First, let me express my pleasure in being here. I was last in Cuernavaca 20 years ago, to gather information for my annotation of Under the Volcano, which was published in 1984 as A Companion to Under the Volcano. [Show copy of the book] I will be interested to note how many things have changed in these past 20 years, and to see what is still here today. One thing my Companion tried to do was to rescue things from Lowry's world before they disappeared into the mists of the past. At the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, where many of Lowry's manuscripts are kept, there is also a set of photographs taken by a visitor to Cuernavaca in 1949. Some of these I shall show you, as they indicate how quickly a world can be lost.
I have entitled my talk "The Geography of the Imagination in Under the Volcano." I want to look at how Malcolm Lowry transformed the literal landscape of Cuernavaca into the literary landscape of Quauhnahuac. And by "Quauhnahuac" I mean the fictional town of Under the Volcano, something that is the creation of an artistic imagination working upon the world he saw around him, but also transforming it into something else, not simply an artifact but a cosmos, that is, a world with its own imagined unity, its laws and locations, which both reflect our world yet exist independently of it. As we move through these slides, I shall try to depict not only the literal geography, but also the thematic use that is made of it. And because this is a big topic, I shall make reference mostly to Ch. 1. In his "Letter to Jonathan Cape" in 1946, Lowry responded to the charge that the "Mexican landscape was heaped on in shovelfuls". I would say rather, that this chapter more than any other sets in motion the rhythms of the land.
I want to do several things in this talk. Firstly, I will show you a map of the fictional Quauhnahuac. I drew this 20 years ago. Next, I will show some slides that illustrate things in Cuernavaca that Lowry saw and put into his novel. Then, I will discuss other features of Mexico that have become part of the fictional town of Quauhnahuac even though they have come from somewhere else in the real world. Finally, I will look at some of the literary and artistic techniques that Lowry used to create his landscape. I will bring all these things together by following the route that Jacques Laruelle takes in Chapter 1. Let me add that it is a unique experience to do this in the actual town in which the novel was set, and I hope as we walk through the town later that we can verify some of these things.
Firstly, here is Lowry's Quauhnahuac, his fictional town. [Show slide of the town's name]. Most of you will know that the name means in Nahuatl something like "near the trees", or wood, and the glyph depicts a talking tree. The Spaniards corrupted this to "Cuernavaca", or "Cow's Horn". However, the action in Lowry's novel begins at the Casino de la Selva, [slide 2, Casino de la Selva] which Lowry of course associated with Dante's "dark wood", the literary detail works hand in hand with the geographical. Let me show you the map [Display transparency of map on overhead projector]. The thing to note about this is that what we see here is the town of Cuernavaca, but many things have been changed. The map is a mixture of the real town and the fictional town, as we can see if we follow Laruelle after he leaves the Casino. I shall point to the places I mention.
Before we set off, let me show you something that shows how Lowry changed his world. Perhaps I should call it social geography, rather than physical [show anís de mono slide]. You will recall that in the book the label depicts a devil with a pitchfork. You can see here that the original shows a monkey, although he is admittedly he is very demonic. Lowry did something similar to his landscape, that is, he took the original and adapted it to his symbolic purposes.
The first distinct place Laruelle stops at is the station [show slide 4, the Station]. You will see here oil tankers, which is a reminder of the political situation in 1938, when foreign international companies condemned Mexico, and there is even a dog. Laruelle then crosses what were once open fields [point to route on map], but which now are crowded suburbs. Somewhere near here is the brewery, [slide 5, the Brewery]. Notice the tall tree in front of the brewery. [point]. In Chapter 4 the Consul likens the Valley of Mexico to Kashmir, and refers to the "turbaned trees" to make his point. This is one way of linking the geography of Mexico with that of India. He passes a model farm, which has long gone, and goes by the prison, as Hugh and Yvonne will in Ch. 4 [show slide 6, the Prison; point to location on the map]. This is a 1949 photo, but it conveys something of the presence of the prison in the novel, the sense of being watched [point to the mirador]. This was once a park that belonged to Maximilian, but the first chapter shows how the shadow of the prison and brewery now broods over it, and these details in turn enforce the theme of the Consul's drinking, and thus of his inevitable decline. That is, the geography is also historical, and thematic.
