A Companion to V.

A Companion to V.

Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    A Companion to V.
    Book Description:

    To the uninitiated, Thomas Pynchon's V. seems to defy comprehension with its open-ended and fragmented narrative, huge cast of characters (some 150 of them), and wide range of often obscure references. J. Kerry Grant's Companion to "V." takes us through the novel chapter by chapter, breaking through its daunting surface by summarizing events and clarifying Pynchon's many allusions. The Companion draws extensively from existing critical and explicative work on V. to suggest the range of interpretations that the novel can support. The hundreds of notes that comprise the Companion are keyed to the three most widely cited editions of V. Most notes are interpretive, but some also provide historical and cultural contexts or help to resurrect other nuances of meaning. Because it does not constitute a particular "reading" of, or "take" on, the novel, the Companion will appeal to a wide range of users. Rather than attempting to make final sense of the novel, the Companion exposes and demystifies Pynchon's intent to play with our conventional attitudes about fiction.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4077-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)

    As was the case with the Companion to The Crying of Lot 49, the present volume had its genesis in my experience of trying to introduce Pynchon to undergraduate readers. Each time I assign one of his novels, I am reminded how much of a challenge Pynchon presents to those who are encountering his work for the first time, and I find myself fending off a flurry of complaints about how obscure and difficult a writer he is. It is sometimes hard to persuade students that the game is worth the candle. With V. in particular, a significant number fail...

    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. A Companion to V.

      (pp. 1-21)

      The twenty-three-year-old Catholic/Jewish ex-sailor Benny Profane arrives in Norfolk, Virginia, on Christmas Eve 1955 and connects with some of his old navy buddies. After a week of drinking, during which Profane finds himself unwillingly taking responsibility for the welfare of Paola Maijstral, he ends up in New York City, where he meets Fina Mendoza and entertains the idea of taking a job shooting alligators in the sewers. Profane is avoiding reestablishing contact with Rachel Owlglass, whom he had met in the Catskills in the summer of 1954.

      PC1.1 PF9.1 B1.1 Christmas Eve The fleeting appeal of the opening words of...

      (pp. 22-34)

      Rachel Owlglass goes to the office of Schoenmaker, the plastic surgeon, to pay the bill for her roommate Esther’s nose job. At a party that evening, she stands with her back to Herbert Stencil, whose obsessive quest for V. we learn about for the first time. Stencil is at the party at the invitation of Esther, in whom he appears to be interested by virtue of her association with Schoenmaker. We are introduced to various members of the Whole Sick Crew. While the party winds down, jazz saxophonist McClintic Sphere is playing his last set of the evening at the...

      (pp. 35-60)

      After a brief prelude, the chapter fragments into eight parts, in each of which Stencil assumes a different narrative persona. As P. Aïeul, a waiter in a cafe in Alexandria in 1898, he eavesdrops on a meeting between two Englishmen, one of whom is called Porpentine and the other of whom is later identified as Porpentine’s partner, Goodfellow. Picking up only on portions of the conversation, Aïeul/Stencil speculates about the possible back-story that has brought these two men together, imagining various permutations of relationships among the people he hears being discussed—Victoria Wren, Sir Alistair Wren, Bongo-Shaftsbury.

      In his second...

      (pp. 61-65)

      Esther Harvitz pays a visit to her lover, the plastic surgeon Shale Schoenmaker. We are given the etiology of Schoenmaker’s commitment to reconstructive surgery in the form of an account of the fate of Evan Godolphin, a World War I pilot who is badly disfigured in a crash. The rest of the chapter is devoted to a (literally) blow-by-blow description of Esther’s nose job.

      PC95.1 PF95.1 B83.1 the crosstown bus Kowalewski sees the opening paragraphs of the chapter as a “functional passage . . . in that it seems sublimated to a narrative purpose: moving Esther from one place to...

      (pp. 66-73)

      Profane has been working in the sewers of New York for two weeks. He pursues an alligator into Fairing’s Parish, thus providing the occasion for a history of that curious domain and its creator. Pig Bodine shows up at Rachel Owlglass’s apartment in search of Paola, where an afternoon of beer-drinking is interrupted by a phone call from Stencil, who has been hit in the buttocks by a shotgun blast while pursuing the V-thread into Fairing’s Parish.

      PC113.1 PF111.25 B99.22 This alligator The targets of the alii gator hunts as parody are variously identified. Seed notes three possibilities—“American war...

      (pp. 74-79)

      Profane finds himself obliged to fend off Fina’s advances, which culminate in her claiming to want him to relieve her of her virginity. Realizing that the sewer job is winding down, Profane makes perfunctory gestures in the direction of finding different work. He leaves the Mendozas’ apartment and the alligator patrol after Fina is gangraped by the Playboys.

      PC 138.1 PF134.25 B121.22 like accidents His meeting with Rachel Owlglass is a case in point (PC16). The association in Profane’s mind between women and accidents is a clear impediment to anything resembling a genuine relationship—as is borne out by subsequent...

      (pp. 80-109)

      Stencil visits the soul-dentist Dudley Eigenvalue and is prompted to talk about his father’s first encounter with Victoria Wren. We are transported to late-nineteenth-century Florence, where the young Evan Godolphin has just arrived in response to a message from his explorer father. Elsewhere in the city, Rafael Mantissa and his accomplice Cesare await the arrival of the Gaucho, whose assistance Mantissa has sought in a plan to steal Botticelli’s Birth of Venus from the Uffizi Gallery. Victoria Wren, whom Evan Godolphin has briefly flirted with from his cab, encounters Hugh Godolphin in a church. He tells her of his discovery...

