A View from the Typescript of V.
LUC HERMAN AND JOHN M. KRAFFT
Judging by the many cuts and alterations to the typescript version of his first novel, V. (1963), held in the Thomas Pynchon Collection at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center in Austin, Texas, it is clear not only that Pynchon struggled with the structure of his book but also that he was trying to work through daunting issues of race and gender.1 Elsewhere (Herman and Krafft, “Race”), we have suggested that the published novel’s version of the African American character McClintic Sphere is still inhibited by the set of liberal clichés marring the typescript original. Here, we consider a typescript episode, one of several deleted from the published novel, that is steeped in sexual politics. It delineates an installment of an imaginary family situation comedy in which various constructions of sexual identity vie for dominance and in which women come out on top. We find the overall effect satirical, but we also acknowledge that many readers may find the novel’s depictions of both men and women and its representations of their roles to be sexist if not downright misogynistic. As Richard Hardack observes in a different context, “[I]t is sometimes hard to differentiate what Pynchon is critiquing from what he perpetuates” (592n31). In any case, if the episode had been kept in, it might well have been interpreted as an extrapolation of the role of the V. figure in the published novel. Indeed, as they wield power and take a certain pleasure in conspiring to hold down their men, the mother and daughter in the sitcom look like two contemporary versions of the elusive female protagonist in the novel’s historical chapters, which provide Stencil’s perspective on events related to his father’s life. Perhaps, then, Pynchon cut the sitcom to prevent the narrator of the 1956 plot from duplicating what he may have expressly conceived as Stencil’s sexist projection of an almost mythological femininity. As we show toward the end of this essay, a late addition to the novel at the beginning of the historical chapters connects this problematic idolatry with the figure of the White Goddess as described by Robert Graves, which at least seems to indicate Pynchon’s awareness of Stencil’s fixation on overbearing female strength.
Critics have debated possible sexism in V. at least since the mid-1970s, when Catharine R. Stimpson described what she saw as “Pynchon’s sexual conservatism,” a conventional idealization of stereotypical female fecundity and nurturance (32). Kathleen Fitzpatrick, like Molly Hite (in this volume), sees V. as misogynistic—“though,” she suggests, “it also shows signs of beginning to question” that attitude (106n8)—and sees the V. figure as a projection (both Stencil’s and Pynchon’s) of threatening, decadent machinic female otherness. Joanna Freer laments that V.’s “female protagonist is never fully present as a real woman, instead remaining splintered, distanced, disturbingly inhuman, and primarily symbolic” (130). On the other hand, Dana Medoro argues that this figure, a figure of women’s solidarity and power, representing “resistance to systems of domination” (25), is one in whom “the promise of cyclical regeneration for a fallen world lies latent” (31). Medoro thus denies that V. connives in the sexism it depicts. Perhaps most relevant to our purpose here is Mark D. Hawthorne’s argument that V. ultimately succeeds in blurring and blending gender roles in a critique of the binary sexual and gender differentiations so troublesomely characteristic of the 1950s culture the novel depicts. Aptly, Hawthorne locates Pynchon’s parodic and humorous treatment of immature male characters in the 1950s storyline “in the masculine identity confusion of the 1950s when the two essential masculine roles of sexual partner and breadwinner were being ‘domesticated’ and, at the same time, emasculated by popular media” (82, emphasis added), popular media like the family sitcom. The sitcom Pynchon cut from the final version of the novel illustrates and satirizes exactly such confusion over gender binarism: the male characters neither quite figure out what it means to be a man nor manage to do whatever it would be to act like a man. Furthermore, two tropes prominent in the sitcom, varieties of inanimacy/dehumanization and the allure/threat of the road, are obviously central to the gender thematics of the novel as a whole and so appear to help integrate the episode neatly. But Pynchon may have cut it because its treatment of such important issues was at once too heavy handed and not probing enough, and he wanted his novel to address more complicated gender concerns, as our discussion of the White Goddess suggests.