Laruelle now visits, he says, the former casa of Maximilian, [point to casa on map]. I took a photo of it in 1982. [show slide 6] It was then a botanical centre and herbal museum. However, Lowry turns it into a ruined palace. He does so very simply, by moving from across town the Borda Gardens [point to map, indicate movement]. In other words, he needed the casa for his story but the setting was not dramatic enough. So he rearranged the features of Curenavaca to meet the demands of his fictional Quauhnahuac. Here are two slides of how it looked in Lowry's time [show slides 8 and 9]. And here is another, taken by me in 1982. [Show slide 10] It has the right depressing tone. but I took the photo because of the bird in the middle. I thought it was a vulture, the first I had seen in Mexico, but it turned out to be a duck.
Here are some photos taken in the Borda Gardens on a previous day of the Dead. [Show slides 11, 12, 13] In the last slide there is a notice. No prizes for guessing what it says. Yes: Le Gusta Este Jardín Que Es Suyo? ⁄Evite Que Sus Hijos Lo Destruyan! Now, this notice was not there in Lowry's time. Rather, he saw one like this in a park in Oaxaca, and he brought it to his Quauhnahuac. He did the same thing with the Farolito. There was a Farolito in Cuernavaca [show slide 14], but Lowry's model was the one in Oaxaca [show slide 15] Oddly, you cannot place the Farolito on the map. Perhaps Lowry had not visualized the geography closely enough. That is, it does not have a physical grounding in the place. And you will not find on this map the Church for the Virgin for those that have nobody with, because that is also in Oaxaca [show slides 16, 17 and 18]. There is no hint in the novel where this church might be. However, the bells heard by the Consul in Ch. 5 come from the cathedral in Cuernavaca [point to place on map]. Lowry's geography of Quauhnahuac is a composite picture, not simply a mirror.
Leaving Maximilian's casa, Laruelle crosses the barranca [show slide 19]. This is the Abyss, Dante's Malbolge, the chasm within the heart of man. This is at the very point where Cortés and his men crossed, as is depicted on the walls of the Cort\és Palace [show slide 20]. When he arrived in Cuernavaca, Lowry found himself in a symbolic landscape perfect for the novel. For example, there were mine shafts of old iron mines beneath the town. Like the barrancas, these could suggest the realms of the demonic, a world with hell below, and heaven above, and a battle for the soul of man somewhere between. This is the world of Marlowe, Milton and Goethe. The volcano is an emblem of this battle. But the volcanoes in Cuernavaca were not quite perfect. They look good in the pictures: Popocatepetl, the warrior prince [show slide 21]; Ixtaccihautl, his bride who died, [show slide 22]; and in this aerial shot an image of both volcanoes, and of the pass over which Cortes came to destroy Tenochtitlán [show slide 23]. However, if you look for the volcanoes you may not find them. Lowry has moved them from the Cerro Tlaloc, 75 kilometers away, much closer to Quauhnahuac, so that they can brood over the town, the snowy peaks symbolising man's aspiration, but the fiery heart an emblem of the Inferno.
Crossing the barranca, Laruelle heads towards the Zócalo, the centre of town. Here, my map is misleading [point to Calle Humboldt]. It reads, the Calle Humboldt, as in Cuernavaca, but in the book it is the Calle Nicaragua. Why did Lowry make this change? I have a curious suggestion, and it concerns volcanoes. The Panama Canal goes through Panama, as you know; indeed, Lowry wrote a story called "Through the Panama". But an alternative proposal was through Nicaragua. This didn't happen, because of a postage stamp from Nicaragua, one that depicted an active volcano and ruined that country's chances. The Calle las Casas [point to map] becomes in the book the Calle Tierra del Fuego. Here the connection with Hell is more clear, through its resemblance to a scorpion. But if you look at the map [point to little side-street], you will see a little road making a detour from the Calle Humboldt to Las Casas. This road does not exist in Cuernavaca. Lowry has added it to the geography of the town for two reasons. Firstly, in Dante's Divine Comedy, the damned always turn to the left, as Lowry's characters do in Chapter 7 when they take this path. Secondly, Yvonne suggests that they should take this path because she wants to AVOID meeting Jacques Laruelle, and instead, by a cruel trick of the gods, they meet Laruelle coming up that path.
