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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The revising of under the volcano : a study in literary creativity Pottinger, Andrew


Between 1936 and 1946 Malcolm Lowry produced a succession of versions or revisions of Under the Volcano. He began this lengthy undertaking in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and continued it in Los Angeles—where he moved in 1938—and Vancouver, British Columbia to which he moved just prior to the outbreak of war in 1939. In 1940 he submitted what he considered at the time to be the final version to a number of major and minor publishers, all of whom had rejected it by 1941. During the same year, having moved out of the city of Vancouver to the nearby squatter's settlement at Dollarton, Lowry re-commenced to revise the novel. By Christmas of 1944, after thousands of pages of revisions, he had more-or-less completed another "final" version, and a retyped copy of this was accepted in 1945 for publication early in 1947. In general, the many successive post-1940 versions of the novel show only minor alterations to the basic story or plot of the rejected version. But Lowry re-presented this fundamental story in such a way that the overall effect of the novel published in 1947 was extremely different from that of the rejected 1940 version. In the course of this post-1941 revising of the novel, Lowry made a great many marginal annotations. As a rule they recorded his immediate feelings or thoughts about some aspect of the draft version he was considering at the time. Examination of these notes reveals a pattern of motivation lying behind Lowry's gradual representation of the novel's basic story. On the one hand, his critical notes ultimately expressed dissatisfaction with a melodramatic and allegorical view of the world implicitly held by the narrator of the pre-1941 versions of the novel; on the other, his strategic notes complemented this criticism by recording his local attempts to represent the novel's basic story from a philosophically and psychologically more complex point-of-view. It also becomes clear during examination of Lowry's marginalia that the earlier narrator's implied view of the world was profoundly neurotic. And the structure of this neurosis precisely paralleled a neurosis evident in Lowry's own view of the people around him prior to 1941 and his move to Dollarton. Regarded in this light, Lowry's marginal notes appear to record not only a creative aesthetic development but also a creative re-vision of his own personality—a movement away from his own neurosis that he achieved by means of his literary engagement. In the final analysis the personal and literary undertakings must be understood as a single integrated process; the record of Lowry's revision of Under the Volcano is thus an extremely detailed example of precisely how literary creativity can be understood as therapy.

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