the very title of which suggests the possibility of the poet's anguish, shame, remorse, and terror finding its essential opposition in the "angel" which incarnates the feminine ideal [see #281.5].

86.7 the old alchemists of Prague.

Under the Holy Roman Emperors Maximilian II (1564-76) and Rudolf II (1576-1612), the court at Prague supported many of the leading alchemists of Europe. The Zlatá Ulicka, or Golden Alley, where the alchemists had their dens, was the leading centre of such activity. Rudolf became obsessed by alchemy and astrology, withdrawing from public affairs and shutting himself in his castle at Prague to devote more time to his experiments. The court servants were in effect laboratory assistants, and the court poet was charged with the composition of laudatory odes to successful adepts and the versification of alchemical treatises. All alchemists could be sure of a welcome, and those who could prove a striking experiment were amply rewarded. Rudolf himself was reputedly credited with the achievement of the philosopher's stone [Holmyard, 231-32].

86.8 the cohabations of Faust himself.

Rembrandt's depiction of Faust

Cohabation (more usually, cohobation) in alchemy is the operation of repeated distillation by pouring the distillate back upon the residue in the retort (using a vessel called a pelican) in the attempt to obtain greater purity. Kilgallin suggests [164-65] that Lowry took the word from Ben Jonson's The Alchemist, II.v.26-28:

Subtle: What's cohobation?
Face:                                    'Tis the pouring on
Your aqua regis, then drawing him off,
To the trine circle of the seven spheres.

In reply to his publisher's emendation, Lowry noted on the galley proofs [UBC 28-11] "Cohabations is correct"; the Penguin ‘cohabitations’ reverts to the error, but the pun is certainly intended, an earlier version reading: "in the cellar among the alchemists and the cohabitions – sorry, cohabations! of Faust" [UBC 29-8, 20].

86.9 litharge and agate and hyacinth and pearls.

Substances with alchemical properties:

(a) litharge. From Gk. lithargyros, "foam of silver"; yellow or red peroxide of lead partially fused; used in the manufacturing of glass, enamels, paints and insecticides. Alchemically significant in the making of the white elixir.

(b) agate. From Gk. achates, "agate" (named after the river Achates); a hard semi-precious variety of chalcedony with various tints in the one specimen. According to Pliny's Natural History [XXXVII.liv.139], it is used to counteract the bites of spiders and scorpions, to increase the strength of the eyes, and to allay thirst.

(c) hyacinth. From Gk. hyakinthos, "hyacinth"; a gem, such as the sapphire, zircon, garnet, or topaz. Named for the youth beloved of Apollo, whose transformation into the flower was regarded by alchemists as an image of transmutation [Pernety, 203]. It has the virtue, Kilgallin suggests [165], of promoting sleep.

(d) pearl. The new Testament "pearl of great price" [Matthew 13:46], or spiritual immortality, was often regarded by alchemists as analogous to the achievement of the philosopher's stone, as in the Pretiosa Margarita Novella, the New Pearl of Great Price, by Petrus Bonus (c.1330; published in Venice, 1546).

The conjunction of hyacinth and pearl, however, suggests a transformation that is less happy; in Part II of The Waste Land, the ecstasy of the Hyacinth Garden has gone, only to be recalled painfully in the line "those are the pearls that were his eye." Eliot's note to line 126 explicitly links the two scenes; the text originally reading: "I remember the hyacinth garden / Those are the pearls that were his eyes/"

86.10 A life which is amorphous, plastic and crystalline.

The Consul means the transmutation of his life from its present shapeless form into the nobler spiritual state, the process imitating that undergone by metals. This accords with the teachings of Paracelsus (1493-1541), who saw the goal of alchemy not so much as the physical transmutation of base metals into gold, than the psychological transmutation of the soul into a higher, one might say crystalline, form. Lowry may have been thinking of Jack London's The Jacket [see #157.10(c)], the final paragraph of which reads [333]:

Jack London

There is no death. Life is spirit, and spirit cannot die. Only the flesh dies and passes, ever a-crawl with the chemic ferment that informs it, ever plastic, ever crystallizing, only to melt into the flux and to crystallize into flesh and diverse forms that are ephemeral and that melt back into the flux. Spirit alone endures and continues to build upon itself through successive and endless incarnations as it works upward toward the light.

