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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Lowry’s journal form : narrative technique and philosophical design Slemon, Stephen Guy


The fictions Malcolm Lowry wrote subsequent to Under the Volcano seem to demonstrate little of the technical expertise he manifests in the earlier work, and one of the few unanimously held findings of his critics is that in Lowry's later fictions something has gone wrong. This thesis explores the "problem" of the later fiction. It shows how Lowry, throughout his writing career, experiments with fictional form, and how each of his later works marks an intermediate point in a process of fictional evolution towards a "new form." This "new form," although never fully realized, is initially shaped in the notebooks Lowry used to record the events which he later transformed into the material of his autobiographical fictions. Lowry's "new form" is in fact a development out of the structure of his notebooks: the journal form. The journal form inherently creates opposing perspectives upon events; conflicting narrative rhythms ensue from this. The "new form" is an ideal Lowry aspires towards: it is intended to structure a new type of realism -- the means by which human beings assimilate and order what has happened to them —• and to contain, and thus make contiguous, Lowry's diverse themes, images, and oppositional narrative technique. Lowry's theoretical approach to the "new form" is discussed in the Introduction. Chronology is then reversed. Chapter I discusses "Ghostkeeper" as Lowry's reflection upon his fictional method. Chapter II approaches "Through the Panama" as Lowry's use of the journal form to unify disparate narrative voices. Chapter III examines and compares the manuscript and the printed version of Dark As the Grave Wherein My Friend Is Laid. It shows that this book is Lowry's first direct experiment with temporal inversions which are used to attempt to reconcile narrative mode with thematic action. Chapter IV demonstrates that Lowry uses an oppositional system as the fictional unifying principle for Under the Volcano, and examines the formal dimensions which Lowry only retrospectively discovers operating in this book. Each chapter focuses upon fictional form and argues that Lowry's themes and narrative techniques grow out of the form he employs. The Conclusion examines Lowry's "new form" in relation to his philosophical outlook, shows how the new form reconciles Lowry's borrowings from Ortega y Gasset and J.W. Dunne and suggests a critical approach that will elucidate the literary and philosophical function of the journal-narrative method.

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