From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 19.1 (1999): 27-39.
Copyright © 1999, The Cervantes Society of America

Dulcinea and Pynchon's V.


Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra's Don Quijote de la Mancha has often inspired and continues to inspire novelists, poets, painters, and musicians. Indeed, already in Part II, Sancho Panza himself seems to have glimpsed his book's creative, inspirational power: “‘Yo apostaré . . . que antes de mucho tiempo, no ha de haber bodegón, venta ni mesón, o tienda de barbero, donde no ande pintada la historia de nuestras hazañas’”1 (1092). Within its own genre, naturally, Don Quijote's influence has always been particularly active: as Thomas Hart has written, “Cervantes has served as a precursor, often a gratefully acknowledged one, for some of the greatest of later novelists” (3).
     It would be small wonder, then, that the fiction of the contemporary American novelist Thomas Pynchon (n. 1937), the “creator of the most significant body of fiction in contemporary America” (Cowart 3), has been linked to Don Quijote.2 While Pynchon's impressive Gravity's Rainbow (1973) has been formally compared to Don Quijote,3 it is rather his first novel, V. (1963), which revealed the clearest ties to the archetypal Spanish novel of 1605-1615, at least before

     1 All references in this study to Don Quijote de la Mancha are from the Editorial Juventud's one-volume edition (Barcelona: 1955).
     2 My “Cervantine Echoes in Early Pynchon” (Cervantes 8 [1988]: 47-58) may serve as an example.
     3 Edward Mendelson, for instance, has stated that “Gravity's Rainbow is an encyclopedic narrative, and its companions in this most exclusive of literary categories are Cervantes' Don Quixote . . .” (161).



the publication by Henry Holt in April 1997 of the “astonishing and wonderful” (Menand 23) Mason & Dixon.4 One of the most perceptive Pynchon critics, Tony Tanner, has written as follows: “Pynchon's novel [V.] can be seen as a modern repetition and distortion of what is the paradigm novel for Western fiction, Don Quixote” (Thomas Pynchon 42). Tanner, who continues with a reference to the “unusual but brilliantly handled way” in which the Pynchon characters Stencil and Profane “echo” Don Quijote and Sancho Panza (47),5 also remarks that “Stencil's search for ‘V.’” constitutes “something of a travesty of the traditional quest” (44). He does not, however, develop a comparison between Dulcinea, Don Quijote's ideal lady, and the elusive “lady V.” (V. 41)6; such a comparison will be the subject of my study. It is my contention that to the Pynchon character Eigenvalue's question “‘Who then is V.?’,” one can answer that she is, at least in part, Dulcinea, a Dulcinea recast in a typically indeterminate postmodernist mode.
     Since it is impossible to analyze Dulcinea apart from her “creator,” Don Quijote, I shall begin by discussing V.'s principal Don Quijote character, Herbert Stencil (also called “young Stencil” to distinguish him from his father Sidney, “old Stencil”); indeed, D. E. Howe considers “the question of Stencil's identity” more crucial than that of V.'s (170). As noted above, various critics have duly commented upon quixotic characteristics in Stencil, who is tall, thin, and about fifty-five years-old. Like Don Quijote and Dulcinea, Stencil discovers V. in a written text —not, of course, romances of chivalry, but rather a journal kept by Sidney Stencil, a Foreign Office employee; apparently referring to the girl Victoria Wren, whom old Stencil had met in Egypt in 1898, Sidney wrote in Florence the following year: “There is more behind and inside V. than any of us had suspected. Not who, but what: what is she” (53). As was the case

     4 T. Coraghessan Boyle, reviewing Mason & Dixon for The New York Book Review (18 May 1997: 9), begins his review with “Think of the names linked forever in our collective memory —Quixote and Panza . . . .” The novel contains many other echoes of Don Quijote, for instance the following: the narrator Rev. Cherrycoke as an “untrustworthy Remembrancer” (8), Mason left hanging from a window in “malicious fun” by a young girl (89), a character's condemnation of novels on behalf of those “seduced accross the sill of madness by these irresponsible narratives” (351), and Mason's death from Melancholy (762).
     5 Mackey even refers to Stencil as “Don Stencil” (25). I myself see little of Sancho Panza in Profane, except for his physical appearance and his status as “companion.”
     6 My references to V. are to the 1990 Harper & Row edition.