As we have detailed in our 2007 overview essay on the typescript, Pynchon submitted a first version of his first novel to J. B. Lippincott in June 1961. At the beginning of August, he received a very nice acceptance letter from Cork Smith, who promised he would go “over the script in detail” so as to provide some “specific suggestions” for improvement. Still, Smith didn’t hesitate to issue an early warning: “I do think some very careful cutting would help, and I confess I am at times bothered by your fiddling with the time sequence” (Stephen Tomaske Collection). While Smith promised a more substantial letter “within a couple of weeks,” it wasn’t until the end of February 1962 that Pynchon received his editor’s comments. So there was a lot of time for Pynchon to think not just about potential cuts and the time sequence of the novel but about other matters relating to the book as well. And indeed, while Smith offered three substantial comments in his letter of February 23, Pynchon in his reply of March 13 listed no fewer than fourteen changes. Number 4 on the list reads as follows: “The TV show in chapter 27 is ponderous Social Commentary which I am no more fond of than Social Protest, so out it should go, also” (Stephen Tomaske Collection).2 “Social Protest” alludes to a comment Smith made about Sphere in his letter of February 23: “There is something about him which gives the reader a certain feeling that the book is, at least in part[,] a Protest Novel” (Stephen Tomaske Collection).3 While Pynchon doesn’t reply in detail to this remark until later in the letter of March 13, he alludes to it in the third change he notes (the deletion of speeches by irredentist Sgherraccio and by an African American patriarch) and then swiftly links evidently undesirable “Social Protest” with “Social Commentary,” his pejorative label for what he has apparently come to see as objectionable about the TV show.
Chapter 12 of the typescript, “In Which Profane Returns to Street Level” (187–202), provides most of the material for section 2 of chapter 6 in the published novel—the section in which Benny Profane realizes that his job with the Alligator Patrol is nearing its inevitable end, and Fina Mendoza, who has rescued Profane from yo-yoing on the subway and taken him to live in her family’s apartment, urges him to start looking for a new job. At first reluctant, he eventually obliges her but then backs out of the interview she has arranged for him. A few days later, coming off the job, Profane and his friends Angel and Geronimo go to a bar on upper Broadway. Afterward, the three of them take part in a long search for the missing Fina.4 She has been “out with the Playboys” (150), the street gang she “mothers,” and the searchers find her “lying on an old army cot, naked, hair in disarray” (151). The seven-page sitcom parody Pynchon cut from the typescript (192–99) is part of the scene in the bar, where the three friends “sat and drank beers and watched a family situation comedy on television” (TS 192). One practical reason for getting rid of the sitcom might have been that it slows down the action relating to Fina, but as we have already suggested, Pynchon may have had more thematic reasons for deciding to leave it out.
The plot of the sitcom will sound familiar. Its stereotypical prosperous suburban nuclear family, the Marshalls, living the “safe and happy” consumerist “good life” (TS 196), actually consists of an ambitious but ultimately clueless white-collar father, an indulgent but quite controlling wife and mother, an egotistical teenage daughter (notably if implausibly buxom for her supposed fifteen years) with an adventure-seeking but still more clueless boyfriend, a “small obnoxious son” (TS 192), and even a hapless family dog. The mother firmly resists her husband’s plan to move to the West Coast in pursuit of a promotion, and the daughter vehemently objects to her boyfriend’s plan to go to South America in search of adventure and fortune. Despite the father’s advice to the boyfriend to “[g]o home … and stand up to [opposition] like a man” (TS 195), neither the father himself nor the boyfriend shows much backbone, and both their plans come to naught. The son, afflicted by the same “Wanderlust” (TS 194) as the older men, runs away from home but doesn’t get far “out on the road” (TS 196) and is happy enough to be rescued and brought home by, of course, the boyfriend.5
Most of the New York storyline in V. is set in 1956, when family sitcoms were still relatively new, just as television itself was. This may explain why, a page or so into the episode, Pynchon’s narrator feels the need to expound on the artificial merriment, in the form of canned laughter, added to the program: “The laughter was dubbed into the sound track, either from a real tape-recorded audience or from a machine Profane had read about in the Daily News a few days back. This was an all-electronic device which could duplicate various kinds of audience reaction, from applause to snickers to mob scenes to loud hysteria” (TS 193). Then a network executive is quoted explaining why all of this is so useful: “[T]he dramatic or comic impact of a production cannot be lessened by any improper audience reaction,” and “the viewers at home will now get the full benefit of knowing what a large scale response is supposed to be,” which will “aid … their own appreciation” (TS 193). With its disdain for the dehumanization this technology implies, this passage and the allusions to it later in the episode are oddly moralistic, something Pynchon may also have realized while waiting for his editor’s comments. Needless to say, if the passage had stayed in, V. would have looked more dated, perhaps already by the time it was published. The same is true of the description of the family’s material luxury that opens the typescript episode: “A marvelous family it was. They lived in the suburbs and were at peace with their two cars, washing machine, clothes dryer, refrigerator, dishwasher, disposal unit, electric stove and television set. The things worked all the time…. Every comic situation in this family arose from the actions of human beings, in accord with classical principles, and the appliances and objects were there only as willing and amiable servants to facilitate the plot’s movement; no gods ever emerged from the machines” (TS 192). This is all very knowledgeable and nicely observed, but who needs to know? Talk about “ponderous,” as Pynchon puts it in the March 13 letter to his editor. The sitcom parody as a whole may not fail as an instance of “Social Commentary,” and it does manage to convey the silliness of this relatively new form of popular art, the television sitcom. But perhaps it is both too heavy handed and not silly enough to belong in a book that tries hard to avoid didacticism.