87.1 Copula Maritalis.

The potential puns on ‘cope’ [84], and ‘cohabitation’ are realised in this term for sexual intercourse or the "rights of marriage". Lowry took the phrase directly from a list of similar words and symbols in Frater Achad's QBL [83], but it was originally a mediaeval theological term, deriving from two basic religious axioms: the worthiness of the propagation of children and the necessity of preserving the state of marriage. Saint Thomas Aquinas sums up the mediaeval position in the Summa Theologica [Part II-ii, questions 88, 154 & 186]; and in the supplement [questions 41, 49, 55 & 65].

87.2 from alcohol to alkahest.

The Consul forsees his own dissolution as one spirit leads to the other:

(a) alcohol. From Ar. al-kohl, a kind of black eye-paint; the name transferred quite arbitrarily by Paracelsus to the spirit of wine.

(b) alkahest. A term invented by Paracelsus, probably modelled on Ger. allgeist, "all-spirit"; originally applied to a spirit acting efficiently upon the liver, but soon coming to designate an imagined universal solvent; hence, perhaps, the immediate reference to El Universal [see #90.3] and the corpse travelling eastward.

87.3 La Fontaine's duck had loved the white hen.

There is no story of this kind in La Fontaine's Fables, nor in the fables of Aesop; it seems likely that Lowry has made up the story, basing it on something read or heard elsewhere, and attributed it to La Fontaine. In a letter to the Vancouver Public Library (27 Nov. 1984), forwarded to Anne Yandle, E. Kenneth Wright recalled Lowry's "very feeling description" of an art film he had seen in Liverpool called ‘The White Duck’, which was ridiculed by most. This originally featured [UBC 25-17, 22] in Chapter I: "Zilka's Tragedie d'un Canard" (the 1940 Volcano has ‘Silka’).  In a discard for Chapter VII [UBC 30-7, after ts 10]: "the Consul's duck of La Fontaine, dramatised by Zilka, wallowed through a thunderstorm, bereaved, back to the farmyard." Lowry mentioned it to Gerald Noxon [21 Sept. 1940; CL 1, 354]; and in ‘Through the Panama’ Martin recalls as one of four things enjoyed "a French film directed by Zilke (rhymes with Rilke) called The Tragedy of a Duck." Russell Lowry states ['Clearing up Some Problems', 101] that he and Malcolm saw this film "at a useful little theatre called the 'Continental' in Liverpool", and that Malcolm was fascinated by it.

87.4 Oscar Wilde stood on the centre platform at Clapham Junction.

From Oscar Wilde's De Profundis (1905), the prose apologia based on his experiences in prison; in it Wilde recounts his efforts, finally unavailing, to rise "out of the depths":

Everything about my tragedy has been hideous, mean, repellent, lacking in style, our very dress makes us grotesque. We are the zanies of sorrow. We are clowns whose hearts are broken. We are specially designed to appeal to the sense of humour. On November 13th, 1895, I was brought down here from London. From two o'clock till half-past two on that day I had to stand on the centre platform of Clapham Junction in convict dress, and handcuffed, for the world to look at. I had been taken out of the hospital ward without a moment's notice being given to me. Of all possible objects I was the most grotesque. When people saw me they laughed. Nothing could exceed their amusement. That was, of course, before they knew who I was. As soon as they had been informed they laughed still more. For half an hour I stood there in the grey November rain surrounded by a jeering mob.

88.1 the Via Dolorosa.

L. "Street of Sorrows." More usually, "The Way of the Cross", the route taken by Christ on his way to Golgotha. There is no street by this name in Mexico City, but Lowry may have in mind the Calle Dolores, running off Juárez from the Alameda Park, which fits perfectly the description in Dark as the Grave [104] of "a transverse street" close to the Hotel Canada.In a draft of Dark as the Grave [UBC 9-1, 118], Sigbjørm offers Notes for a story by this name, based on Lowry's farewell to Jan, and mentioning the missed appointment, the dead cats, the cold, the iced mescal and the slaughtered fawns.