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with Dulcinea, who Don Quijote at one point admits to Sancho is not a “real” person but a literary construct (“no todos los poetas que alaban damas . . . es verdad que las tienen . . . píntola en mi imaginación como la deseo” [I 249-250]), young Stencil has never knowingly met nor will he meet during the novel the historical V., if indeed she ever existed. (The possibility even exists that she may be his mother.) Instead, he pursues all the V.-signifiers which he comes across in his father's journal and in other sources: V. as Vera Meroving, Veronica Manganese, Botticelli's Venus, the mysterious country Vheissu, the bar The V.-Note, the rat Veronica, etc. Again recalling the bored elderly hidalgo's “futile obsession” (Close 108) with Dulcinea, Stencil's quest for V. is a way for him to give structure and meaning to his empty life: “‘It may be that Stencil has been lonely and needs something for company,’” Herbert Stencil himself comments (54). (It is interesting that Stencil always refers to himself in the third person, but Don Quijote only does that when he is composing his versions of the chronicles of his exploits to be written by the “sabio encantador.”)
     Stencil is a much flatter character than Don Quijote; he is truly little more than a stencil, a mere tracing of a man. In fact, Steven Connor's definition of postmodernism could serve as a good definition of Stencil's essence: “intense and undiminishable reflexivity” (viii-ix). He, as a tracing, exemplifies what Menard, in his review of Mason & Dixon, refers to as “the cost of making sense” (25). Stencil's absurd quest may well cause today's readers to call to mind the computer addict who spends hour after hour online. Don Quijote, mad though he be, had solid goals to pursue, the goals of personal honor and the betterment of society (I 38). Stencil's search for V. is a lifeless paper-search, an arid attempt to track down information for information's sake, for the sterile value of tracing connections. He is a genuine “derealizing” (Jameson 152) postmodern representation. In the novel's final chapters, he asks Maijstral if “‘Is it really his [Stencil's] own extermination he's after?’” (451). The last line of the note Stencil leaves for Paola's father reveals even more clearly his emptiness: “Dispose as you will of Profane [who is quite ill]. Stencil has no further need for any of you” (452). When one compares this selfish statement with what Don Quijote tells Sancho in the climactic “azotamiento” scene —“‘No permita la suerte, Sancho amigo, que por el gusto mío pierdas tú la vida . . . . espere Dulcinea mejor coyuntura’” (II 1091), one realizes that Stencil is a void, his “undiminishable reflexivity” a reflexivity feeding on an absence of true selfhood.


     Yet both Cervantes and Pynchon critics have conceded that their two characters' quests have at least some value for the questers: “Don Quijote's madness propels him backward into life. It enables him . . . to engage in purposeful and meaningful activity” (Johnson 210); Stencil “fears that if his quest were to be brought to some kind of terminus, he would lose the energy and enthusiasm he now feels” (Van Delden 120). It is clearly the activity itself that is important. In fact, the two middle-aged men exhibit what Mackey, making use of a phrase from V. (55), calls an “approach-avoidance syndrome” (22) during their search. When Sancho returns with a (fabricated, of course) message from Dulcinea, asking don Quijote to go to see her, the knight refuses, mentioning prior obligations (I 320-321); when they arrive at El Toboso in Part II to visit the “princess,” Don Quijote eagerly accepts Sancho's suggestion that he [Don Quijote] hide in the woods while Sancho searches for the noble lady's dwelling (624). For his part, Stencil keeps putting off going to Malta, near which his father drowned and where the mystery of V. could possibly be resolved. When he finally does reach Malta, he soon dashes off to Sweden, pursuing a “much weaker clue, escaping that moment of ultimate despair, when we realize that we have . . . achieved nothing” (New 101), the moment of profound desengaño which Don Quijote experiences after the disastrous adventure of the enchanted boat: “‘Yo no puedo más’” (II 786).
     Early in the novel, Stencil realizes that he dare not find V.: “Finding her: what then? Only that what love there was to Stencil had become directed entirely inward. . . . To sustain it he had to hunt for V.; but if he should find her, where else would there be to go but back into half-consciousness?” (55). As does Don Quijote with respect to romantic love for real women, Stencil suffers from the “inability to love anyone outside [his] own fantasy projections” (Tanner, “V.” 28) When Don Quijote regains his sanity and relinquishes his quest at the novel's close, he has fallen ill of a fever brought on by “melancolías y desabrimientos” (II 1105) —deep depression (indeed, Kristeva considers “intolerance of object loss” a principal characteristic of melancholia [10]).
     Of course, Dulcinea and V. are not only disembodied fantasy women. Don Quijote mentally transformed the pretty (“de muy buen parecer” [I 41]) peasant girl Aldonza Lorenzo into his “sin par” Dulcinea, using the heroines of the books of chivalry as his models. In the canonical text, Dulcinea takes on four corporal forms: Aldonza, the crude peasant wench who Sancho insists is Dulcinea

