The Pynchon Intertext of Lempriere's Dictionary

Author: Amy J. Elias (University of Alabama-Birmingham)

  • The Pynchon Intertext of Lempriere's Dictionary


    The Pynchon Intertext of Lempriere's Dictionary



Lawrence Norfolk's historical novel of the eighteenth century, Lempriere's Dictionary, has received both praise and criticism for its complexity and labyrinthine plotting. The most cutting commentary came in Alfred Corn's New York Times review, where Corn asks, "Why would anyone with [Norfolk's] gifts for language also use the kind of undergraduate plot manipulation that fills out the pages of this long novel? At best, the answer might involve familiar pronouncements about postmodernism and artificiality." Norfolk himself indirectly answers Corn in a piece he wrote for the Times Literary Supplement, "The Honesty of Pagemonsters." Norfolk twice cites Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow there (along with works by Balzac, Victor Hugo, Henry James, Proust, and others) as an example of a long novel that truly represents "the central fact of modern reality: that there is always more of it, that it exceeds, and outstrips, and exasperates.” Pynchon's reality does exceed epistemological boundaries. In his novels, binary thinking is limiting and chains the human soul to the eschatology of the machine; to escape, humankind can discard binaries and revel in life's excess –sometimes figured as detritus, sometimes as the visionary sublime. In Gravity's Rainbow, both plunging through a feces-filled sewer on the way to the sea and dancing in the wasteland with a childghost allow Siothrop to enter the excess of the real. Norfolk argues that to represent this chaotic mess of reality in fiction calls for a huge form, a Melvillean baggy monster, that can approach, but not capture, consensus reality's alogicality.

How to Cite:

J. Elias, A., (1997) “The Pynchon Intertext of Lempriere's Dictionary”, Pynchon Notes , 28-40. doi:

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Published on
22 Sep 1997