88.2 the Hotel Canada.

Hotel Canada

In Mexico City, on the Calle Cinco de Mayo 47, close to the zócalo. In Dark as the Grave it is called the Cornada and described [90] as "a nasty little hotel" with bad plumbing (it has since been extensively renovated). The hotel was the scene of Lowry's final break with Jan at the end of 1937; a parting here attributed to the Consul and Yvonne. The Regis is a better-class hotel [see #67.1].

89.1 Oedipuss ... Pathos.

Conrad Aiken

The fate of poor Oedipuss (Geoffrey been identified with the cat's Greek namesake) anticipates that of the Consul. Jan tells how she and Malcolm ("ardent ailurophiles") acquired "two stray pussycats", whom she longed to name Oedipuss and Priapuss, “but who became, in deference to Mexico, Chicharro and Xicottencatl” [Inside the Volcano, 112]. On 10 June 1937 (a day before her birthday) the cats were discovered in extremis, probably poisoned, and were buried by Pedro (not thrown down the barranca). "Oedipuss Simplex" [as opposed to "Complex"] was the name of Conrad Aiken's cat, which died of arsenic poisoning [Aiken / Lowry Letters, 175].

89.2 No work has been done by the little cat.

Jan Gabrial gives examples of the silly sentimental songs she and Lowry sang ("I am a pusscat, you are a pupdog"), and of the endearments Malcolm used: "Starkey, Trundlebug, and above all Rainbowpuss" [Inside the Volcano, 54]. In a letter to Jan after she had left Mexico Lowry apologised for his jealousy and mourned their "sweet lost songs", the "tippet mouse" song and "no work has been done by the little Cat" [18l]; but added that "much is being done by the Big Cat on In Ballast."

Jan gives the song of the tippet mouse: "I am small and slim and my very whim is worthy of a tippet mouse; I am the mistress of this house, tiddledee, tiddledee, tiddledee, tiddledee" [189]. In the manuscript of Dark as the Grave [UBC 9-21, 612] the sentiment is echoed: "I loved you – alas! But no work has been done by the big cat."

89.3 the prelude.

Conrad Aiken

In music, typically a preliminary to a longer piece, but Lowry may have in mind the sexual encounter anticipated in Conrad Aiken's Blue Voyage [133]: “This is the prelude, thought Demarest. This is merely the announcement of that perfect communion of which l have often dreamed.” On the 1940 annotated carbon [UBC 26-20, 95], Lowry commented: “I think he there should be, as it were, playing a preparatory tune on her senses before the act, & all this time the image of Yvonne lying on the bed being possessed by him is fading, & being superceded by the vision of the taverns.”

89.4 the desperate neophyte, Yesod-bound.

The Consul's attempt at lovemaking is described in Cabbalistic terms of a neophyte, or beginner, trying in vain to initiate the first stage of his spiritual journey:

(a) the desperate neophyte. The term neophyte indicates a distinct stage in the hierarchy of Cabbalistic enlightenment, as Frater Achad makes clear [QBL, 65]:

I will now tell you something of the Order whereby one may learn the Path to the Highest. First one becomes a PROBATIONER, that is, one who is outside the Order but who is OBLIGATED to "Obtain a Scientific Knowledge of the Nature and Powers of his own being." When he has accomplished this task he becomes a NEOPHYTE and enters the Sphere of MALKUTH. There he learns to CONTROL the Nature and Powers of his own being. He finds these much wider than he expected and his task before reaching YESOD is to control the ASTRAL PLANE, which he accomplishes by use of the Pentagram which makes it possible either to Invoke or Banish all the Elements and to control them.