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under enchantment,7 the young page who impersonates Dulcinea during the forest pageant arranged by the Duke and Duchess, and —in the novel's penultimate chapter— the hare8 chased by hunters which Don Quijote identifies with Dulcinea. V. also takes on various corporal forms: the English girl Victoria, the sadistic Vera Meroving of the decadent South African siege party, the “lady V.” who is the sterile lover of Mélanie in Paris, the Veronica Manganese whom old Stencil encountered in Malta shortly before his (accidental?) death, and the sewers-dwelling rat Veronica “converted” by the mad Jesuit Father Fairing. V.'s final manifestation as the Bad Priest will receive special attention later in this essay.
     A good part of the humor surrounding Don Quijote's fair Dulcinea is the contrast between the frail, lovely maiden of the elderly knight's courtly dreams and the husky, coarse, boyish peasant girl whom he transforms into Dulcinea. When Sancho first learns that Aldonza is the “real” Dulcinea, he exclaims: “‘es moza de chapa, hecha y derecha y de pelo en pecho. . . .  ¡Oh hideputa, qué rejo que tiene, y qué voz!” (I 248). From then on, the reader is always aware of the ridiculous disparity between Aldonza and Dulcinea; as Close has observed, “a grotesque vein of comedy envelops the theme of Dulcinea . . .” (89). This “grotesque vein” culminates in the much-analyzed “Cueva de Montesinos” dream sequence, in which Don Quijote encounters Sancho's peasant Dulcinea “saltando y brincando como cabra” and incongruously sending one of her ladies to ask for a loan of six reales, with a cotton petticoat as surety for the loan (II 738). Don Quijote does not have the full amount to give her, which is a considerable blow to his male psyche; as Johnson puts it, “If Don Quixote's all is not enough, then Dulcinea comes apart” (159).
     The possible bodily death of V. —her literal “coming apart”— occurs in Chapter Eleven: “Confessions of Fausto Maijstral.” Maijstral, a Maltese writer with whom we have noted that Stencil finally connects, wrote his Confessions for his daughter, Paola, who may be V.'s heiress. (Once again, I shall return to Paola later.) Maijstral relates how V., now disguised as the “Bad Priest” and preaching the

     7 It is interesting that only one of the numerous Lladró figurines which portray Don Quijote and Sancho includes a “Dulcinea”: it is Number 5341, “I've Found Thee, Dulcinea,” which shows Don Quijote kneeling before Sancho's peasant Dulcinea (247), not the ideal lady.
     8 Pynchon also compares V. to a hunted hare: “V. ambiguously a beast of venery, chased like the hart, hind or hare” (61).


