When Pynchon’s first novel, V., appeared in 1963 it was greeted with puzzlement, or dismissed as a confusing practical joke by the reviewers. It was described variously as an ‘allegorical bedlam’, ‘a wearisome joke’ and a novel weighted down with much ‘learned lumber’, ‘a kind of sick museum of prevailing literary styles’.1 There were a few serious readings probably in reaction against the sheer breadth of the book as well as its humour. Like In Our Time and U.S.A. it intercalates sections within a linear narrative set in 1956 in order to broaden the scope of that narrative (see schema). The two main sequences which alternate with each other and thus establish one of the novel’s rhythms, are the latter which centres on a character called Benny Profane and takes place mainly in New York, and a series of historical chapters which spread from 1898 to 1943.


Literary Style Early Chapter Historical Section Carob Tree Beer Hall 
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  1. 1.
    Best Sellers 23 (1 Apr. 1963) p. 12; F. J. Hoffman, ‘The Questing Comedian: Thomas Pynchon’s V..’ Critique, 6.iii (Winter, 1963–64) p. 176;Google Scholar
  2. Christopher Ricks, ‘Voluminous’, New Statesman, 66 (11 Oct. 1963) p. 492; London Magazine, n.s. 3. ix. (Dec. 1963) p. 87.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Richard Poirier, ‘Cook’s Tour’, New York Review of Books, 1.ii. (1963) p. 32.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Leo Rosten, The Joys of Yiddish (Harmondsworth, Middx: Penguin Books, 1971) p. 352.Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    Terry Caesar, ‘A Note on Pynchon’s Naming’, Pynchon Notes, 5 (Feb. 1981) pp. 5–10. K. B. Harder also gives useful comment on this area of the novel in her ‘Names in Thomas Pynchon’s V.’, Literary Onomastics Studies, 5 (1978) pp. 64–80.Google Scholar
  6. 12.
    Wladyslaw Sluckin’s Minds and Machines (1954) gives very useful comments on Pynchon’s cybernetic themes (the resemblance between neural loops and negative feedback, communication theory, etc.) Even the fly-leaf to the novel comments visually on the theme of mechanization by printing V’s into a V-shape. The very title of the novel is a repeatable mechanical sign.Google Scholar
  7. 13.
    Compare Kenneth A. Thigpen’s ‘Folklore in Contemporary American Literature: Thomas Pynchon’s V. and the Alligators-in-the-Sewers Legend’, Southern Folklore Quarterly, 43 (1979) pp. 93–105.Google Scholar
  8. 15.
    Stanley Edgar Hyman, ‘The Goddess and the Schlemihl’, in Richard Kostelanetz, (ed.), On Contemporary Literature, 2nd ed (New York: Avon Books, 1969) p. 509.Google Scholar
  9. 16.
    John Clellon Holmes, Go (New York: Appel, 1977) p. 161.Google Scholar
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    Denis de Rougemont, Man’s Western Quest (London: Allen & Unwin, 1957) p. 197.Google Scholar
  11. 21.
    M. R. Siegel, ‘Pynchon’s Anti-Quests’, Pynchon Notes, 3 (June 1980) p. 7.Google Scholar
  12. 22.
    E.g. Joseph W. Slade, Thomas Pynchon (New York: Warner Bros, 1974).Google Scholar
  13. Nabokov’s general impact on Pynchon’s work is examined in Susan Strehle, ‘Actualism: Pynchon’s Debt to Nabokov’, Contemporary Literature, 24 (1983) pp. 30–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 26.
    Vladimir Nabokov, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1960) p. 128.Google Scholar
  15. 28.
    Robert Graves, The White Goddess (London: Faber & Faber, 1961) p. 9.Google Scholar
  16. 30.
    Paul Fahy, ‘Thomas Pynchon’s V. and Mythology’, Critique, 18.iii (1977) p. 9.Google Scholar
  17. 35.
    Alain Robbe-Grillet, L’Année dernière à Marienbad (Paris: Editions j’ai lu, 1974) p. 25.Google Scholar
  18. 37.
    Walter Pater, The Renaissance (London: Macmillan, 1910) p. 55.Google Scholar
  19. 39.
    Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince (Harmondsworth, Middx: Penguin Books, 1975) pp. 99, 100.Google Scholar
  20. 41.
    Melvyn New, ‘Profane and Stencilled Texts’, Georgia Review 33 (1979) p. 404.Google Scholar
  21. 44.
    The Nazi hopes of regaining Germany’s colonies are discussed in Derwent Whittlesey, The German Strategy of World Conquest (London: F. E. Robinson, 1942) pp. 158–9.Google Scholar
  22. 50.
    Giorgio di Chirico, Hebdomeros (London: Peter Owen, 1968) p. 122.Google Scholar
  23. 54.
    Mary Allen, The Necessary Blankness: Women in Major American Fiction of the Sixties (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1976), pp. 44–5.Google Scholar
  24. 55.
    The Art of Allusion, pp. 74–7; Stravinsky, Autobiography, p. 31; R. F. Nijinsky, Nijinsky (Harmondsworth, Middx: Penguin Books, 1960) p. 158. Stravinsky used a puppet in Petroushka (Autobiography p. 31).Google Scholar
  25. 60.
    Max F. Schulz, Black Humor Fiction of the Sixties (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1973) p. 80.Google Scholar
  26. 61.
    Richard Patteson, ‘What Stencil Knew: Structure and Certitude in Pynchon’s V.’ in Richard Pearce (ed.), Critical Essays on Thomas Pynchon (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1981) p. 27.Google Scholar
  27. 62.
    Denis de Rougemont, Passion and Society, rev. ed (London: Faber & Faber, 1961) p. 15 (published in USA under the title Love in the Western World);Google Scholar
  28. L. V. Groves, ‘Love and the Western World in Pynchon’s V.’, South Atlantic Review, 47.i (Jan. 1932) p. 63.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© David Seed 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of LiverpoolUK

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