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  • Fast Learner:The Typescript of Pynchon’s V. at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin
  • Luc Herman and John M. Krafft

"Scripts're in the top drawer."

But they were all purple, Dittoed—worn, torn, stained with coffee. Nothing else in the drawer. "Hey. . . . Where's the original? What did you make these copies from?"

(Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49, 77–78)

In the spring of 2001, the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center (HRC) at The University of Texas at Austin announced its "acquisition of the corrected typescript to Thomas Pynchon's first novel, V. [1963]," along with eight letters written by Pynchon to Faith and Kirkpatrick Sale between 1960 and 1964 (Stephen Smith). Until now, critics have not had much apart from Pynchon's novels and stories to work on or with: the occasional letter; Pynchon's introduction to Slow Learner, his 1984 collection of the short stories he published between 1959 and 1964; some juvenilia (contributions to a high school newspaper, reprinted in the Pynchonbibliography by Clifford Mead); and a little nonfiction, including a New York Times Magazine article on the Watts riots. This lack of materials put Pynchon scholars at a disadvantage when it came to genetic criticism, in which texts are studied with a focus on their development. How did Pynchon's novels come to be what they are? We had almost no way of knowing until now, but the HRC typescript radically changes this situation with regard to V.

We were aided in the early stages of our research into the Ransom Center's acquisition by the late Stephen Tomaske, a librarian at California State University at Los Angeles who had been doing biographical research on Pynchon for some twenty years. Since we thought (perhaps erroneously) that Pynchon himself would not like to collaborate on this project, we approached Corlies ("Cork") Smith, Pynchon's editor for V. at the publishing house J. B. Lippincott. Smith was extremely forthcoming. We interviewed him by telephone and face to face, and he even provided us with nearly all his editorial correspondence with Pynchon about V.1 [End Page 1] Those letters proved invaluable, since they provide the key to the connection between the Ransom Center's typescript and the published novel.

The correspondence we have between Cork Smith and Pynchon starts in March 1960 with a "'Hello There!'" note from Smith and ends abruptly in June 1962 in the midst of a discussion about the place of a specific chapter in the eventual text. Thanks to the good offices of Pynchon's recently acquired agent, the famous Candida Donadio, Lippincott had bought his story "Low-lands" for inclusion in issue 16 of its New World Writing series, which came out in 1960. Donadio knew that Pynchon was writing a novel, and she managed to sell this unfinished novel to Lippincott as well. The date on the contract (as we learned from Tzofit Butler, the manager of theInformation Center Archives at HarperCollins, which currently holds the rights to V.) is January 29, 1960. Cork Smith told us in this connection that Lippincott also "faked up a delivery date. We put it like a year and a half later or something." Sure enough, on August 2, 1961, Smith wrote to Pynchon that Lippincott had accepted the novel. Smith recalls that, since the decision had to be cleared with his boss, he must have received the novel perhaps three or four weeks before the beginning of August, which means Pynchon delivered almost exactly on the fake date added at the time of the contract.

The novel reached Lippincott in a box via Pynchon's agent. Smith is adamant that this box contained a clean typewritten original. Therefore, that document is not what can now be consulted in Austin. The typescript acquired by the HRC is a copy rather than an original. To be more precise, the typescript features two kinds of copies, one black, the other various shades of blue. Sarah Funke, an employee of Glenn Horowitz Bookseller in New York, through whom the HRC bought the typescript, identified the blue pages as carbon copies. But the crispness of the type, evidence of scraping, and exactness of corrections on the...


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