Pynchon’s capitals in “Social Commentary” suggest a misplaced grandiosity, and, indeed, the sitcom story is presented by a narrator who holds himself above the lowly entertainment, not only by lampooning the show but also by explaining some of the unimaginative reactions of the watchers in the bar and by providing insights into the composition of the audience at large. Some of the narrator’s comments are simple displays of knowledge, for instance, about prime time: “[Y]ou could be sure that kids watching coast to coast (it was prime listening time—before the hour, established by numerous surveys, when the normative American child is sent off to bed) were laughing as uproariously as the dubbed-in audience” (TS 193–94).6 Other comments, however, suggest something more than innocent and wholesome entertainment. When the father dictates a letter at the office, his secretary’s skirt is described as “tight and [riding] up a blond, healthy-looking pair of crossed thighs” (TS 194). The narrator is keen on parenthetically lifting the veil on the show: “This was a ‘family’ program, but surveys had pointed out that paperback books with erotically conceived covers and dealing exclusively with eccentric-sadistic sexual behavior sold best among men with wives and children. So to please the male segment of the families who watched families in comic situations, the net was opened wide enough to include the closed thighs of Bob’s secretary, with the implication that what can be crossed can also be spread” (TS 194).7 Earlier in the episode, when Sharon, the teenage daughter, stamps her foot “so hard it made her well-developed breasts shimmer alluringly” (TS 192), the expert narrator readily comments on Angel’s admiration: “The usual shifting scale applied here: any girl character over the age of thirteen is played by an 18 year old actress. If the character is 18 or over, however, she can be played by anybody up to 40 plus. Sharon was supposed to be around 15” (TS 192–93). The narrator’s connoisseurship reveals a commodifying interest in women Pynchon may have wanted to eliminate from the final version of his first novel in an attempt to distinguish between a more neutral narrative voice and the sexism of some of his male characters. However, further evidence from the sitcom episode complicates this suggestion.
If the narrator’s desire to explain is over the top (and if it was perceived that way by Pynchon), the parody of the sitcom’s story and its characters does reveal certain aspects of the genre that average viewers may not readily have recognized, especially if those viewers were eager to imitate the role models displayed on the screen. The parental roles are typical of those in family sitcoms of the fifties. Father works outside the home and is good at his job. He is the provider who knows it all (as in the series Father Knows Best). He solves the household’s problems (albeit sometimes, as here in the typescript, after creating them himself) and amounts to the sympathetic manager of his little family unit. Mother is really a glorified servant who prepares food, does the cleaning, educates the children, and obeys her husband (although, again as here, she can be uppity, sarcastic, and the real brains of the family). Her role is perhaps best summarized in the opening sequence of The Donna Reed Show, in which the heroine answers the telephone and passes it on to her husband, hands the children their sweaters and lunches on their way to school, and then kisses her husband goodbye while helping him to his doctor’s bag. Already in the 1950s, there are exceptions to this pattern: for instance, in I Love Lucy, Lucille Ball is always trying to convince her old-school husband that she needs a job in show business, and in Ozzie and Harriet, Ozzie often appears to be a wimp, while his wife, Harriet, occupies the power position. The parody in the V. typescript echoes these exceptions in that it questions the compatibility of the stereotypical roles, the tensions between which almost result in a crisis; but in the end, the dominant ideology prevails, and order of sorts returns.