Here is the Consul's house [point to map]. This is in the fictional Quauhnahuac. However, in the real Cuernavaca Lowry's bungalow was at the other end of the street [indicate on map]. Why did Lowry make this change? Partly because he wants M. Laruelle to pass by it on his walk, to see the light that has been burning for a year, and to liken the garden to Eden, after the expulsion of Adam; but also because in Cuernavaca this was the wealthy area, the area in which the ambassadors and diplomats owned their residences. Lowry also exaggerates the steepness of the street. [slide 24] As you can see, it is neither steep nor tortuous. Yet Lowry in the novel wishes to draw parallels to the Via Dolorosa, the road to Golgotha, as part of his attempt to mythologize the Consul's sufferings. So, in the fictional town, the road is steeper. In like manner, on the opening page of the novel, the town is said to be on a hill. This is because in books like Pilgrim's Progress that is where truth is said to reside.
Here is Jacques's zacuali. [point to location], the house (now a hotel) in which Lowry stayed when he came back in 1946. Here are two photographs which suggest how it has changed, [slides 25 & 26], and you might like to compare them with the hotel today. "Zacuali" is a curious word. Lowry found it in a book by Louis Spence, a book which discussed the parallels between the myths of the Old World and those of the New. One such myth was the myth of the flood, a myth of destruction. Laruelle's world is also pitched on the eve of destruction, in 1939 as the world is about to explode into war, and his house will not be a refuge. This is where Laruelle and Yvonne committed adultery, and in Chapter 7, inside this very house, Yvonne is suddenly haunted by the thought of aborted babies, a little row of chained statues 3 [show slide 27]. This is part of the Cortés Palace, and the figures are no longer there. I suggest that Lowry's imagination moved them from the Palace, and replaced them inside Laruelle's house, as one of the objects he has plundered from Mexico, but cannot take home to France.
So let us now move down the Calle las Casa towards the Zócalo. But first we must stop at the Cortés Palace [slide 28]. But between 1526 and 1529, just after the Conquest, it consolidated the Spanish hold upon the new territory. As you all know, the balcony of the Palace is covered by the murals of Diego Rivera, depicting the history of Morelos from the pre-Conquest [show slide 29] with scenes of exploitation and brutality, [show slide 30], until the liberation by Zapata, on his white horse. (The photo I took of this in 1982 did not work, so I am back to take another). The conquest functions for Lowry as a metaphor of greed and betrayal; it is fascinating to read Under the Volcano with an awareness of this underlying theme.
I have a number of other slides depicting aspects of the Conquest, from both here and Tlaxcala, if we have a further opportunity to see them. But here are just a few. Firstly, the pyramid at Cholula, the largest in America, [show slide 31] which acts in the book as another mystical link between the Old World and the New World (as you will recall, the Consul is writing a Great Book, and that book of secret knowledge deals with the mystery of Atlantis as a key to understanding. But for Laruelle it signals betrayal. He remembers visiting it with Geoffrey and Yvonne, presumably after the affair but before the Consul had found out about it. But in 1919 Cholula had been the scene of a different betrayal, when Cortés massacred 3,000 Cholulan Indians. The geography, the history of Mexico, and the present day are all part of one giant process of betrayal. Here's another emblem of the same thing. In Chapter 2, as the Consul and Yvonne are climbing this hill which Laruelle has just descended [point to Las Casa on the map], they see signs saying !BOX!, for boxing matches to be held at the Jardín Xicotancatl. There is no such Garden in Cuernavaca. However, a central plaza in the city of Tlaxcala is named after the warrior prince Xicotancatl [slide 32] whose statue dominates the plaza. He too was betrayed and murdered by Cortés. Again, the Jardín Xicotancatl cannot be located on this map, for the good reason that it is not part of the real town, but only the fictional one.
