Thomas Pynchon’s Lover and Lolita

“You’re just a victim of circumstances?” Judge Boutillini said to me as he looked into my eyes, trying to discover what I was concealing.

On the advice of my wife’s attorney, I did not tell the Judge who oversaw the child custody case of Britt Thoraldson that he presided over the case in Boston, when I took the Mafia to court – and won! They lost because they sent two goons to kill me, and – they failed. I was alive, and in a room on Beacon Hill with Mafia attorneys – negotiating a deal. They hated my long hair, and the truth I looked just like Jesus.

Boutillini unlocked the handcuffs that the bailiff had put on me when I was held in contempt of court for not showing up for our last court date. I was trying to conceal from the court I was on Social Security for being mentally unsound, I no table to function properly after I died on LSD, I one of the Guinea Pigs of LSD manufacturer whom I knew personally. I was afraid my wife would lose her thirteen year old daughter who I drove across country in a 1979 Ford Thunderbird. And now it is revealed I am mad, a killer on the road – or something like that! How could this “mother” expose her daughter to a Manson wanna-be? Rather then risk that I asked Maryanne for a divorce. We had known each for a two months before we got married, and after he son Eric attacked my wife in front of me, the six month child custody battle had taken its toll.

When I told Eric and Britt’s father that his son beat the crap out of his mother, his responce was;

“She had it coming. Maryanne is a “nut” as you will soon discover.”
“Your son is in trouble, emotionally. Your daughter told us Eric had strangled her, and she was growing afraid of him!”

This alleged father, being a hot-shot lawyer, responded with a lawsuit. But, first he sent his boss over to see me and explain why he represented my wife in the divorce where she came away with nothing. We sat cross-legged on our floor because I got rid of all the furniture and put down new carpetting with extra padding. The goons who tried to kill me in Boston, killed a little puppy instead and smeared blood all over the walls in the appartment they thoought I resided in.

My hot-shot hippie lawyer was winning my case, and advised me to move to the top floor after threats were made. When the lawyer for the Mafia chief (his cousin) did not show up for court, and, my attorney was late, I stood up, and suggested this to Judge Boutillini;

“Your honor, I think you should issue a warrent for ‘Failure To Appear’.”

The look Boutillini gave me, turned his face red.

“One more remark like that and I will hold you in contempt of court!”

Two days eerlier I caught the dude who said he had a bullet for me bribing the Building Inspector when they were up the street, two block from the Kennedy Family house. My attorney introduced me to Mayor White who said;

“It took alot of guts to stand up to these people.” while he shook my hnad.

The reason my wife’s attorney bid me to say nothing about the Judge knowing me in Boston, was they were fighting, he up for a Judgeship, and, it was hard to get a Oakland Judge to hear the case. It was a disfunctional legal – mess! Britt was in love with my female Lab, Diva. It was a Lab puppy I found stuffed behind the toilet, after I stood up to two monsters with knives in the hall. Everyone loves puppies. That’s why the Mafia lost! Most folks hate hippies after a long campaign by the CIA and War Hawks in our government – to destroy them.

Britt Thoraldson was a beautiful Nordic blonde, who had an I.Q higher then her mothers who was a member of Menza. Britt descends from Eric the Red. I bond with big-brained people. We can speak without words. Presenting her dilemma to me, whether she should become an artist, or a doctor, I suggested she look into Medical illustration. And, there we were, the three Prescos watching T.V. Britt on he tummy coloring in veins and arteries in a medical coloring book.

One day Britt shows me a piece of paper where upon is the code she wrote for her Simon Says machine. Brilliant Britt! Her mind was expanding at an incredible rate – as was her body. I was paying attention to her. Her father did not have the time.

I loved Britt, and all the way across country she wanted to swim. She did not care about seeing any of the sights. All she cared about was getting to the next K.O. camping ground, and into her bikini. She wanted me in the water with her, so we could play. I brought up the idea to Maryanne that my stepdaughter had a crush on me. So did her ex-husband, a powerful San Francisco attorney who had tried to destroy my wife during the wretched divorce, and now there was a legal tug of war with this Lolita. The ex knew about Marryanne’s two year affair with Thomas Pynchon who some claim knew Nabokov at Cornell. Maryanne mentioned she met him.