(b) his astral body. The essential spiritual body which may survive the death of the physical body and, for those of heightened spiritual consciousness, which may leave the body during life; when this separation takes place, the astral body is said to have entered the astral plane. Otherwise, asterbation. On the 1940 annotated carbon [UBC 26-20, 95], Lowry commented: "I think he there should be, as it were, playing a preparatory tune on her senses before the act, & all this time the image of Yvonne lying on the bed being possessed by him is fading, & being superceded by the vision of the taverns." The Consul's inability to "project" (that is, to externalise) his astral body means that he is unable to initiate the mystical process by which his spiritual being may enter into a higher reality.


 (c) Yesod. Yesod is the ninth Sephira of the Cabbalistic tree of life [see #39.3], the foundation which typifies reproductive power, and the Sephira which corresponds to the genitals of the microcosmic man. An aspirant beginning his spiritual journey upward from Malkuth to Kether must first attain Yesod, the bottom sphere of the lowest astral triangle. As Epstein remarks [93], the Consul's attempted lovemaking is described "in accurate Cabbalistic terms which equate the sex act with the symbolic entry of the soul into Yesod" (the "jewelled gate" having the Cabbalistic significance of a crowned or blessed path, as well as obvious phallic implications). The Consul's neophytic inability to "project" or initiate the sexual act is thus, in Cabbalistic terms (which is how he sees it), a failure to celebrate the mystery of sex and therefore a barrier to his further spiritual progress.

90.1 A brigand with an iron scorpion.

In Mexico, the typical cantina or abarrote uses iceboxes to keep drinks cool. The ice is usually delivered from a refrigerating plant and dumped outside on the pavement, from where it is dragged inside with the aid of large metal pincers curved exactly like the front pincers of a scorpion. The metaphor reflects perfectly the Consul's state of mind.

90.2 eructating, exploding:

‘Eructating’ derives from L. eructare, "to belch"; "exploding" from L. explodere, "to drive off with clapping". Lowry is using the latter word partially in its original sense of "to decry or reject with noise", but also as a pun on flatulence.

90.3 La Prensa and El Universal.

El Universal

Newspapers of Mexico City: La Prensa is a popular tabloid, with large headlines and plenty of pictures; El Universal, established 1916, was in 1938 the leading daily, slightly conservative, offering (particularly on its English page) a comprehensive news coverage.

90.4 a small rain of plaster showered on his head.

An intimation of Atlantis, Pompeii and disaster that will soon be overwhelming.

90.5 A Don Quixote fell from the wall.

As Lowry says ['LJ C', 73]: "The scene between the Consul and Yvonne where he is impotent is balanced by a scene between Consul and María in the last chapter: meanings of the Consul's impotence are practically inexhaustible." Here the ineffectiveness of the Consul's ‘lance’ is to the fore as his romantic quest becomes a sorry failure.

90.6 Strychnine is an aphrodisiac.

The Consul is deluding himself, but as late as 1945 a Philadelphia laboratory was making sexual stimulants using nux vomica, the source of strychnine.

91.1 Parkinson's disease.

Named after James Parkinson (1755-1824), the English physician who first diagnosed it: a degenerative disease, paralysis agitans, usually confined to later life, caused by the deterioration of part of the brain and characterised by a continual shaking of the hands.

91.2 quartern.

A fourth of any measure; here, a quarter of a pint.

Johnnie Walker

91.3 Nacío 1820 y sigulendo tan campante.

The slogan on the Johnnie Walker whisky bottle [see #70.1] is ironically contrasted with the Consul's degeneration and his inability to say "I love you" to Yvonne.

91.4 Have you forgotten the letters Geoffrey Firmin.

The tone and style here is consciously Faulknerian. The voices will haunt the Consul all day, growing in intensity before his "suicide" in the Farolito, where the lost letters will be found. There may be an echo of the song 'Have You Forgotten Yvonne', recorded 18 March 1926 by Henry Leoni, French musical comedy star and cabaret entertainer very popular in England after the war [Rust, 417].

91.5 the object shaped like a dead man.

