Abbreviated Sources
and References

Annotations: title,
epigraph and

Part I

Part II
II.1 Synopsis
pp. 281-306
pp. 311-342
II.2 Synopsis
pp. 343-373
pp. 374-381
pp. 382-385
pp. 386-389
II.3 Synopsis
pp. 390-392
pp. 393-403
pp. 404-420
pp. 421-442
II.4 Synopsis
pp. 446-468
pp. 470-486
II.5 Synopsis
pp. 487-495
pp. 496-511
pp. 512-540
II.6 Synopsis
pp. 542-564
II.7 Synopsis
pp. 568-605
pp. 606-645
II.8 Synopsis
pp. 647-678
pp. 679-699
II.9 Synopsis
pp. 700-719

Part III

A Reader's Guide to William Gaddis's The Recognitions


II.1 pp. pages 281-306

281] A thousand accidents [...] Thomas De Quincey: (1785-1859), English essayist and opium addict. The epigraph is from his famous Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821; rev. ed. 1856), part 3: "The Pains of Opium." The quotation is from the middle of a sentence that begins: "Of this, at least, I feel assured, that there is no such thing as ultimate forgetting; traces once impressed upon the memory are indestructible; a thousand accidents [...]." The passage is a Proustian discussion of involuntary memory, of experiences apparently forgotten but suddenly "recognized" in new circumstances (De Quincey's italics). Gaddis found this quotation in Alexander Lindey's Plagiarism and Originality (NY: Harper & Brothers, 1951), prefaced by the sentence, "There is probably no such thing as forgetting" (249).

282.17] metaphysical (Bergsonian) hilarity: though best known for his philosophical investigations into the nature of time, the French philosopher Henri Bergson (1859-1941) also wrote an important essay entitled "Laughter," which has been translated into English and published in many anthologies.

282.20] spawned in the estaminets of Antwerp: from Eliot's "Gerontion" (ll. 7-10):

My house is a decayed house,
And the jew squats on the window sill, the owner
Spawned in some estaminet of Antwerp,
Blistered in Brussels, patched and peeled in London

283.17] the subway stopped under a river: cf. the underground train stopping between stations in part 3 of T. S. Eliot's "East Coker." {Len Gutkin}

286.3] a book which had sold four million copies: see 498.3.

286.11] O God, what have I du-un: see 202.22.

288.27] Dierick Bouts: see 75.6; the "original paintings" are Wyatt's forgeries.

289.12] shriek of the mandrake root [...] drove a man mad: a popular superstition mentioned in DDD (95).

289.13] chloroform a decoy of Satan: "The [nineteenth-century] arguments used by the clergy against anesthesia varied," Dr. Haggard notes, "but all centered around the theme that pain, particularly the pain of childbirth, was the ordained lot of mankind; to prevent it was a sacrilege. As one clergyman expressed it, 'chloroform is a decoy of Satan, apparently offering itself to bless women; but in the end it will harden society and rob God of the deep, earnest cries which arise in time of trouble for help'" (DDD 108).

289.13] smallpox a visitation of God: in his "Answers to the Religious Objection Against the Employment of Anesthetic Agents in Midwifery and Surgery" (1847), Dr. James Y. Simpson "explains that opposition, particularly on theological grounds, had been presented against every humane innovation in the past. He cites as an instance the opposition to the introduction of vaccination against smallpox. Those opposed to its introduction had argued against it on religious grounds. 'Smallpox,' they had said, 'is a visitation from God, and originates in man: but the cowpox [vaccination] is produced by presumptuous, impious man. The former Heaven ordained; the latter is a daring and profane violation of our holy religion'" (DDD 109).

290.30] the Indian sat silent [...] on a peak in Darien: a parody of the last line of Keats's "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer," where Cortez's men "Looked at each other with a wild surmise - / Silent, upon a peak in Darien."

290.32] "If man were wiped out [...] again evolve": source unknown.