My brother drove Sue Lyon to her classes at Santa Monica City College, where they took classes. Sue played Lolita and was my sister-in-laws good friend. Mark owned a yellow 1965 Shelby Mustang.

As we got in the elevator, the Judge says to me;

“I know I have seen you before.”

Silence, followed by;

“Did you hear I caught two guys trying to escape the courthouse jail. They tied sheets together and dropped down in front of my window. I grabbed my gun and got them down on the ground. One was a thief and the other a murderer.

When I heard that it was all I could do to keep from saying;

“And then you nabbed the guy in the middle on Calvary Hill.

What really got to these legal dudes was three days hence, they put Britt on the witness stand, and asked her;

“Who would you like to live with, your father or Mr. Presco?”

Without hesitation, Britt says;

“I want to live with Greg!”

You could hear a pin drop. Everyone studied this thirteen year old girl to see what her motive was, what was going on here? Her father was wealthy and sent her to the finest private school in San Frncisco. Brit wanted to go to my school, McChanzie Junior Hight where Bill, Christine and Nancy Hamren went. Everyone now wanted to know what I did for a living, how much money I got, because that is what they valued. That’s what Britt’s father valued. But, he never he didn’t have time for his daughter, and he hater her mother whom I had done a life-size drawing of in the studio we made in the garage. It was a nude inspired by the only story Marryanne told me about her love affair with Thomas Pynchom. In a clasic hotel room in Mexico, Thomas bid Maryanne to stand nude before a mirror holding a rose. He asked her study herself because my ex had a sexual block that she was working on with a therapist when I met her. The first time we made love, Maryanne saw colors’

“Are you doing that?”

Maryanne began to have orgasms with me – that were very loud. I knew Britt and Eric, her fifteen year old adopted son heard their mothers amorous cries. And, that was out dirty little secret that no Judge could pry. So, this beautiful hippie, they did crucify. Because Love is better then money!

Nothing inappropriate happened between Britt and I – and there are court records to prove it, for they got Britt alone behind closed doors and gently grilled her. The only thing they found, was the time in a Motel, when after being on the road three days, I thought I and my wife could have very quiet sex, because Britt was sleeping in the bed next to us. That was a mistake. I was wrong.

I think that Motel was on Route 66.

I met Maryanne and Britt when I came to install a vegetable garden. When this beautiful woman saw the hundred drawings I did not Atlantis, she was blown away, because she majored in Architecture. She befriended Richard and Mimmi Farina.

“The drawings are worthy of a thesis. Why did you do them?”

“Atlantis has been my hobby since I was twelve. I weighed at that age whether I would be an artist, or and architect.”

Some folks call me a “parasite” because I am on SSI. But, think of what Christine and I could have achieved if we were not so severely handicapped and undermined by two alcoholic parents – who should have had all four of their children taken from them!

It was the drawing I did of my wife that started the custody battle. Eric was alarmed because it was anatomically correct. Even Maryanne’s did cologist said; “You have the most beautiful mound of venus I have scene!”

But, what was stunning, was the V of her abdomen that came down to her public hairs the my lead pencil explored. Britt saw this work, and the rose I put in her mother’s hand. No doubt this rose was discussed in sub rosa, by the child psychologist that interview Britt.

“Tell me about the nasty thing Greg did in the garage?”

So, we went on a Road Trip on Route 66 – ina V8 Thunderbird with two thousand miles on it. If Bill Cornwell thinks he got some air-time on our trip on 66, Maryanne, when it was her turn to drive – was flying!

I had just fallen asleep in the back seat, when I awoke to find myself floating in mid-air. I sat up and looked at the speedometer. Maryone had it up to 95 MPH, while Britt is going crazy on her Simon Says – because she spotted something real interesting. She has discovered the programmer lurking within the tiny computer. God knows where my wife’s big brain had drifted off to.

I hung Maryanne’s life-size protrait she did of Mimi Farina on the side of our Victorian house in Mile’s street in Oakland.