The narrator seems to lament this outcome, even expressing a degree of frustration at the conclusion: “And the last dissolve left you looking in on a kind of collective love-feast, in which sexual identity wasn’t really as important as Togetherness” (TS 199).8 The narrator’s problem with this outcome is not necessarily that “sexual identity” as such should be “important” but that the stereotypical sex roles and responsibilities that confuse the men in the episode are ultimately reaffirmed rather than undermined. This reaffirmation might not be sophisticated enough for the intellectual commentator the narrator clearly wants to be, and it might also hurt his own male gaze because the men lose in the episode’s rivalry between the sexes. Or perhaps, on the other hand, the sitcom on the whole is not sexual enough for the narrator, and he does his best to compensate for the lack by commenting (albeit sophomorically) on the teenage daughter’s breasts and the secretary’s thighs. In the latter case the episode’s conclusion would let the narrator down because it could have been much less mellow: it could have become the climax of a story that relates to the novel’s V. figure at large through the erotically charged power the women in the family are seen to wield over their men, who are by no means sure of their own masculinity and might therefore need or desire women’s control to negotiate their sexual attraction. Of course, this possible reading might be an overly dramatic interpretation of the effect of history as imagined by Stencil; roleplay in the family sitcom may hark back to a version of the past, but the genre’s primary function of providing entertainment prevents it from having any meaningful impact on the present. If so, Pynchon may have cut the sitcom episode not because he wanted a neutral narrator for the 1956 plot but rather because he didn’t want to trivialize Stencil’s historiographical work. Then again, sitcoms may not be as banal as that interpretation makes them seem (cf., e.g., Olson and Douglas). If Pynchon had become more concerned with sitcoms’ potential to indoctrinate (not merely to entertain, much less to subvert), his 1956 versions of V. would then be role models he might have decided not to feature because they were too cartoonish.
There is yet more evidence to consider. When Schuyler, the would-be adventurous boyfriend, replies to Sharon’s angry “How can we ever get married if you’ll be off for years and years wandering around in the jungle?” (TS 192) with a “morose … ‘Gee, … I figured you’d wait for me’” (TS 193), Geronimo, the bartender, and even the canned audience laugh, presumably to underline the young man’s naïveté about the power women hold over men. Everybody knows better, and nothing in the entire episode really challenges this conventional wisdom, which is, after all, as much of a cliché as the servant role of mothers in the average 1950s sitcom. Sharon “throw[s] a temper tantrum,” and the narrator doesn’t hesitate to spell things out: “It was Punch and Judy in reverse” (TS 193).9 Sure enough, after the dictation scene in Bob’s office, the family’s “two females … [discuss] the situation” (TS 194) by putting down the men: “The conversation was filled with all manner of wit … : ‘The best cure for an itchy foot is to cut it off,’ and ‘You’d think he was a cross-country bus, to hear him snore,’ and ‘About the only rooting your father does is when he’s acting like a pig’” (TS 194–95).
The men’s impotence is exposed during a scene in which they meet in town. Schuyler has been shopping for jungle clothes but “reveal[s] an all-embracing incompetency for dealing with the opposite sex in a fumbling speech about how confused he [is]” (TS 195) as a result of Sharon’s reaction to his ambitious plans. “Bob admit[s] he [does]n’t know much about women either” (TS 195), and when Schuyler learns that Bob hasn’t yet gotten Betty (his wife) to agree to their making his career-related move, the two men find some comfort in each other: “‘I didn’t [persuade her],’ said Bob, putting his arm around the lad’s shoulders,” and, mustering some courage, says they should “[g]o home … and stand up to it like a man” (TS 195).
When Bob arrives home, he “find[s] his small son Chip with a duffel bag about to run away from home” (TS 196). He immediately acts the part of the wise suburban father, explaining to Chip “how in order to live the good life you had to stick around to enjoy it, and how the road”—“where bums lived” and “inanimate automobiles … [ran] you down and kill[ed] you”—“was not like the street,” which “was safe and happy,” just like their home (TS 196). Having thought and dreamt about the street earlier in the typescript, Profane, watching television in the bar, finds this distinction “interesting” (TS 196), if not (we might assume) spurious, but the narrator stays with the sitcom story. Bob is apparently unaware of two things: the glaring contradiction between his own travel plans and the supposed wisdom he imparts to his son and the fact that, in true vaudeville fashion, the women of the family have hidden themselves behind the TV set (where else!) in order to overhear the conversation between Bob and Chip. Taking advantage of Bob’s proclaimed values, Betty tries immediately to foreclose the matter of a move, and Sharon “ask[s] him to talk some sense into Schuyler too” (TS 197). Here is the chance for Bob to assert himself “like a man,” but he only “blurt[s]” confusedly “that he was supposed to be going, the deal had gone through, that is if anybody didn’t mind,” and at that exact moment Schuyler enters “in a mountain-climbing costume” and asks confidently, “Did you give them the word yet, Mr. Marshall?” (TS 197).