doctrine of the inanimate, is dismantled by a group of Maltese children during a Second World War bombing of Valletta. The scene has marked similarities to the Montesinos episode. Like Don Quijote, Maijstral descends to the encounter with V. in a dazed state (“lurched down a slope of debris” in “a blank space” (341). Feeling “like a spy” (Don Quijote is basically an observer in the cave episode), he watches the children take apart the figure of the Bad Priest. “‘She comes apart,’” one of the children shouts, as they detach her artificial foot, her false teeth, and glass eye. The former seminarian Maijstral feels impotent to stop what is happening, but he finally reacts enough to give the dying woman Extreme Unction; he will be forever haunted by his inability to put a stop to the dismantling: “‘I wake. . . . and am no farther from nightmare’” (341). Don Quijote, also, will continue to be haunted by his visions in the cave.
     Obviously, it is Fausto Maijstral, not Herbert Stencil, whom one identifies with Don Quijote in the above episode. Maijstral is not the only Don Quijote doubling in V., however; several other characters have ties with the Spanish knight. These characters include the elderly Signor Mantissa, who is infatuated with Botticelli's famous painting of Venus rising from the sea. On the verge of stealing it from the Uffizi (with the help of his cohort the Gaucho), he suddenly recoils from the emptiness behind the painting's flat surface: “‘A gaudy dream, a dream of annihilation,’” says the Gaucho (21). The elderly explorer Godolphin, who had met Victoria herself earlier, is obsessed with the (real? unreal?) country Vheissu and its unearthly changing colors; he too concludes that “‘It was Nothing that I saw’” (204), but he cannot keep himself from “living in the past” (241). Herbert's father Sidney shares his son's obsession with V.; he also prefers to live in the past, so much so that when he meets V. in Malta, he automatically connects “meeting V. with dying” (386). These Quijote doublings call to mind the various doublings that have been noted between Don Quijote and several other characters. Cardenio, like Don Quijote, is a courtly madman; Anselmo of “El curioso impertinente,” dies of melancholy after he has become “desengañado” of his mad obsession with his wife Camila's purity; 9 Don Diego de Miranda may be a bourgeois Don Quijote, what the knight could have been if he had not gone mad. V. is a young man's novel, cerebral but

     9 The young engineer Mondaugen, trying to protect his friend the elderly Godolphin from V. in South Africa, sings to him as follows: “‘Dreams will keep you safe and strong,’” but “‘should the Angel come this night,’” then “‘Dreams will help you not at all’” (254).

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extremely funny; none of its basically static characters have anywhere near the depth and complexity of the mature Cervantes's characters. Yet the above-named male V. characters constantly bring Don Quijote to mind, although Stencil and company, who are completely self-fixated, reveal none of Don Quijote's altruistic desires to make the world a better place in which to live and dream. Stencil, in the final analysis, is a reduced Don Quijote, essentially “He Who Looks for V.” (226). This reductionism in itself reinforces one of V.'s principal themes, the entropic process of dehumanization, a major theme in the fiction of Thomas Pynchon.
     Dulcinea and V. are markedly ambiguous/indeterminate characters. (This form of characterization continues in Mason & Dixon's presentation of Mason's wife, “the many-Lens'd Rebekah” [195].) Both Dulcinea and V. are constantly present in the minds of their questers; both are elusive, ever-changing —which may perhaps contribute to what Charlotte Stern considers the tendency of “Cervantine critics . . . to shy away from Dulcinea” (61). Don Quijote criticism, with its broad divisions into “hard” [comic, realistic] and “soft” [romantic, idealistic] interpretations, has presented two very different Dulcineas: the ideal Dulcinea as the supreme courtly model competes with Dulcinea harshly viewed as a “physical nothing” (Efron 67), whose pursuit prevents Don Quijote from facing up to the real world. Keeping in mind both Girard's profound observation that “Nothing is further from [Cervantes] than the ‘right and wrong,’ Manichean concept of the novel” (96-97), as well as the postmodernist tendency to deconstruct binary oppositions, I shall continue in this final section with analysis of the two heroines.
     Dulcinea, as a comic version of the courtly lover's unattainable lady —what Terpening calls “an anti-donna angelicata” (4)—, exists in distant splendor only in Don Quijote's overheated imagination. She exists, because it is necessary for a knight to have a lady (according to Hegel, “the necessity of a concept is the principal thing; and the process of its production as a result is its proof and deduction” [Philosophy of Right, Introduction 2, p. 9]). Yet Don Quijote finally gets around to giving her a name only after he has decided upon names for himself and for his horse: “no le faltaba otra cosa sino buscar una dama de quien enamorarse” (I 40). When asked by the Duchess to describe Dulcinea, he admits that she may well be an imaginary creation: “‘Dios sabe si hay Dulcinea o no en el mundo, o si es fantástica, o no es fantástica” (II 809). She is for him what Brody has called the courtly lover's “struggle to preserve the ideal from destruction” (221). Cervantes, strongly influenced by Renaissance


