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Gravity's Rainbow

28 February 1973

Gravity's Rainbow was published 28 February 1973, four years after Pynchon signed a contract with Viking which stated the writer had to deliver a novel that same year in December.

When the manuscript finally arrived at Corlies Smith's desk, it was described as a "free-swinging, wide-ranging story of numerous far-out characters in England and Europe at the end of World War II and immediately after -most of them haunted by the V-2 rocket bomb." [*]

The novel was awarded the National Book Award in 1974, was denied the Pulitzer Prize, and Thomas Pynchon declined the William Dean Howells Medal for it in 1975.

Gravity's Rainbow on this site

Excerpts from Criticism

"Pynchon is the devil who went beyond the grave to anatomize the remains of the modern soul. Like Death himself he is the ultimate collector, putting together the emotional, cultural, and historical life of his generation with a brilliance and depth that outstrips in scope what Thomas Mann did for the prewar world in The Magic Mountain, that equals James Joyce's compendium of his time in Ulysses. He plays Beethoven to Rilke's Schubert, developing from Rilke's encapsulated emotional statements operative definitions about the nature of science, thought, and civilization. Pynchon is quite simply the genius of his generation. He is the Antichrist who offered up his own destructiveness to illuminate yours. Pynchon is the one man who realized that the moralist of our time would have to be the devil".

Josephine Hendin. "What is Thomas Pynchon telling us?" Harper's Magazine, March 1975: 90.

In the only moment of pure salvation in the book, a witch named Geli Tripping loves Tchitcherine so well that she is able to cast a spell on him to make him give up his hate and relax into love. Pynchon comments: "This is magic. Sure-but not necessarily fantasy." Like the gaiety of her tripping with Slothrop, her magic is sympathetic; making a doll of her lover she chants a charm so that he, blinded by love, does not recognize his African half-brother, whom he had intended to kill. Some shaman magic is not just political.

Another kind of verbal play does not provide salvation, merely escape. Trapped at a menacing upperclass dinner party, Roger Mexico and Seaman Bodine manage to nauseate the diners into not noticing their departure by offering alliterative alternatives to the printed menu, such as "fart fondue" and "vegetables venereal." Again the humor is sophomoric, but sophistication in the context of the dinner party is suspect, and sophomores are loser to the baby the Aqyn had become than those who make the sounds of well-bred gagging heard throughout the dining room. If the effect of this wordplay, and of things like General Puddings more-than-naked midnight lunches, is repellent, they at the same time are signatures in the book's style signaling that in Gravity's Rainbow Pynchon attempts to escape the bad kind of bookishness that haunts Slothrop.

Maureen Quilligan. "Thomas Pynchon and the Language of Allegory." Critical Essays on Thomas Pynchon. Ed. Richard Pearce. G.K. Hall, Boston, Massachusetts, United States (1981): 187-212

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Notes
  1. More information on the publication story of Gravity's Rainbow can be found in ┬▒Gerald Howard. "Pynchon From A to V", Bookforum, Summer 2005: 29-34, 36-40. Quote is from this article.
  2. The Conference Gravity's Rainbow: The First 25 Years was organised in Antwerp in 1997. The conference papers are collected in Approach and Avoid: Pynchon Notes 42-43, Spring-Fall 1998 and guest edited by Luc Herman, the conference organiser. Information on the movie and number of victims is from his Introduction on page 9. Picture shows Rex theatre after the 16 December '44 hit (© Fotowerken Frans Claes).