Jon Presco

Copright 2012

Let me begin by explaining my title. This essay presents biographical and textual evidence of Nabokov’s influence on Thomas Pynchon. Since both writers have a penchant for oddly appropriate names, I thought a clever title was in order. I toyed with The Crying of Lolita, Gradus’s Rainbow, and Veenland. As the essay took shape, however, I decided to focus on each writer’s first novel in English: Nabokov, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight; Pynchon, V. I considered the title “V-1 and V-2,” perhaps because I couldn’t get Gravity’s Rainbow out of my mind. But I was interested in the letter V’s shape, as well as the sound that it makes (or doesn’t make). I finally settled, then, on “The V-Shaped Paradigm.”

2Nabokov’s first English novel is filled with V’s, from the usual dedication “to Véra” opposite the copyright page to the violet theme, the knight’s move, the name of Sebastian’s mother Virginia, the spelling of “Sevastian” in Starov’s telegram, and the narrator’s first initial. The V that I have in mind appears in Sebastian’s novel Success, which investigates Fate’s attempts to bring two people together. In this essay, I use the design of Sebastian’s novel as a model for my own biographical investigation and for Nabokov’s and Pynchon’s narrative form. The novel’s structure, as Nabokov’s narrator describes it — “two lines which have finally tapered to the point of meeting” — is shaped like a letter V (97).

3The V shape offers an apt paradigm for the conjunction of these writers. Success, according to V.’s synopsis, traces “the exact way in which two lines of life were made to come into contact” (96). I begin, then, by finding and following the undulations of two other lives that ultimately converged.

4Fate managed to bring both Nabokov and Pynchon to Ithaca, New York, in the middle of this century. Nabokov arrived in 1948 after escaping from revolutionary Russia, Nazi Germany, and wartime France, and spending years curating lepidoptera at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology and teaching Russian at Wellesley. Pynchon arrived at Cornell as a student five years later, in 1953, although he promptly entered an undergraduate program in Engineering Physics that prevented him from taking Nabokov’s courses. After two years he left the program — but he also left Cornell altogether to join the Navy (Winston 257). In fall 1957 he returned, changed his major to English, and was able at last to take a class with Nabokov — and just in time, because Nabokov was already negotiating with Putnam’s for the American publication of Lolita. By February 1959, its phenomenal success had enabled him to leave teaching, academia, and Ithaca for good.

5For three semesters, then, these writers coexisted in Cornell’s literature departments; yet it is strangely difficult to pinpoint the extent of their contact. Pynchon may have taken one of Nabokov’s literature courses: 311-312, “Masters of European Fiction,” or 325-326, “Russian Literature in Translation.” But because his transcript is confidential, and his Cornell dossier has become lost property (Winston 252), it is not easy to determine which course he took, if any. A Pynchon scholar says it was “probably […] Nabokov’s large lecture course, which surveyed the Russian novel” (Plater 2); a Nabokov scholar, that it “surely was” Masters of European Fiction (Strong 77). The latter course is more likely, if only because by the time Pynchon returned to Ithaca it attracted ten times as many students (Boyd 315).

6One of Nabokov’s former students, Alfred Appel, told him that Pynchon had doubtless taken Literature 312, and asked what he thought of Pynchon’s fiction. Nabokov had no memory of Pynchon, however, and no knowledge of his work (Strong 77). Véra Nabokov, who often graded her husband’s exams, said she remembered his “unusual” handwriting, which combined cursive and printing: a detail appropriate to the conjunction of two writers and the orthographic nature of the V-shaped paradigm (Strong 77n3). Unfortunately, Charles Hollander, a scholar in pursuit of the very private Pynchon, has acquired “a bootlegged copy” of his transcript which shows no sign that he studied with Nabokov.

7Pynchon may have audited Masters of European Fiction, of course: one Cornell classmate told Hollander, “Everybody who was anybody audited the legendary Nabokov lectures” (12), and others report seeing him there. But even if Fate did bring Nabokov and Pynchon to the same classroom, at the same hour, three times a week, they would have had little interaction. Although Nabokov was a splendid lecturer, his relations with students were distant and magisterial. As he himself remarks, his “method of teaching precluded genuine contact” with them (Strong 104).