290.36] in the foremost shambles of time Mr. Pivner stood heir: a parody of a famous line in Tennyson's "Locksley Hall" (1842): "I the heir of all the ages, in the foremost files of time" (given more straightforwardly at 559.19).

293.31] there would be time: another quotation from Eliot's "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (see 15.25).

293.31] Adam [...] lived for nine hundred thirty years: so alleges Gen. 5:5.

295.21] Sun King: Louis XIV, king of France (1643-1715); Louis XV's Deer Park (in Versailles) was just such an artificial setting.

295.24] Simpotico [...] simpótico: that is, Sp. simpática (or It. simpàtica): pleasantly sympathetic, congenial.

295.43] Leda and the swan: in Greek mythology, Zeus came to Leda in the guise of a swan while she was bathing; she laid two eggs as a result (see 385.2).

298.11] The Compleat Angler: a treatise on the joys of fishing and the pastoral life by English writer Izaak Walton (1593-1683). It does not, however, recommend pumpkin seeds in martinis.

298.12] "What is mine [...] quiet of the grave": from Robert Louis Stevenson's short story "Olalla" (1885), concerning the deterioration of a Spanish Catholic family. At the end of the family line is a saintly girl named Olalla, who in the quoted passage (as well as in the quotation on p. 302 below) rejects the narrator's marriage proposal in order to allow her ruined family to die out. The story is usually found in collections of Stevenson's supernatural fiction (as is "Thrawn Janet," which Gaddis alludes to elsewhere).

299.19] words for themselves, and invest them with her own meaning: just as Humpty Dumpty recommends in Through the Looking-Glass (chap. 6).

299.26] straining and cracking [...] raid on the inarticulate: from two discussions of poetry in Eliot's Four Quartets: see "Burnt Norton," sec. 5, and "East Coker," sec. 5.

300.28] that world not world where the needle took her: from Eliot's "Burnt Norton": "Descend lower, descend only / Into the world of perpetual solitude, / World not world, but that which is not world."

300.33] the world of ecstasy they all approximated by different paths: see de Rougemont's comparison and contrast between mystics, erotomaniacs, and drug users in LWW (141).

300.36] "Love's dart" [...] "dying of not being able to die": "If now we turn to the writings of the great Spanish mystics of the sixteenth century," de Rougemont writes (LWW 133-34), "Saint Teresa and Saint John of the Cross, we find them employing the whole rhetoric of courtly love, even its most delicate shades of expression. Here are the chief topics common alike to the troubadours and these orthodox mystics:

"To die of not being able to die." [cf. 40.7]
The "sweet cautery."
"Love's dart" that wounds but does not kill. [...]
To complain of an ill that is yet prized more than every joy and worldly good. [...]
The "stolen heart," the "ravished understanding," the "rape of love."
Love treated as an ultimate "understanding" (conoscenza in Provençal).

300.41] Gerbert, Archbishop of Ravenna: citing Michelet's Histoire de France, Saltus writes (AN 90):

According to the gossip of the day, Gerbert, once a Spanish student, afterwards Archbishop of Ravenna, and subsequently Pope [as Sylvester II, 999-1003], entered into an agreement of this kind, and one night the devil came in person to claim him. It was an agreement they had made together long before in Cordova, where Gerbert, finding his studies too arduous, had signed the bond in exchange for the royal road. It was the devil who had taught him all he knew - algebra, clock-making, and how to become a Pope. It was clear as day that he would have known none of these things without infernal assistance. Gerbert resists, but Mephisto proves his claim. "You did not think me a logician, did you?" are said to have been his historic words, and, presto! Gerbert disappeared in a fork of lambent flame.