The "other" is a hallucination, yet, like the mysterious "other" in Julian Green's Le Voyageur sur la terre [see #9.4] – and supported by similar sentiments in his Personal Record – corresponds in a way that the Consul does not fully understand "to some faction of his being" [362]: it is both himself as a dead man and the dying Indian he will meet later in the day. Originally [UBC 22-19, 28], the "other" was likened to one of Blake's angels. Lowry comments ['LJC', 73]: "The dead man with hat over head the Consul sees in the garden is man by the wayside in Chapter VIII. This can happen in really super D.T.'s. Paracelsus will bear me out."

Ramsey suggests [26-28] that Dunne's understanding of serial time underlies this kind of experience: insofar as man exists within absolute time, which contains all moments of ‘pas’t, ‘present’ and ‘future’, he may have the power to experience a ‘pre-presentation’ of the future, yet retain the freedom to act responsibly in time and influence the course of events (the Consul does not). In his screenplay of Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night [90], Lowry calls this phenomenon "the ghost of a tragic precognition".

92.1 I can still carry the eighth green in three.

Hell Bunker

The "eighth green" is that behind the Hell Bunker [21]: the abyss which "yawned in such a position as to engulf the third shot of a golfer like Geoffrey", who is no longer, alas, such a naturally beautiful and graceful player.

92.2 and I smashed the electric-light bulb.

At a climactic moment of Joyce's Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus raises his ashplant and smashes the chandelier before rushing out of the brothel, his act symbolically freeing him from the bondage of his past; the Consul's action seems almost a parody of this act of independence. Lowry may have in mind a paragraph in Lawrence's Fantasia of the Unconscious [Ch. 12]: even "if the servant smashes three electric-light bulbs in three minutes", the individual must say: "Alone. Alone. Be alone, my soul."

93.1 The will of man is unconquerable.

An echo of Milton's lines [Paradise Lost, I.105-08]:

What though the field be lost?
All is not lost – th'unconquerable will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield.

Satan's words undercut the Consul's "fatuous self-congratulation" [Jakobsen, 29] in many ways: by the transparent inadequacy of his statements of well-being and the sober virtuous life; by excuses for his failure ("a sign of my fidelity, my loyalty"); by his viewing the volcanoes as an "image of the perfect marriage"; by his seeing the waiting vultures as "more graceful than eagles"; and by his falling asleep with a crash. Above all, he is violating the basic Cabbalistic principle of the law of will, which permits man’s domination over the elements [Transcendental Magic, 67], but must be cultivated, disciplined, and controlled if man is to move closer to Ain Soph, the source of light (which the Consul seems so wilfully to have smashed).


In Transcendental Magic [63], Lévi insists that the power of man's will is a real power which, "when correctly stimulated and harnessed, is as potent as any physical force." In Psychomagia, Frater Achad comments [29] on "the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will." In The Chalice of Ecstasy [21-22], he is more explicit: "Man is given a certain freedom of will in order that he may thereby develop the sense of Freedom and so willingly ally himself with the Divine Will or True Purpose of his Being. Should he make the mistake of attempting to reverse the process, turning the Divine Will to merely personal ends, he must inevitably fail. He thereby cuts himself off from the Universal Current and is slowly but surely disintegrated until he is finally lost in the Abyss." In a chapter largely informed by Cabbalistic thought (through the filter of Geoffrey’s mind), the warning is manifest.

93.2 a pale gibbous moon.

‘Gibbous’ is a term applied to the moon between three-quarters and full, when more than half the visible surface is sunlit (the opposite to ‘crescent’), but applied to persons or animals the word has connotations of "hump-backed" or "misshapen" [see #207.8].

93.3 like burnt papers floating from a fire.

The hovering vultures, associates of the bringer of fire [see #222.1], are harbingers of disaster for the Consul. They anticipate the burning of his manuscript [336]; Laruelle's burning of his letter [42]; Yvonne's death [336], when her soul like an eagle is released; and his own death. Underlying the identification of the vultures as eagles is the disputed King James translation of Matthew 24:28, where the Gk. aetos clearly means ‘vulture’: "For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together."

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