8Nabokov may still have influenced Pynchon even if he did not teach him. Nabokov was famous on campus: Masters of European Fiction, one of Cornell’s most popular courses, was known simply as “Nabokov” (Updike xxiv), and his lecture on “Readers, Writers and Censors in Russia,” in April 1958, drew such crowds that the Nabokovs themselves couldn’t find a parking space (Boyd 360). By the time Pynchon returned to Ithaca in 1957, moreover, the Olympia Press edition of Lolita was “circulated hotly around campus” (Kahn 229). Pynchon, his best friend Richard Fariña, and other young writers at Cornell all read it in this sub-rosa manner and developed what Boyd calls a “Nabokov cult” (316). They even asked him to read Lolita to a group of students and faculty; when he demurred, Fariña and professor Marc Szeftel read from it instead (Kahn 229-30).

9Did Fate ever succeed, then, in bringing Nabokov and Pynchon together? Field asserts that “there was no personal acquaintance between them” (273). Hollander argues that “no photo, letter or magazine article by any third party giving an eyewitness account of a meeting between” them has ever appeared (13). The only tangible evidence, aside from Véra Nabokov’s memory of Pynchon’s penmanship, is the fact that Pynchon mentions Nabokov in a 1959 grant application to the Ford Foundation to write an opera libretto — but even this bit of name-dropping doesn’t confirm that he knew the great writer personally (Weisenburger, “Thomas” 295).

10And yet, as in Sebastian’s novel, Fate made several attempts to unite them — from the classes that Pynchon may have audited to that student-faculty reading of Lolita which the evening’s host persuaded Nabokov not to attend (Field 305). Shortly before Pynchon returned to Cornell, Nabokov told Katharine White that he was culling his students for “potential New Yorker contributors” to recommend to her (Selected 202); I wonder if he would have given Pynchon such encouragement. I wonder, too, whether Pynchon attended Nabokov’s lecture on Soviet censorship but was too shy to introduce himself afterwards. Even better, I like to imagine that Pynchon was the anonymous student who in the fall of 1957 walked up to Professor Nabokov, bearing a copy of the Olympia Press Lolita, and simply bowed (Boyd 316).

11But does it matter whether their lives converged in the flesh or on the page? The narrator of The Real Life of Sebastian Knight seems to be Sebastian’s ideal successor and biographer because he read his work so attentively. The same could be said of Pynchon’s relation to Nabokov. We know that he read Lolita at Cornell, and he often alludes to it — as in the reference to “these Humbert Humbert cats coming on so big and sick” in The Crying of Lot 49 (147). But Pynchon’s fiction indicates that he studied Nabokov’s other works as well.1 He may have read Pnin, in particular, because it was published and nominated for the National Book Award the year he returned to Ithaca, and was thought at Cornell to be a caricature of Russian history professor Marc Szeftel (Boyd 288-89).2 But he could have also read Laughter in the Dark (1932; trans. 1938), The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941), Bend Sinister (1947), Conclusive Evidence (1951), and — by the time Nabokov left Ithaca —Nabokov’s Dozen (1958). He probably knew of these works, too, because at the meeting where Szeftel and Fariña read from Lolita, Szeftel discussed what he called the novel’s primary motifs — destiny, doubles, and games — in terms of Nabokov’s previous writing (Szeftel 28). Moreover, Nabokov’s other English fiction was readily available: because he taught at Cornell, the university library collected first editions of his works (Strehle 39; Kann 237).

12As an aspiring young writer, Pynchon must have been especially fascinated by The Real Life of Sebastian Knight. It is a masterpiece of narrative complexity; a technical tour de force, its author’s first novel in English; a detailed account of a writer’s development; and a thorough evocation of the literary life — from writer’s block, romantic inspiration, and the revision process to agents, editors, and reviewers. Although we do not know when Pynchon read it, textual evidence indicates that he did so before he wrote his own novel. V. first took shape as a short story, “Under the Rose,” that Pynchon wrote at Cornell in 1959 and later expanded into the novel’s third chapter. Pynchon characterizes the story as a case of “literary theft,” although he cites only Baedeker’s 1899 guide to Egypt and Buchan’s and Oppenheim’s espionage fiction as sources (Introduction xxvii-xxviii). Certainly the most Nabokovian elements in the novel are not present in the story. But by the time Pynchon completed V. in 1963, he had obviously read Sebastian Knight.