Now “infuriated,” the women “harangue their respective menfolk” and assert their own power, sending the men for that night literally to the doghouse, albeit an “air-conditioned” one (TS 197), much to the distress of the family’s Irish setter, Clancy. When the men wake up, their conversation quickly turns to identity politics. Bob expresses a marked insecurity. “It’s hard to figure out what a man is, these days,” he says, and women make life difficult because “they ke[ep] changing their minds about what they [a]re” (TS 197). Since men, in Bob’s mind, are supposed to be the opposite sex, they have to wait patiently for women to decide what they themselves are and then just “be the opposite” (TS 197). “Be the opposite” as a solution is so obviously shallow and rings so hollow coming from a wise father that it sounds like an admission of defeat. Is that all it turns out to mean to act “like a man” (to “be the opposite” of a woman, a strong, determined one at that)? Pynchon’s calculated refusal to take this question more seriously suggests that he had already come to see its precisely gendered terms themselves as suspect. No peculiarly manlike and notably laudable behavior, whether as husband, lover, brother, friend, or even ordinary human being, is illustrated seemingly anywhere else in the novel. Instead, Profane kills alligators, Angel Mendoza beats his sister, Pig Bodine attempts to rape Paola, the Gaucho leads a mob of rioters, and Foppl murders Bondels.
Undeterred as well as unenlightened, Schuyler, however, doesn’t give up immediately; he calls Sharon to say he is leaving for South America. But then both men quickly revert to type in connection with Chip, who had left the house with his duffel bag while everyone else was having the vehement and violent argument. Bob promises Betty he will turn down his new job because he has “realized it was better to stay here in Laurel Acres and live the good life than go out on the treacherous road, which may have done in his only son” (TS 198). It is only then, of course, that Schuyler and Chip can bring each other home, Schuyler having found Chip “sleeping by the side of the road,” and Chip having convinced his sister’s boyfriend not to go to South America by telling him “about the mosquitoes” (TS 198). So much for masculine bravery on the road. The women and Chip (who may or may not be too young to understand) have made sure stereotypical male behavior can be exercised only within the supposedly safe confines of the home and street. It is no coincidence that the episode has a scene or two in the doghouse, because the men’s leash is very short indeed. If it does reach from the “safe and happy” home to the street at all, it most certainly does not stretch as far as the dangerous road, with its apparently excessive demands on masculinity.
In a letter of March 22, 1962, Cork Smith replies point by point to the changes Pynchon proposes in his letter of March 13. Here is what he says about the family sitcom: “I found the TV show in Chapter 12 (not Chapter 27) very entertaining. I did not read it as Social Commentary. I kind of wish you’d leave it in” (Stephen Tomaske Collection). A mere two days later, Pynchon acknowledges the chapter-number mistake but doesn’t give in: “I will think again about retaining the TV program, which I don’t find entertaining. If I decide to keep it, though, I’ll act on your general guideline of keeping what is (in this case marginally) ‘fresh and funny’” (Stephen Tomaske Collection).10 The sarcasm here prefigures the reaffirmation of Pynchon’s decision to cut the sitcom. His further thinking, however, may also have involved another change to the typescript he must already have been in the process of making. The image of woman in Pynchon’s novel is controversial because the historical chapters in particular may seem to reduce women to manipulative temptresses bent on creating havoc, but the published version of V. contains an allusion to a female archetype that is not in the typescript and that prompts some more speculation about the deletion of the sitcom episode.