301.2] SS Elizabeth Matilda Bridget [...] drops of blood 3,000,800): from the ever-sardonic Marsh (MMSM 145-47):

We do not know the original date of the two miraculous documents we next describe. Judging from internal evidence, we should presume them to be of quite modern fabrication, and of Jesuit paternity. [...] The first lays claim to some antiquity, having been found, it is said, in the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem, and afterward preserved in a silver casket by the Emperor Charles V. and "His Holiness." The story is that Christ appeared to St. Elizabeth, St. Matilda, and St. Bridget, and delivered to them a written account of the details of his passion, stating the number of soldiers who attended the Crucifixion; of kicks, blows, and wounds inflicted upon the Saviour by them; of punctures from the crown of thorns; and of drops of blood shed and sighs breathed by the sufferer. The fractures of the skull, it is said, were one hundred in number, and the drops of blood thirty-eight thousand four hundred and thirty. [...]

The other miraculous communication is a letter from the Saviour, printed in characters of gold, and sent, through her guardian angel, to a girl of St. Marcel, in France. It was published at Rome "by permission of His Holiness, Pius IX." It resembles the first, of which it appears to be a French amplification, the numbers having been multiplied in some such proportion as the dignity of a pope bears to that of an archbishop; for the drops of blood are reckoned at three millions and eight hundred. [...] These disgusting and profane fables are printed by hundreds of thousands, and exposed for sale, together with vulgar and often immoral ballads, at half the street-corners and bookstalls in Florence, Rome, and other Italian towns.

301.7] Virgin's titles number 305: "the most noticeable feature" of the Reverend Ambrogio Landucci's Origine del Tempio dedicato in Roma alla Vergine Madre di Dio presso all Porta del Popolo (1646) says Marsh, who goes on to quote many of the more recherché examples.

301.7] Sir Arthur Eddington: (1882-1944), English astronomer, author of The Nature of the Physical World (1929), source of the Eddington reference on p. 34 of FHO.

301.8] Sir James Jeans: (1887-1946), English astronomer and physicist, author of several books on cosmogony.

301.12] Sir William Rowan Hamilton: "The Irish mathematician, Sir William Rowan Hamilton [1805-65], once allowed himself to be drawn into the speculation of how far out into space Jesus could proceed in a certain time if he was rising at the moderate rate which the above passage [Acts 1:9] contemplates. When his calculations revealed to him that he would as yet not have reached the nearest of the fixed stars, he began, as a good Christian, to recoil from his speculations, and relegated the matter to faith, as a mystery beyond the reach of human reason" (MMM 358-59).

301.43] "the brethren had only to ring their bells [...] behind the screen": quoted from Coulton's Ten Medieval Studies, 118.

302.9] Saint Nicolas of Tolentino: from Summers (PPM 68):

The Augustinian mystic, St. Nicholas of Tolentino, as he lay wasted and weak on his death-bed, exhausted by the broiling August heat, so excited the pity of his sorrowing brethren that they brought him a dish of doves, most delicately dressed, to tempt his appetite. The Saint, however, reproved them, firmly, but in gentle terms. He had never tasted animal food in his life. Painfully raising himself on his poor pallet, he stretched his hands over the dish, and lo! the birds rejoicing were in a flash covered with plumage, and flew out of the window of his little white-washed cell towards the blue sky beyond. But they hovered around until in a few days the Saint breathed his last [10 September 1306], when they were seen mounting into the air, accompanying (as it is piously believed) his soul to Paradise. For as he breathed his last the room was filled with a heavenly fragrance, as of lilies, and gleamed with radiant light.

302.21] "You are a man [...] and are warned and pity . . .": from Stevenson's "Olalla"; see 298.12.

303.16] Oedipus and all the rest: the search for a physical or spiritual father is a theme running throughout world literature, from Sophocles' Oedipus to Clement in The Recognitions to Hamlet to Stephen Dedalus, and now to Otto Pivner.

303.21] Vesey Street: in lower Manhattan, north of the World Trade Center.

