Published in 1959 this was Thomas Pynchon's second story and the only one of his early works not to be included in Slow Learner. This would make it hard to get hold of were it not for those wonderful people at Spermatikos Logos who have posted it online.

I had assumed that Pynchon left this story un-antholigised because he didn't think a lot of it, but in researching this write-up I came across the following anecdote from Deane Rink who was an English major at Cornell at the same time as Pynchon

[The lecturer] tried to light a fire under them one day by writing a random sentence on the board and asking everybody in class to start off with that sentence and write for the whole hour. Pynchon refused to turn his paper in at hour's end, but walked across the hall to the English Dept. office and continued to scribble away for another hour. He finally turned the story in: it was subsequently published in Epoch.

Source: Dialogue with Deane Rink

The story was ‘Mortality and Mercy in Vienna’, which would tend to suggest that Pynchon left it out of Slow Learner because he didn't consider this ad-libbed effort to be part of the mainstream of his development as an author. That said though the story doesn’t have a lot going for it beyond the odd titbit for collectors of Pynchonalia.

That first line is

Just as Siegel got to the address Rachel had given him it started to rain again.

Anyone who has read V will be interested to hear that this Rachel is also a short girl who the lead character is in love with but never actually with. And Siegel, like Benny Profane, is half-Catholic half-Jewish. Whilst I don’t want to force the connections between this effort which seems to have been knocked off in a few hours and Pynchon’s other work, some of V’s details can clearly be found here a year or two before Pynchon began writing the book.

A more tentative connection between the story and V can be made when one considers the central device of Siegel becoming aware of an Ojibwa guest’s descent into Windigo madness whilst the party goes on around him.. This could be read as a minature “Situation” with its own logic driving it forward to apocalypse, observed by civil servant Seigel but beyond his control. Having said that, I personally think that the focus is perhaps too much on the apocalypse for its own sake and for Siegel’s reluctance to acknowledge it for much to be made of parallels with the mindset of V.

The title is taken from the opening scene of Measure for Measure. I don't know this play, so anything that might be gleaned from this source is lost on me, though I would be interested to hear if anyone else has any thoughts.

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