In his letter of February 23, Smith asks Pynchon to “give some indication (without insulting the reader’s intelligence) that you are making a radical shift in time when you launch into ‘Under the Roses [sic]’” (Stephen Tomaske Collection). Chapter 13 of the typescript, “Under the Rose,” is the already revised version of the Pynchon short story with that title published in 1961. In response to Smith’s remark, Pynchon writes on March 13 that he wants to put the chapter “someplace else.” It became chapter 3 of the published novel. In addition, Pynchon created a transition within the chapter by writing a two-and-a-half-page introduction to the Egypt episode.11 These pages have determined the direction of much V. criticism because of their appeal to famous examples of nonfiction that aspires to grand historical synthesis. In the new introduction to the chapter, the narrator describes Stencil’s predicament as follows: “He would dream perhaps once a week that it had all been a dream, and that now he’d awakened to discover the pursuit of V. was merely a scholarly quest after all, an adventure of the mind, in the tradition of The Golden Bough or The White Goddess. But soon enough he’d wake up the second, real time, to make again the tiresome discovery that it hadn’t ever stopped being the same simple-minded, literal pursuit” (61). Since Stencil awakes in “real time” to find that his pursuit is not even the kind of mere “scholarly quest” or “adventure of the mind” for which James G. Frazer and Robert Graves stand, it seems that these authors have been relegated to a state of being that is less real and therefore perhaps less relevant for an understanding of Stencil’s historiographical enterprise than many readers have assumed. Indeed, the scholarly quests of Frazer and Graves seem to constitute a foil against which Stencil’s real quest or “simple-minded, literal pursuit” must be judged, and therefore they also relativize Stencil’s image of woman as it may seem to derive from Frazer and especially from Graves.12
Both The Golden Bough and The White Goddess establish a basic pattern with respect to human history. In fact Graves built on Frazer, suggesting he was only rendering explicit Frazer’s implication that the Christian tradition boils down to “the refinement of a great body of primitive and even barbarous beliefs” (242). Frazer had submitted that ancient religions were in fact fertility cults of a sacred king incarnating a solar deity who had engaged in a mystic marriage with a goddess of the earth. Graves considered this goddess the more basic of the two earthly figures and described her as a matrix for the many goddesses in various European mythologies. This led early Pynchon critic Joseph Slade to suggest that Pynchon borrowed the female V. from Graves, regarding her as “the principal archetype of our culture” (35), in order to show its specific perversion in the twentieth century. Graves included the element of degeneration in his analysis by suggesting that the language of poetic myth lost its magic when the early Greek philosophers turned their “back on the Moon-goddess who inspired [myths] and who demanded that man should pay woman spiritual and sexual homage” (11). Graves went on to suggest that major aspects of Western civilization had nevertheless been influenced by this figure, noticing, however, that “true poetry” (9) had been replaced early on by a “synthetic substitute” (10).
V. projects this essential disenchantment onto the goddess figure herself. The title character not only is an agent of inanimation but also becomes more and more inanimate herself, until finally being literally disassembled in 1943, or so the reader is led to presume on the basis of Fausto Maijstral’s confessional letter (V. 342–45).13 In the novel’s contemporary culture, men are far less likely to prostrate themselves before woman or women than to objectify and try to dominate or otherwise exploit them. If Stencil’s projection of V. is in part based on an outdated notion, he may cling to it in deference to his father, who wrote that “There is more behind and inside V. than any of us had suspected” (53). So he creates a “grand Gothic pile of inferences” (226) and a suitably monstrous, possibly mythical or possibly historical V. figure to inhabit it. He admits that V. is not necessarily a woman, a human being, or anything concretely real at all (226), but “even as a symptom” (386), his V. figure serves as a powerful metaphor (if still, to be sure, a tendentiously female one) for the dehumanized and dehumanizing culture of the novel’s present. The various love (or at least erotic) interests in the New York chapters paint such a diverse picture of male attitudes that it becomes implausible to suppose Pynchon gives priority to the survival of the Western worship of woman or, for that matter, offers it as an answer to the sexual woes of Americans in the 1950s. If the White Goddess is Stencil’s problem, she is not Pynchon’s solution.
Eliminating the family sitcom reduced the number of powerful—read: domineering—women in the published novel. Maybe Pynchon wanted to limit their presence outside of Stencil’s mind, or maybe he wanted simply to eliminate some obvious stereotypes. Either way, there is still room for female strength in Pynchon’s fictional world. Indeed, before concluding that the published version of V. is misogynistic because it features an antiquated archetype of woman and/or many contemporary sexist stereotypes, we should remember that there is a very different kind of relatively strong woman character in the novel—relatively in the context of the novel’s present—namely, Rachel Owlglass. Rachel is inclined, up to a point, to romanticize the rolling stone Profane, for whom she appears to have a genuine affection. She wants him as a friend before she takes him as a lover. The daughter of sheltering wealth and privilege, she longs to hear about “[y]our boy’s road that I’ll never see” (27), assuming he must know much about “the world” (26) she cannot know.14 Paradoxically, she is also ready to take charge of him when given the opportunity, although Profane’s sense of being subject to her “umbilical tug” on his yo-yo string (29) reveals more about him than about her. As much as Profane dreads encroachments of the inanimate, he wallows in his self-image as a schlemihl, “somebody who lies back and takes it from objects, like any passive woman” (288). In fact, he also takes it like a sponge. Rather than cultivate complicated human relationships, he prefers to be “an object of mercy” (137), and he does not necessarily appreciate a responsive sexual partner. He believes “[i]nanimate money was to get animate warmth” (214), but in the typescript he loses his desire for a prostitute when she responds energetically instead of remaining passive like his idea(l) of a virtual rape victim (see TS 169, and Herman and Krafft, “Monkey Business” 28). At one point Profane even fantasizes, “Someday, please God, there would be an all-electronic woman. Maybe her name would be Violet. Any problems with her, you could look it up in the maintenance manual” (385).