13V. resembles Nabokov’s novel in plot, character, narration, and style.3 To describe Sebastian Knight’s influence on V., however, I want to invoke the V‑shaped paradigm. Pynchon’s novel is organized around the letter V’s eerie proliferation. It has two major storylines: first, the picaresque adventures of Benny Profane, hapless schlemihl and human yo-yo, as he careens around America and Europe in the 1950s; second, the sinister appearances of a woman named “V.” at pivotal moments in European history. Connecting these plots is Benny’s friend Stencil, who is obsessed with V. and who narrates the chapters in which she appears. In tracing Sebastian Knight’s influence on Pynchon’s novel, I will focus on the letter V, the lady V., and Stencil’s role as obsessed, dissociated, unreliable narrator.

14Pynchon’s title alludes directly to Nabokov’s narrator in Sebastian‑ Knight. That initial stands for many things, however. Just as V.’s true identity in Sebastian Knight remains obscure — a mystery emphasized by Nabokov’s linguistic play with the letter — so the referent for “V.” in Pynchon’s novel seems to change each time it appears. Like Nabokov before him, Pynchon evokes both its labial sound (his characters’ names are filled with f’s as well as v’s) and its visual appearance, which he repeats and inverts in capital N’s, M’s, and W’s (Stimpson 82). Chapter 3, for example, opens with several analogies for the letter’s shape: “As spread thighs are to the libertine, flights of migratory birds to the ornithologist, the working part of his tool bit to the production machinist, so was the letter V to young Stencil” (50). (Those migratory birds even echo Sebastian Knight’s “V-shaped flight of migrating cranes” [139]). The letter also appears in words like “venery,” “virgin,” and “veil”; in the Roman numeral V; in allusions to the Virgin Mary and Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”; in references to such places as “Vheissu,” “Venezuela,” “Vesuvius,” “Valletta,” “the Vatican,” and a club called “The V-Note”; and in names of characters like “Varkumian” and “Vogelsang.”

15The letter recurs, in particular, in various avatars of V. herself: Victoria Wren, Veronica Manganese, Vera Meroving, and simply V. This elusive femme fatale evokes a similar figure in Sebastian Knight: Madame Lecerf, also known as Nina Toorovetz and Nina Rechnoy, who pretends to be Helene von Graun and resembles Sebastian’s mother Virginia. Just as Nabokov’s narrator learns of Nina’s existence when he finds her letters among his brother’s papers after his death, so young Stencil discovers a cryptic reference to V. in his father’s journals after his death: “There is more behind and inside V. than any of us had suspected. Not who, but what: what is she” (43). Like Nabokov’s narrator, Stencil sets off on this mysterious woman’s trail so as to elucidate his relative’s death and give meaning to his own life. Like Nabokov’s narrator, too, he becomes utterly obsessed with her. Pynchon further emphasizes the œdipal nature of this search, since Stencil believes that V. was his father’s lover. Whereas Nabokov considers the bond between half-brothers, Pynchon is concerned with father-son relationships and “apostolic succession” — a preoccupation that suggests his sense of himself as Nabokov’s literary heir (52).

16Despite these V’s and femmes fatales, it is Stencil’s role that shows Sebastian Knight’s influence most clearly. Like Nabokov’s narrator, he is a self-styled detective, “a professional spy without any employer” (51). Although V. investigates literary biography, and Stencil history, their approaches are identical. Stencil, too, depends on what Nabokov’s narrator calls “inner knowledge” of his quarry (33). He too has great expectations for the “grand Gothic pile of inferences” that he is “hard at work creating” (209). Just as V. believes that Sebastian’s life and art will reveal to him the very meaning of existence, the “absolute solution” (180), so Stencil plans to decode “the century’s master cabal” (210). Like V., moreover, Stencil becomes so fixated on the object of his search that he loses his own identity. Practicing a “forcible dislocation of personality,” he refers to himself, even in casual conversations, “in the third person” (51). If he has any identity, he muses at one point, it is “He Who Looks for V.” (210).

