Under the Rose Summary
by Thomas Pynchon

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Under the Rose Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Under the Rose” centers on the activities of Porpentine, a British spy in Egypt during the Fashoda crisis of 1898, when the British forces of General Kitchener encountered a French expeditionary troop in the contested area of the Sudan. The “Situation,” as it is referred to in the story, portends an international crisis that could lead to war in Europe, but the real focus of “Under the Rose” is on a small company of secret agents hoping either to promote or to prevent the final catastrophe.

Porpentine and his partner, Robin Goodfellow, are committed to preventing the “balloon” from “going up,” their phrase for the outbreak of an international catastrophe. They are opposed in their efforts by a group of agents, presumably German, who are equally committed to the eventual outbreak of war. The foreign agents are led by an old veteran spy named Moldwoerp and include his subordinate Lepsius and one other agent unfamiliar to the British. Porpentine soon deduces, though, that the other agent is actually one Hugh Bongo-Shaftsbury, supposedly an amateur British archaeologist.

Bongo-Shaftsbury has attached himself to the family of Sir Alastair Wren, who are on tour. In turn, Goodfellow has formed an attachment to Sir Alastair’s oldest daughter, Victoria. The entire company of tourists and spies embarks on the train for Cairo, and en route Goodfellow is nearly killed by an Arab hired by Lepsius. Bongo-Shaftsbury also manages to frighten Victoria’s young sister, Margaret, when he shows her an electrical throw switch stitched into his arm.

In Cairo, Porpentine observes Goodfellow and Victoria in bed together, although Goodfellow is apparently impotent. Despite this interlude, the British agents get to work. They believe that the foreign spies are planning to assassinate Lord Cromer, the British consul-general, hoping that the incident will precipitate the general crisis into all-out war. To try to force the diplomat to take precautions, the two stage several mock assassination attempts, but Cromer seems to take no notice of them.

(The entire section is 494 words.)