Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 487
Pynchon’s story is not as stylistically interesting as its later reworking as chapter 3 of V, in which the story is fragmented into eight different segments told from eight different points of view. “Under the Rose,” though, is a polished work of fiction with a number of interesting aspects. Pynchon’s story is told straightforwardly by a third-person narrator, who is limited mostly to Porpentine’s point of view. As a result, the reader shares Porpentine’s thoughts while also regarding his actions from a distance. This narrative technique, traditional enough in modern literature, gives the story its combination of philosophical rumination and slapstick comedy. Even while Porpentine is trying to make sense out of his assignment and the actions of his partner and his enemies, he is engaged in buffoon-like behavior. He bursts into song in public, takes pratfalls, and engages in comic-opera fake assassination attempts. This combination of metaphysical musings and low comedy is typical of Pynchon’s fiction, although Porpentine’s surroundings mark the author’s first use of a historical and foreign setting (whose details he lifted from a copy of Karl Baedecker’s 1899 tourist guide to Egypt).
Also typical of Pynchon’s early fiction is his subtle use of allusion. As in most of Pynchon’s short stories, there are veiled references to T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922). For example, the story opens on a dry, dusty square in Alexandria with Porpentine wishing for rain. When rain comes, though, it is only in squalls and showers, not the steady, nourishing rain that is needed to make deserts bloom. The most obvious references in the story are Giacomo Puccini’s opera Manon Lescaut: Porpentine tends to burst into arias from the opera and it is Manon Lescaut that Lord Cromer is viewing during the assassination attempt. The opera itself is a story of foolish and doomed love that reflects both Goodfellow’s affair with Victoria and Porpentine’s foolish and romantic nature. At one point, realizing his impending failure, Porpentine compares himself to an inept singer in the Puccini opera.
Although Pynchon himself, in an introduction to his collected short stories, has denigrated “Under the Rose” as an “apprentice effort,” the story has an important place among the author’s works. It marks the beginning of Pynchon’s mature style, which would root itself in V. and fully blossom in Gravity’s Rainbow. In the story, characters are more fully realized than in his earlier fiction, although Pynchon’s particular style of comedy is truer and more amusing than in those stories. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the story is Pynchon’s command of physical detail. Working only from secondhand sources such as Baedecker, Pynchon is able to sketch in a physical environment and suggest a world and worldview that go with it. If not as fully accomplished as his later novels, “Under the Rose” marks a very good beginning.
Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 143
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