Steven Earnshaw
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Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano (1947)
Singular experiences
in The Existential drinker
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Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano places the committed drinker, in the form of ex-Consul Geoffrey Firmin, in the Mexican ‘Day of the Dead’ festival, so that the main character encounters ‘hell’ in physical and spiritual dimensions. The novel is technically innovative in its aim to register the subjective experience of the Existential drinker: Geoffrey Firmin’s world is constructed through a highly individualised, expressionistic symbolism, a mid-century representation of the modern, alienated self, abandoned and suffering despair in a Godless world – the latter made evident by the novel’s attention to the rise of totalitarianism, which forms the backdrop to the events here on a day close to the onset of the Second World War. There is discussion of the novel’s difficulty and form, and a comparison of some aspects of the novel with Kafka’s The Trial, and how these relate to representation of the Existential drinker.

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