Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Spring 2001 Newsletter

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Thomas Pynchon - A Passion for Secrecy

Perhaps the most enigmatic American literary figure of the latter half of the twentieth century, Thomas Pynchon is renowned for his passion for secrecy, in both his private and professional life. His writing has come to define if not presage an era of conspiracies, cultural paranoia, and hidden connections in history. Part of the beauty of his work resides in how seamlessly he weaves the personal lives and emotions of his eccentric characters into the larger fabric of historical events. It is therefore with great pleasure that the Ransom Center announces the acquisition of the corrected typescript to Thomas Pynchon's first novel, V., originally published in 1963. Until now, Pynchon scholarship has largely been limited to critical analyses because of the paucity of primary sources available to scholars.

Along with V., the Ransom Center has acquired eight typed letters dating from the early 1960s, from a young Pynchon to two close friends. The letters are witty, agonizing, insightful, imaginative, full of both doubt and bravado, and peppered with expletives. In short, they are a tremendous gauge of a young author's state of mind, and indicative of the brilliance that would follow in novels such as The Crying of Lot 49 and Gravity's Rainbow.

One letter from Mexico in 1964 details the profound effects of the Kennedy assassination on Pynchon's mental state. A negative review of V. and his self-professed inability to plot have him questioning his worth as a writer, but rejection from Cal-Berkeley's math department tips the balance back in favor of writing. Pynchon also describes his role as best man at the wedding of fellow author Richard Farina, who would die tragically in a motorcycle accident two years later.

Following the publication of Gravity's Rainbowin 1973, which is dedicated to Farina, Pynchon published no new novel for sixteen years, before returning to the scene with Vineland in 1989 and Mason & Dixon in 1997.

It is estimated that this early typescript of V. contains one hundred pages of scenes ultimately excised from the published novel, as well as a dozen pages reworked almost beyond recognition. The Pynchon material at the Ransom Center should prove of great scholarly value and is a welcome addition to a growing collection of later twentieth-century literary materials.

Stephen Smith
Special Assistant to the Director

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