17In both novels, the detective’s obsession makes him unreliable. Stencil’s narration is the most significant change that Pynchon made in “Under the Rose” when he transformed it — after reading Sebastian Knight, I believe — into the third chapter of V. The short story matter-of-factly presents the events surrounding a secret agent’s death in Egypt in 1899. The chapter filters those same events through several points of view, just as Nabokov’s narrator embeds various versions of Sebastian in his biography. As in Nabokov’s novel, moreover, it turns out that those perspectives may have been forged by the narrator. Despite the verisimilitude of the events he narrates, Stencil admits that his only evidence is a few “veiled references” in his father’s journals; the rest is “impersonation and dream” (52).

18Stencil’s name — referring to a process by which letters are formed, and thus suggesting the single initial that identifies Nabokov’s narrator — encapsulates their similarity. That stenciling is a kind of duplication emphasizes that both narrators experience life vicariously. But a “stencil” is also a pattern or design produced by a stencil, just as each narrative’s apparent web of sense is fabricated by its narrator. In V., for example, when Stencil retells an anecdote he has just heard, it is quite different; as another character says, it “ha[s] become […] Stencilized” (211). Because of these associations with writing, repetition, and reproduction, the name may also be Pynchon’s covert acknowledgment that he used another text as model


Lolita is a novel by Vladimir Nabokov, written in English and published in 1955 in Paris and 1958 in New York. It was later translated by its Russian-native author into Russian. The novel is notable for its controversial subject: the protagonist and unreliable narrator, middle-aged literature professor Humbert Humbert, is obsessed with the 12-year-old Dolores Haze, with whom he becomes sexually involved after he becomes her stepfather. His private nickname for Dolores is Lolita.
The book is also notable for its writing style. The narrative is highly subjective as Humbert draws on his fragmented memories, employing a sophisticated prose style, while attempting to gain the reader’s sympathy through his sincerity and melancholy, although near the end of the story Humbert refers to himself as a “maniac” who “deprived” Dolores “of her childhood”, and he shortly thereafter states “the most miserable of family lives was better than the parody of incest” in which they were involved.
After its publication, Lolita attained a classic status, becoming one of the best-known and most controversial examples of 20th century literature. The name “Lolita” has entered pop culture to describe a sexually precocious girl. The novel was adapted to film by Stanley Kubrick in 1962, and again in 1997 by Adrian Lyne. It has also been adapted several times for stage and has been the subject of two operas, two ballets, and an acclaimed but failed Broadway musical.
Lolita is included on Time’s list of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005. It is fourth on the Modern Library’s 1998 list of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th century. It also made the World Library’s list of one of The 100 Best Books of All Time.

V. is the debut novel of Thomas Pynchon, published in 1963. It describes the exploits of a discharged U.S. Navy sailor named Benny Profane, his reconnection in New York with a group of pseudo-bohemian artists and hangers-on known as the Whole Sick Crew, and the quest of an aging traveller named Herbert Stencil to identify and locate the mysterious entity he knows only as “V.” It was nominated for a National Book Award.