The centre of the town is the Zócalo [point to it on the map]. This is where Yvonne arrives in the morning, in Chapter 2, at the Bella Vista [show slide 33]. This slide is very poor, but you can see the difference between now and then. Yvonne sees there many things which are important to the novel. Here is the little grocery store called "Peegly Weegly", [point to the map], a name that makes Yvonne cry. I do not have a photo of this, and would very much like to get one. But she also sees some things that probably were never there. For example, the ferris wheeel, [show slide 34], perhaps the most important emblem in the novel of the Infernal Machine. Yet in 1982 when I came here this Big Wheel was in a small park, quite some distance from the Zócalo, and I am not sure that it was ever really in the centre of the town. Yvonne also sees an equestrian statue, said to be that of the turbulent Huerta. Now, Huerta is like Díaz, a disgraced politician, and I do not think there is a statue of him anywhere in Mewxico. But on the road in from Mexico City, and some of you may have seen this, as I did in 1982, there is a splendid equestrian statue of Zapata [show slide 35]. I would like to confirm the date that it was erected, but I suspect that, again, Lowry may have moved it from the real location into the centre of the town, where it gains great symbolic force [show slide 36] because the rider Huerta is replaced in Yvonne's imagination by the Consul, another drunk who has disregarded his duty, and in his route to destruction rides over all in his way, as the horse released by the Consul will later ride over Yvonne.
In the novel, Laruelle finally makes his way to the Ciné Morleos, which is said to be directly opposite the Borda Gardens. [show slide 37]. This is curious. In the real Cuernavaca, the Cinema Ocampo was on the Zócalo, but I suspect Lowry wanted to acknowledge the real Borda Gardens, the ruins of which he had moved to the Casa Maximiliano. On the back of the Borda Gardens I found this sign [show slide 38]. It is, of course, a cure for influenza, but Lowry decided to call it an insecticide. I do not know if the sign is still there today. Perhaps we can check this out later.
In the cinema, as you will recall, Laruelle finds the letter from the Consul hidden in the book of Elizabethan plays. This allows him to evoke a different kind of geography, a Northern Paradise which is an escape from the Inferno of Mexico. Here are some images of that vision. Firstly, the cool northern waters near Vancouver, where Lowry wrote most of the novel [show slide 39]; the house that he would build there [slide 40]; the pier [slide 41]; and the fishing-boat with a mast like a giraffe [slide 42]. But eviction from this paradise was never far away, and across the bay was a SHELL oil-refinery [show 43]. The letters S-H-E-L-L could be read at night from where the Lowrys lived, but one day, the story goes, the S was extinguished and the night was filled with a vision of H-E-L-L, Hell. Lowry, even after he left Mexico, remained caught in a vision of damnation, whose monument is this novel.
But one final curiosity. You will see on the map that the road running north from the Zócalo is the Avenida Guerrerro. In the novel it is called the Avenida de la Revolución. It was not until after I left Cuernavaca in 1982 that I appreciated the reason for this change. This is not Lowry's homage to Mexico's Independence, but rather another instance of an important motif. Laruelle began, as did this talk, at the casino de la Selva [indicate on map, and trace the path]; then he walked across the fields to the Casa Maximiliano, he crossed the barranca; then walked up the Calle Nicaragua, past his own house, then past the Cortés Palace and Zócalo, to reach the theatre. Later in the day, in Chapter 8, a bus, perhaps the same one that Laruelle sees in Chapter one, a year later, departs from near the Cortés Palace, and makes its way north, past the old market, and the Quo Vadis funeral parlour, which as you can see is on a different street (it seems that Lowry could not resist changing the street maps to include the detail), and finally going past the Casino de la Selva, and so describing a giant circle, a revolution. Or, to put it another way, Laruelle's walk in 1939, one year later, completes the circle begun in 1938, and brings the book to its conclusion. As I must this talk. Thank you.