Profane might be content for Rachel only to feed him, to become the same kind of stereotypically indulgent, selfless, there-to-serve Jewish mother as his actual mother apparently is (see 222). We see his real mother only in the abundant evidence of her “compulsion to feed” (men’s) literal appetite (379). After Profane loses his job, he refuses to take responsibility for “two dependents” (380), even though one of them is himself. But while Rachel does utter a few cringe-inducing lines, not all of which may be explainable as self-ironizing, she eventually refuses merely to serve, to sacrifice her dignity, her integrity, or her independence to try to hold on to Profane.15 Thus the nuanced behavior of this real character contrasts notably with the enigmatic fantasies Stencil develops in the historical chapters.
We are sensitive to Hite’s assertion that Pynchon in V. necessarily shares in the pervasive sexism of mid-twentieth-century U.S. culture and so is more apt to perpetuate the gender stereotypes of his time than to challenge them. But we do not assume Pynchon must subscribe to all the clichés his characters utter or enact, and we see him as (nearly) an equal-opportunity satirist: Paola Maijstral is no more Pynchon’s “real woman” than Stencil’s V. construct is, any more than the Randolph Scott Profane admires but cannot emulate (136–37) is Pynchon’s “real man.” We recognize the justice of Mary Allen’s observations that weak male characters in U.S. fiction of the period rarely seem as vapid or unsympathetic as weak female characters and that men may even “project a kind of horrible blankness of the age onto the image of women, an idea epitomized in Pynchon’s V.” (7). Yet we note that Allen herself goes on to acknowledge that “the women of V. are as corrupted but at least as interesting as their male counterparts” (40). Likewise, Hawthorne observes on the one hand that “although [Pynchon] satirizes [extreme stereotypes of masculine domination], his satire itself is grounded in phallocentric attitudes” (81) and observes on the other hand that “few Second Wave Feminists drew a picture so demeaning of men in general” (83). Thus we argue for a certain undecidability or ambivalence in Pynchon’s representations of men and women. In the case of the deleted sitcom, if we assume Pynchon understood that sitcoms were intended primarily for women, as Muriel G. Cantor says they were, we may infer either that his satire comes down at least a little more heavily on the men characters than on the women or that he skewers this form of popular entertainment as harshly, perhaps indeed as misogynistically, as he does Mafia Winsome’s novels about “Heroic Love” (V. 125–26).16
If the sitcom parody had remained part of the novel, it might have provided an additional signal that the White Goddess was an antiquated, no longer viable notion. But its presence in the 1956 plot might also have complicated the issue, since there Pynchon seems intent on exhibiting a somewhat greater variety of gender roles. In any case, there was other “Social Commentary” in the sitcom that made him want to delete it, and the correspondence between Pynchon and Smith indicates that Pynchon did not regard the sitcom characters as particularly significant to the rest of the novel. In fact, his remark in the letter to Smith of March 24 (see n. 13) about the stuffed monkey in the “Millennium” chapter might imply that he was oblivious of any connection between the women of the sitcom and the V. figure in the historical chapters. But obviously, Pynchon’s statements to Smith do not have to be taken as his only or definitive thoughts on the subject.
1. Genetic criticism of Pynchon’s fiction was once quite rare, consisting of studies of how the early short story “Under the Rose” (1961) was transformed into chapter 3 of V. (see Fowler, Martínez, Patteson, Seed); this changed when the complete typescript of V. in the Thomas Pynchon Collection became available in 2001. Especially when analyzed alongside the correspondence between Pynchon and Corlies “Cork” Smith, his editor for V. at J. B. Lippincott, the typescript offers new insights into Pynchon’s development as a young novelist. For more details, see Herman and Krafft, “Fast Learner.”