Neoplatonism as Castro and others have demonstrated, would never make fun of beauty and purity per se, but he was too much of a realist not to make fun of his lovable madman's inability to live in the actual world. Thus, the comic distortion of Dulcinea, which culminates with Don Quijote's fear that the hunted hare is Dulcinea. The pure, untouchable maiden of the courtly love tradition has been dehumanized into the shape of a “lunar” animal, symbol of “fertility and passionate sexuality” (Biedermann 165) —although E. C. Riley has pointed out that “the hare could also symbolise chastity” (“Symbolism” 166). Dulcinea, a creature of Don Quijote's “automaton thinking” (Efron 64) is handed over by Don Quijote to the hunters, like V. finally a victim of what Efron calls her rôle as “dealer of death” (ibid.). Alonso Quijano will die without a thought for Dulcinea, after the now sane hidalgo has become aware —somewhat like Signor Mantissa— of the emptiness of the courtly ideal for which she stands. Botticelli's Venus remains a glorious human creation, however, and Dulcinea too has an imperishable beauty, as long as one realizes that she is also a human construct, a work of art.
     V., on the other hand, is certainly not a symbol of eternal beauty and purity. Yet a critic has described her as “sacred,” “the Paraclete” (Llamon 81). At one point in the American text, the narrator comments that it “was as if she [Victoria] saw herself embodying a feminine principle” (209); a few pages later, a V.-double Hedwig Vogelsang (whose name has courtly love resonances) remarks that “‘[her] purpose is to tantalize and send raving the race of man’” (239). As was Dulcinea, V. can be seen as a “death force” (Newman 34), as an “embodiment of inanimateness” (Llamon 80). Tanner may have stated it best: “V. is whatever lights you to the end of the street: she is also the dark annihilation waiting at the end of the street” (“V.” 36). For me, an essential aspect of V. may be her relation to Paola Maijstral, Fausto's beautiful daughter.
     Paola M. (an anagram of paloma, the Spanish word for “dove”), is also a Paraclete figure. According to Mackey, she is “the inheritor of the positive aspects of V.'s mythic role” (13); for Newman, Paola is “a figure of possible salvation” (41). Paola flits in and out of the novel, finally returning with Stencil and Profane to her native Malta, where she is reunited with her American seaman husband, to whom she gives a prized possession, a comb made of the ivory carving of the bodies of five crucified British soldiers. This comb had once belonged to Victoria Wren. It is possible, then, that Paola was one of the children who disassembled the Bad Priest. When the children pry out the sapphire from the dying woman's navel, it is easy to recall