      (pp. 110-114)

      Profane allows his erection to determine which employment agency he will go to and thus finds himself once more in contact with Rachel Owlglass, who sends him off to a job as a night watchman. The history of Pig Bodine’s adventures as the generator of pornographic radio messages is related, Roony Winsome approaches Rachel in an effort to get closer to Paola and Profane is initiated into the ways of the Crew. Stencil, who has met a German engineer called Kurt Mondaugen, begins to tell Eigenvalue the story of Mondaugen’s experiences in Southwest Africa.

      PC226.27 PF214.34 B198.29 Inanimate money was...

      (pp. 115-140)

      Kurt Mondaugen has been posted to Southwest Africa in 1922 to conduct observations of radio waves known as sferics. He has been alarmed by inklings of unrest among the Bondelswarts people of the region and is advised by a local administrator that he would be safer if he were to seek refuge at the farm of an erstwhile German colonist. Mondaugen stays at Foppl’s for two and a half months, entering an increasingly hallucinatory state of mind in which the decadent behavior of the house’s inhabitants becomes mingled with recollections of the campaign of 1904, when German troops exterminated sixty...

      (pp. 141-146)

      This highly fragmented chapter explores a number of relationships in a series of interleaved vignettes. It begins as McClintic Sphere takes refuge from condescending college-type jazz enthusiasts in the arms of a prostitute named Ruby (who turns out to be Paola Maijstral). Sphere later worries about Roony Winsome’s mental health and speculates about the binary flip-flops of contemporary culture, while at the same time arguing with Ruby/Paola over her anxiety about her father. While out of town for the summer, he goes to a party on Cape Cod, where he resists the advances of one of the party-goers, citing his...

      (pp. 147-162)

      Paola’s father has sent his daughter a newly completed manuscript in which he traces his progress through a succession of versions of himself, numbered Fausto I-IV. The manuscript quotes from Maijstral’s earlier journals, building up a many-layered portrait of their author. The youthful Fausto is portrayed as a potential priest, enjoying life as a student in Malta during the years before World War II. His life-course changes with the news that he has impregnated Elena Xemxi, whom he marries despite a reluctance on her part that is engendered by her having come under the influence of a mysterious “Bad Priest.”...

      (pp. 163-167)

      Roony Winsome walks out on a row with Mafia and instead of going to the latest Crew party, which is just getting under way, he wanders down to the V. Note, where he meets McClintic Sphere. The two of them decide to go to Lenox and head over to Matilda Winthrop’s to pick up Ruby/Paola. Roony tries to find Rachel Owlglass to take her with them but can only talk to her on the phone. Rachel is looking for Esther, who is upset at the discovery that she is pregnant. Slab’s solution is to collect money from the guests at...

      (pp. 168-170)

      Profane, Stencil, and Paola are off to Malta. Profane, who has taken up residence with Rachel after Esther’s departure for Cuba, has lost his job at the research facility after oversleeping. He reestablishes his connection with Paola when he prevents Pig Bodine from raping her by calling in a favor from their days together in the navy. Profane had saved Pig’s life inadvertently and is now able to capitalize on Pig’s sense of obligation. Stencil asks for Profane’s help in “handling” Paola during their trip to Malta, and despite his misgivings, he seems inclined to go, in part to extricate...

      (pp. 171-181)

      It is summer in Paris, 1913. Melanie L’Heuremaudit has arrived in the city at the invitation of a group of avant-garde artists who are planning the premiere of a new ballet in which she is to be the star. Mélanie, who was the object of her father’s incestuous attentions, has been more or less abandoned by her mother after her father has fled the country. In Paris, she becomes the focus of an intense erotic attraction for the lady V., the chief sponsor of the ballet. On the evening of the premiere a riot erupts at the theater and during...

      (pp. 182-183)

      The prelude to the departure for Malta continues as events seem to conspire to propel Profane toward the Mediterranean. He and Stencil and Pig Bodine go to Washington, where Profane and Pig end up in jail after a period of drunken rollicking. Pig is recognized as a Navy deserter, and Profane is obliged to bid him farewell. Stencil makes his peace with Eigenvalue and Profane his with Rachel. In late September, Profane, Paola, and Stencil set sail for Malta on the Susanna Squaducci.

      PC448.4 PF415.29 B391.22 the Whitney Art museum in Manhattan.

      PC448.4 PF415.29 B391.22 Kisch mein tokus Yiddish—“Kiss...

      (pp. 184-190)

      The crew of Profane’s old ship, the Scaffold, are enjoying liberty in Valletta, where the 1956 Suez crisis is in full swing and British troops are enjoying their last night on the town before heading for Egypt. After an evening of drinking and fighting, Pappy Hod meets Paola and Profane as he stumbles back to his ship. Paola promises to wait for Pappy back in Norfolk. Stencil meets up with Maijstral and reluctantly follows up the meager clues that Malta affords. Unwilling to believe that his quest came to an end with the disassembly of the Bad Priest, Stencil leaves...

      (pp. 191-204)

      In the winter of 1919, Sidney Stencil arrives in Malta aboard a vessel captained by Mehemet, who claims to have sailed into the twentieth century through a rift in time. Mehemet tells Sidney the legend of Mara, the embodiment of the female spirit of Malta. Sidney makes contact with the shipfitter Maijstral, father to Fausto, who is his informant in the matter of the political unrest that is gathering force on the island. Maijstral is later seen in the company of Veronica Manganese, whose friends include the budding fascist, Mussolini. Sidney and his partner, Demivolt, encounter the disfigured Evan Godolphin...

    (pp. 205-212)
  8. INDEX
    (pp. 213-224)