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Under the Volcano: Wikis


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1st US edition cover

Under the Volcano is a 1947 semi-autobiographical novel by English writer Malcolm Lowry. The novel tells the story of Geoffrey Firmin, an alcoholic British consul in the small Mexican town of Quauhnahuac (the Aztec name of Cuernavaca), on the Day of the Dead in 1938.

It was adapted to radio on Studio One in 1947 and made into a film in 1984. The 1976 Canadian Documentary Volcano: An Inquiry Into the Life and Death of Malcolm Lowry was nominated for an Academy Award.

The Under the Volcano Festival of Art and Social Change takes place annually in North Vancouver, British Columbia, in the same location where Malcolm Lowry wrote the novel.


Path to publication

In 1940, Lowry hired an agent, Harold Matson, to find a publisher for the manuscript, but it was rejected many times. Although he continued refining it for years, this original 1940 version was later published in 1994 under the title The 1940 Under the Volcano.

In 1944, the manuscript was nearly lost in a fire at Lowry's shack in British Columbia. His second wife, Margerie, rescued the unfinished novel, but all of Lowry's other works in progress were lost in the blaze.

The novel as it is recognized today was finally finished in 1945, and was immediately sent to many publishers. In late winter, while travelling in Mexico, Lowry learned the novel had been accepted by two publishing companies: Reynal & Hitchcock in the United States and Jonathan Cape in the United Kingdom.

There have been many editions of the book since. In 1998 it was rated as number 11 on the list of the 100 best novels of the 20th century compiled by the Modern Library. Time included the novel in its list of "100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present".[1]


Geoffrey Firmin is the alcoholic Consul living in Quauhnahuac. He is actually an ex-consul, recently resigned due to diplomatic strains between the UK and Mexico in the aftermath of President Lázaro Cárdenas's 1938 nationalization of the country's oil reserves. He wants to write a book, but his alcoholism affects all areas of his life, particularly his relationship with Yvonne.

Yvonne Firmin is Geoffrey's ex-wife. She has returned to Mexico in order to rekindle their relationship.

Hugh Firmin is Geoffrey's half-brother, and once had an affair with Yvonne. He visits Mexico to report on fascist activity for the London Globe, and he feels incredibly guilty for not acting in the Spanish Civil War.


John Huston directed the 1984 film adaptation, Under the Volcano, with Albert Finney, Jacqueline Bisset, Anthony Andrews and Katy Jurado. It received Oscar nominations for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Albert Finney) and Best Music, Original Score.

Volcano: An Inquiry Into the Life and Death of Malcolm Lowry (1976) is a National Film Board of Canada documentary produced by Donald Brittain and Robert A. Duncan and directed by Brittain and John Kramer. It opens with the inquest into Lowry's "death by misadventure," and then moves back in time to trace the writer's life. Selections from Lowry's novel are read by Richard Burton amid images shot in Mexico, the United States, Canada and England.[2]


  • ¿Le gusta este jardín, que es suyo? ¡Evite que sus hijos lo destruyan! (Do you like this garden, which is yours? Make sure your children don't destroy it!)
  • No se puede vivir sin amar (One cannot live without love.)
  • "Salud y pesetas." "Y tiempo para gastarlas." (Health and money. And the time to enjoy them.)


The novel was the inspiration for the 1974 song "The Consul at Sunset" by Scottish musician Jack Bruce (words by Pete Brown), as well as for the song "Back Room Of The Bar" by the Young Fresh Fellows, from their 1987 album The Men Who Loved Music. Matthew Good, a Canadian musician, makes reference to Malcolm Lowry and "Under the Volcano" in his live album release Live at Massey Hall in the introduction to his song "I'm a Window". The Bears also had a song called "Under The Volcano".

Editions in print

  • ISBN 0452255953

Further Reading

Grace, Sherrill. (2009). Strange Comfort: Essays on the Work of Malcolm Lowry. Talonbooks: Vancouver: BC. ISBN 978-0-88922-618-0.


External links

Simple English

Under the Volcano is a novel by Malcolm Lowry first sold in 1947.

Plot Summary

The events of the novel happen over one day in 1938 where a Mexican festival is taking place. Geoffrey Firmin is a smart British man living in Mexico. He wants to write a book but he drinks too much alcohol. Geoffrey's wife, Yvonne, is fed up of his drinking. She once had an affair with Geoffrey's brother Hugh.

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