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Bakhtin's “carnavalistic image of pregnant death” (126), as V./Paola fuse into “pared images” of “birth and death” (ibid.). Early in the novel, while disguised as the black prostitute Rudy, Paola comments that “Maybe you have to be crazy to love somebody” (293). The Dulcinea/V. characters, contaminated though they be by humankind's apparently inborn viruses of cruelty and destruction, yet awaken in those who seek them the enduring stimulation of creative desire.
     To conclude, Dulcinea and V., of course, are products of very different centuries. Writing in the transition period from the Renaissance to the Baroque, and casting Dulcinea as the supreme embodiment of Don Quijote's chivalric dreams, Cervantes has created a fascinating figure who is the end result of courtly love and Neoplatonist traditions —as well as a parodic reminder of the anachronistic nature of those traditions. The gorgeous green-eyed blonde, physical heir to Melibea, of Don Quijote's fantasy is also a coarse peasant woman of doubtful morality. As Riley has astutely pointed out, Dulcinea's “connection with money is maintained to the end” (Don Quixote 140) through the cave passage, Sancho's paid lashes, and finally the cricket-cage. Dulcinea, like the Orianas and Laureolas of the books of chivalry and the sentimental novels, belongs to the past; Don Diego de Miranda, the bourgeois country gentleman, is more “modern” than Don Quijote. Yet people cherish the ideal in all periods. Thus Dulcinea is very real for Don Quijote, and for the reader, even though we all acknowledge her ethereal nature.
     V., on the other hand, is a product of the postmodernist milieu. (But are the two periods so different? According to Ferreras, Cervantes “escribe o recrea un universo donde el desorden, y también el crimen y la sangre, destruyen toda armonía, toda comunión en un solo ideal” [23].)10 While I emphatically agree with Riley that “any detached and overall view of Dulcinea must combine the very disparate images of her presented by Don Quijote, Sancho, other characters and the narrator” (“Symbolism” 73), these images do tend to conform to either the “ideal” Dulcinea or the “anti-Dulcinea.” In one sense, this is also true of V., “The V composing and forestalling the vide” (Redfield 159). The over-abundance of V.-signifiers in Pynchon's novel, however, corresponds well to postmodernism's

     10 Given Pynchon's career-long preoccupation with entropy, it is most significant that Ferreras associates the famous passage “Como las cosas humanas no sean eternas, yendo siempre en declinación de sus principios hasta llegar a su último fin . . .” (II 1104) with “uno de los principios o leyes de la Termodinámica: la entropía” (56).


“commitment to indeterminancy, openness and multiplicity” (Connor 16), its “denying dichotomies, bipolarities, . . . dissolving binary oppositions” (Mellencamp 98).11 V. is more definitely a what (“‘what: what is she?’” [53]) than a who. Perhaps, like Stencil, she is essentially a lack, a lack of order: “Pynchon does not . . . offer us Order, and in that he reflects the postmodernist outlook” (Hume 192). This is for me the greatest difference between his worldview and that of Cervantes. Even with the marked sense of desengaño and sadness found in much of Don Quijote, particularly in Part II, Cervantes always conveys to the reader some sense of order, even though it be a Baroque “orden desordenada” (I 519). Alonso Quijano on his deathbed may repudiate “los detestables libros de las caballerías” and their “disparates” and “embelecos” (foremost among them the overly-idealized Dulcinea) (II 1105), but he dies comforted by the supreme Order of grace, “‘las misericordias . . . que en este instante ha usado Dios conmigo’” (ibid.). Alonso Quijano dies sane, with “juicio . . . libre y claro, sin las sombras caliginosas de la ignorancia” caused by too much reading of the books of chivalry; his mind regains its order. In marked contrast, the final chapter of V. is a flashback to the death at sea of old Stencil, a death caused by a blind natural disorder, a gigantic waterspout (492): “Veronica Manganese had kept him only as long as she had to” (492). This is the reader's final glimpse of V., as she turns old Stencil over to disorder and death.
     According to Van Delden, “the problem of how and where to find a principle of order in the modern world” is central to V. (118). The problem is unresolved at the novel's close. In comparison with the tremendous positive development of Sancho Panza, Stencil's luckless companion Benny Profane ends the novel much as he started out. Asked by the girl Brenda in Malta, “‘Haven't you learned?,’” Profane answers simply, “‘I haven't learned a goddam thing’” (454). This sense of emptiness and futility is the essence of the “lady V.” Dulcinea, even when viewed as a comic or threatening figure, never conveys such a negative impression. Enough of the ideal forever clings to her, to soften and to dulcify her image.


     11 Postmodernism, naturally, is a complex concept, of which different theorists hold differing views. As an example, Terry Eagleton has written that “postmodern theory often operates with quite rigid binary oppositions” (25).


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Fred Jehle Publications of the CSA HCervantes