2. The reference to the TV show as part of chapter 27 is a simple slip, as Pynchon himself acknowledges on March 24 in a letter we turn to near the end of this essay. All the other chapter numbers mentioned in the March 13 letter correspond to those of the typescript, where the TV show is part of chapter 12. Pynchon’s “also” refers to the fact that in the first three points of his letter, he has announced other cuts, specifically of the chapters “Millennium” (10) and “No Man’s Land” (16) and two long speeches (one by the Italian irredentist Sgherraccio and one by an African American patriarch) in chapter 23 of the typescript. For our discussion of “Millennium,” see Herman and Krafft, “Monkey Business.” The speech by the patriarch is considered in Herman and Krafft, “Race.” The patriarch does not appear in the published novel, and only two references to Sgherraccio remain there (see Herman and Krafft, “Fast Learner” 8–9).
3. When we asked Smith in 2001 which protest novels or authors he might have meant here, he was quick to suggest James Baldwin, implying that Pynchon would have thought so as well. See also Herman and Krafft, “Race.”
4. The time references in this sequence in the published novel, unlike those in the typescript, are confused, a fact Pynchon himself deplores in a March 9, 1963, letter to Faith and Kirkpatrick Sale (Thomas Pynchon Collection).
5. The son’s name is Chip, which is also the name of the youngest character in the TV series My Three Sons; however, the episode “Chip Leaves Home,” in which he runs away, first aired in January 1962, months after Pynchon had submitted the typescript to Lippincott. Still, the runaway motif was a familiar one: for instance, the Leave It to Beaver episode “Beaver Runs Away” aired in June 1958.
6. The reference to “prime listening time” rather than “prime viewing time” may be the slip of an author (born in 1937) who grew up during the so-called golden age of radio.
7. Later on, a commercial reinforces this psychological theory, and it also brings up an all too familiar motif: “The commercial had to do with something called a living brassiere. Profane had no idea what this might be. Animate/inanimate? Wha. The models looked all right, and the commercial was well received by those in the bar” (TS 195–96).
8. “Togetherness” is the title not only of the short article Pynchon wrote for Aerospace Safety in December 1960 but also of an episode of Father Knows Best that aired in January of the same year. This doesn’t mean that Pynchon was inspired by Father Knows Best: he satirizes the concept of togetherness in passing in “The Small Rain” (1959) and in “Entropy” (1960) as well (Slow Learner 50, 91).
9. Sharon throws “stuffed animals” (TS 193) too, inanimate objects that connect with the stuffed monkeys owned by both Profane and an enigmatic young woman in the typescript chapter “Millennium,” also removed from the published novel (see Herman and Krafft, “Monkey Business”).
10. “Fresh and funny” is in quotation marks because Smith had used this phrase in his March 22 letter.
11. For a more detailed discussion of this revision, see Herman, “Pynchon’s Appeal.”
12. Another grand synthetic female figure is, of course, Henry Adams’s Virgin. But while Graves’s White Goddess informs the V. figure itself, the reference to Adams also included in these new pages seems to connect with the form rather than with the content of Stencil’s historiographical undertaking. In the typescript, Stencil’s self-references are still in the first person. In the final version, all of them have been converted to third person, just like Adams’s in The Education—a practice of self-reference the narrator likens in the new pages to that of “small children” and “assorted autocrats” (V. 62; see Herman, “Pynchon’s Appeal” 293, 300).
13. In the typescript, as elucidated by Pynchon’s March 24 letter to Smith, an avatar of V. has survived into the contemporary storyline: “It had been my fuzzy and half-assed intention to hint in the ‘Millennium’ chapter that V. had indeed progressed so far into the inanimate as to have become in 1955 (or whenever it was) a toy ape. However since Stencil never finds out about Profane’s adventure with this ape, the point is not worth a whole chapter to make” (Stephen Tomaske Collection). See Herman and Krafft, “Monkey Business.”
14. She overestimates him. Near the end of the novel, when Brenda Wigglesworth similarly assumes that “[b]oys do” “so much more” than girls do and asks almost enviously if he hasn’t learned from “all these fabulous experiences,” Profane answers, “No, … offhand I’d say I haven’t learned a goddamn thing” (454).
15. Profane realizes too late that he has lost New York’s “one unconnable (therefore hi-valu) girl” (453).
16. The latter reading would seem to be supported by the distancing effect of the largely or exclusively male bar-audience’s reactions.
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———. “Race in Early Pynchon: Rewriting Sphere in V.” Critique 52.1 (2011): 17–29.
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