Monday, 23 May 2011

Winchester in Under The Volcano

Winchester! Hell, that’s something else. Don’t tell me. Righto! The Black Swan is in Winchester. They captured me on the German side of the camp and at the same side of the place where they captured me is a girl's school. A girl teacher. She gave it to me. And you can take it And you can have it."
Under The Volcano

Weber's words in Under The Volcano made me wonder how Lowry knew the city. There is no record of him visiting the city though it is possible that he passed through the city on trips to the West Country in the 1930s. However, I have come to realise that Malc often imbues deeper meaning into his writing with literary references is this possible with Winchester?

The character of Weber pervades the different versions of Under The Volcano Malc describes him as "a sort of pseudo-American fascist" who is part of the sinister sub-plot of the novel. Could Malc have seen death and evil in Winchester? The reference to the Black Swan could be yet another pub Malc imbibed in or is it a reference to the Conan Doyle story where Sherlock Holmes and Watson have lunch with Miss Hunter in The Adventure of the Copper Beeches. There are some Lowryan coincidences in the story beyond the Black Swan - the villain Mr Toller is a drunkard; one of the characters Mr Rucastle has a dual personality - which reflects Malc himself and something which he was obsessed with; Holmes's remarks at the beginning of the story have a certain resonance in Malc's methods of working: "To the man who loves art for its own sake," remarked Sherlock Holmes, tossing aside the advertisement sheet of The Daily Telegraph, "it is frequently in its least important and lowliest manifestations that the keenest pleasure is to be derived." and the female character Miss Hunter has "a rather peculiar tint of chestnut" to her hair i.e. reddish, which Malc had; Miss Hunter later becomes principal of a girls' school and there is even a dead dog!

Unfortunately, the black Swan was demolished before World War Two and stood in part on the site now occupied by Barclays Bank.

You can read the full story here

Or you can watch the silent movie version:

Georges Treville appeared as Sherlock Holmes in a number of short features in 1912. His series of films were the first officially authorised series of Holmes Films, produced under the supervision of Conan Doyle himself. This is the 8th and final episode it is also the only episode that survives. The series comprised the following films, all directed by Adrien Caillard and produced by Eclair.

1. The Speckled Band
2. The Silver Blaze
3. The Beryl Coronet
4. The Musgrave Ritual
5. The Reigate Squires
6. The Stolen Papers
7. The Mystery of Boscombe Valey
8. The Copper Beeches

Ecalir also produced a feature, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in 1911, which is lost.

We also have the other references to Winchester in Under The Volcano. Chris Ackerley has noted:

During World War I, there had been a large military camp on the out-skirts of the city, which was used in the later days of the war to house POWs. There is a girls' boarding school directly opposite the site of the camp, but Weber (whose smuggled arms may include Winchester repeating rifles) seems to be living out a fantasy since it was not built until 1932-34.

The camp could possibly be Hursley Park but I will need to speak to Chris as I could n't find the girl's school. Chris refers to Weber's "fantasy" - Weber besides having a sinister political role also adds to the sexual mores of the novel - Yvonne overhears him having sex in the next room to her's in Acapulco in the 1940 Under The Volcano. The girl's school may also be an echo back to Malc's time at the Leys with the Pense Girls school lying across the road. Both may combine to underline Malc's own feelings of sexual inadequacy.

Another literary reference to Winchester lies in Hardy's Tess of the d’Urbervilles. See Literary Winchester

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