The novel alternates between episodes featuring Benny, Stencil and other members of the Whole Sick Crew (including Profane’s sidekick Pig Bodine) in 1956 (with a few minor flashbacks), and a generation-spanning plot which comprises Stencil’s attempts to unravel the clues he believes will lead him to “V.” (or to the various incarnations thereof). Each of these “Stencilised” chapters is set at a different moment of historical crisis; the framing narrative involving Stencil, “V.”, and the journals of Stencil’s British spy/diplomat father threads the sequences together. The novel’s two storylines increasingly converge in the last chapters (the intersecting lines forming a V-shape, as it were), as Stencil hires Benny to travel with him to Malta.
The Stencil chapters are:
[edit] Chapter Three
This chapter, set among the British community in Egypt toward the end of the 19th century, consists of an introduction and a series of eight relatively short sections, each of them from the point of view of a different person. The eight sections come together to tell a story of murder and intrigue, intersecting the life of a young woman, Victoria Wren, the first incarnation of V. The title is a hint as to how this chapter is to be understood: Stencil imagines each of the eight viewpoints as he reconstructs—we do not know on how much knowledge and how much conjecture—this episode. This chapter is a reworking of Pynchon’s short story “Under the Rose”, which was first published in 1961 and is collected in Slow Learner (1984). In the Slow Learner introduction, Pynchon admits he took the details of the setting (“right down the names of the diplomatic corps”) from Karl Baedeker’s 1899 travel guide for Egypt. Stencil’s reconstruction follows the same basic conflict as “Under the Rose”, but it gives the non-European characters much more personality.

Things “under the rose,” or sub rosa, are prevalent in Pynchon. These terms are used in V., The Crying of Lot 49 and Gravity’s Rainbow. Espionage is the most obvious system of secrecy in this short story. A variety of elements or systems may be recognized as sub-versions of the rose. Victoria Wren’s sexual aura (bud or bloom?) is paralleled to the Yorkshire sunset which reminds Porpentine of Home–but it is under the Egyptian sun that the English Porpentine feels exposed to the “danger” of becoming Eastern. Her sexuality is also linked to religious love, under which Porpentine’s sense of morality tends towards a general regard for humanity as opposed to an identification with individuals. Porpentine notes that his own generation “has budded, bloomed, and, sensing some blight in the air, folded its petals up again like certain flowers at sunset”(p. 114). Pynchon uses vocabulary of location such as the “rue de Rosette,” the “Rosetta arm” of the Nile and the “Quartier Rosetti.” Spying, sexuality, issues of Imperialism and the subaltern, systems of faith and morality (in particular, related to a Christian model), time and spatial orientation are all themes which Pynchon develops in his later works. In many ways, “Under the Rose” may be read as a type of allegory in which Porpentine the protagonist tries to protect himself from decadence as he struggles to understand the system under which he is living. Characters like Goodfellow, Victoria and Palmerston, places like Shepheard’s hotel and Porpentine’s literal falls contextualize his questions of “cleanness” and “virtù.” Pynchon later deals with typically allegorical material, the cardinal virtues and the seven deadly sins, in Gravity’s Rainbow, in which a main character is named Slothrop. It is also interesting to compare “Under the Rose” to works of the late nineteenth-century Decadence movement in France, in which flowers a malaise similar to Porpentine’s realizations of ambiguities in gender roles (intuition, virility), inversions of moral norms, the subversion of biological nature (Bongo-Shaftsbury’s arm), and information gained by picking up a prescription for laudanum.
Whatever perspective is taken in reading “Under the Rose,” it is obviously a story about viewpoints. It begins with an afternoon actively progressing, is written primarily in third person but voices an “I” belonging to the main character, and ends with an evaluation of Goodfellow that could be classified as a woman’s opinion about his capacity as a lover. In Chapter 3 of V., “In which Stencil, a quick-change artist, does eight impersonations,” the material in “Under the Rose” is processed from seven human vantage points, and one inanimate view. V. also develops ideas from “Under the Rose” involving Machiavellian ideals.

Sue Lyon was 14 years old when she was cast in the role of Dolores “Lolita” Haze, the sexually charged adolescent and the object of an older man’s obsessions in Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 film, Lolita.[1] She was chosen for the role partly because her curvy figure suggested an older adolescent. Based on the Vladimir Nabokov novel of the same name, Kubrick’s Lolita, though a toned-down version of the book (Lolita is only 12 at the beginning of the novel and 17 at the end),[2] was nonetheless one of the most controversial films of its day. Lyon was 16 when the film premiered in September 1962. She became an instant celebrity and won a Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer – Female. Despite her inexperience, she was praised for holding her own in scenes with the three top-billed stars of the film, James Mason, Shelley Winters, and Peter Sellers

About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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