V.

“The first novel (1963) by Thomas Pynchon (b. 1937), an author of such reclusive habits that the only known photograph of him was taken in 1955. The title initial is the name under which a mysterious woman manifests herself at key moments of disaster that have contributed to the formation of modern Europe and America. V appears in various guises, including Victoria Wren, Victoria Meroving, Venus, Virgin, and Void. (The shape of the letter V many also symbolize the collision course between two otherwise unrelated chains of events.) The two protagonists, amont 200 named characters, are Herbert Stencil, obsessed with finding V, which he never does, and Benny Profane, an accident-prone realist. As Stencil’s father notes in his journal: ‘There is more behind and inside V than any of us had suspected. Not who, but what: what is she.’

is also the title of a long poem (1985) by Tony Harrison (b. 1937), representing a kind of updating of the miners’ strike in Gray’s Elegy. The V of the title is a symbol of conflict (‘versus’). Harrison’s television broadcast of the poem in 1987 was controversial for its unflinching use of ‘four-letter words.'”

Excerpted from: Crofton, Ian, ed. Brewer’s Curious Titles. London: Cassell, 2002.

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