304.38] These are the moments [...] with its spirit unbroken: from Mansfield's review in the Athenæum (10 September 1920) of E. V. Lucas's Verena in the Midst, an epistolary novel about a woman confined to her bed, comforted with letters from a variety of characters. The first paragraph of the review - reprinted in Mansfield's Novels and Novelists, ed. J. Middleton Murray (1930), the book Esther shared with Otto on pp. 124-25 - reads:

It is a fearful thing to have to lie in bed. To be sent to bed, to be commanded to stay there - to gaze from a little valley of humiliation, up, up to that ineffable brow that, wreathed with the mists of discretion and vacancy bends over one. . . . To pipe: "When shall I be allowed to get up again?" and to be answered by: "We had rather postpone our answer for the present." These are moments which set the soul yearning to be taken suddenly, snatched out of the very heart of some fearful joy, and set before its Maker, hatless, dishevelled and gay, with its spirit unbroken. For it is impossible to go condemned to bed in our grown-uppishness without recalling how favourite a remedy it was with our parents and nurses for a spirit that wanted breaking. There, naked between the sheets, prone when all the rest of the world is walking or leaping, conscious, to a hopeless degree, that it certainly isn't for you that the clocks chime, the cups rattle, the lamps are lighted and the door-bell rings, one wages many a fierce battle. But the infants who emerge triumphant are, depend upon it, bound to be attacked by larger nurses and more unyielding parents later on, who will send them back to bed for another tussle, as though it were never too late to break. . . .

305.16] Viareggio: modeled on the San Remo Cafe, formerly on the northwest corner of Bleecker and MacDougal, a favorite gathering place for writers and artists in the late forties and early fifties; "in calling it the Viareggio I simply took the next town up or down the coast [of Italy]" (WG/SM).

305.37] Dante had rejuvenated hell six centuries before: cf. Saltus: "In words that rise and greet and kiss the eye, Dante had rejuvenated hell" (AN 101).

305.39] Laberius [...] the public latrine: Decimus Laberius (105?-43 B.C.), Roman knight and writer, author of several farces and verse satires. "In one of the forgotten plays of Laberius, a jester is represented as recommending a smug-faced companion to get a foretaste of philosophy in the latrinæ" (AN 109).

305.43] Petrarch finding the papal court at Avignon a "sewer [...] his sister seduced by a pope: condensed from Saltus (AN 100):

Meanwhile, the popes and princes of the Church had lost faith, and decency as well. Petrarch, in his letters Sine titulo, speaks of the papal court as follows:

"There is here (in Avignon) everything imaginable in the way of confusion, darkness and horror. Avignon is the sewer of every vice, the gully of every wickedness. I know from personal experience that in this place there is neither piety nor charity. Faith is absent; there is nothing holy, nothing just, nothing human. Friendship, modesty and decency are unknown. Houses, squares, temples, courts and pontifical palaces drip with lies. The hope of a future life is considered an illusion; Jesus Christ is looked upon as a useless invention; virtue is regarded as a proof of stupidity, and prostitution leads to fame."

Such is Petrarch's account; but Petrarch was possibly annoyed because his sister had been seduced by the pope.

In his novel Juliette (1797), the Marquis de Sade identifies the pope as Benedict XII.

306.5] Ernest Hemingway: this apparently is not Hemingway but a character who takes advantage of his physical resemblance to the writer. On the other hand, Hemingway was in New York in November 1949, and his pugnacious, boorish behavior was the subject of a devastating profile by Lillian Ross in the New Yorker (13 May 1950), which Gaddis probably read. A copy of R was in Hemingway's library at the Finca Vigía in Cuba, no doubt a complimentary copy sent by Gaddis and/or his publisher; whether Hemingway actually read it or not is unknown; see James D. Brasch and Joseph Sigman's Hemingway's Library: A Composite Record (New York: Garland, 1981), 136 (item 2399).

306.16] Return to Sorrento: also known as "Come Back to Sorrento," a popular sentimental song written by Ernesto di Curtis (1935).

306.26] Twit Twit Twit: line 203 of Eliot's Waste Land (WG/SM).


index || introductory & general || site search || Gaddis news
The Recognitions || J R || Carpenter's Gothic || A Frolic of his Own || Agapē Agape

All contents © 2000-2005 by the Gaddis Annotations site and the original authors, contributors, publishers, and publications.