When V. appeared in bookstores in March of 1963, Thomas Pynchon had already become displeased with the published text. It was not the first time he had found himself unhappy about the content of his novel. He had begun editing it less than two months after he had submitted the typescript to Lippincott in the summer of 1961, reworking the original ending by polishing "the dialogue which was pretty wretched and insert[ing] a new yarn whose only justification is that I like it."1 That early rewriting was carried out before Corlies (Cork) Smith, Pynchon's editor at Lippincott, offered any suggestions for the text's improvement, suggestions that he had promised were forthcoming in an August 2 letter to Pynchon, the first piece of correspondence Smith sent the young author after the typescript of V. had been accepted. Pynchon, mostly without anyone's urging, would go on to revise the book, reorganizing and cutting the text during the spring of 1962 and then cutting more, "the equivalent of twelve pages of published text,"2 in the fall, while the galleys were in the proofing stage. Pynchon's editorial work was still not complete. Although his review of the Advanced Reading Copy did not raise any alarms, as it is essentially "identical to the first edition,"3 oversights during the editing and proofing processes later left him regretting his own imperfections. "About the time the first batch came off the presses,"4 Pynchon found a number of errors — beyond the typos, the presence of which he discounted as excusable, although not without remarking that "they make gibberish out of otherwise respectable sentences" — and felt obliged to tweak the novel one last time.5
Not everything with which he found fault was unequivocally wrong. An overly critical eye was in part the source, perhaps the foremost source, of his discontent, the earliest available evidence of which are comments he made in a March 9 letter to Faith Sale, a college friend who worked at Lippincott and took on some of the editorial responsibilities for V. after Smith left that publisher for a job with Viking.6 The last mistake to which Pynchon, who was apparently responding to a remark Sale had made about errata in an earlier letter, draws Sale's attention involves his having "Esther snea[k] out with Rachel's raincoat on," because "Rachel is a size 3 at biggest (though I never do say how big E. is — but it's still sloppy)." Pynchon then writes, "And on and on like that," suggesting that there are many similar problems that he would like to have cleared up.7 Rachel, however, is not likely to be a size three, as she is, despite her small stature, described as "voluptuous" (22) when she is first introduced.8 Her raincoat would seem, if anything, too short on Esther — assuming Esther is what would have been regarded as an averaged height woman in the mid-twentieth century. Rachel's high heels, after all, lift her to 5'1" (216),9 meaning the raincoat could be for a woman taller than Rachel's 4'10" (34) and would be, at most, a few inches higher up Esther's leg than it was meant to be and not necessarily an ill fit at all.10
The problem Pynchon had with putting Esther in Rachel's coat seems to be that he had never considered the possibility that Rachel's size might prevent Esther from properly fitting into it and became self-conscious about failing to make the details of the novel cohere. His fear that such was the case does go beyond his penchant for finding fault with his work.11 The mistakes that "no writer with even half an idea of what he's doing would have made" concerned such issues as having Profane, Angel, and Geronimo at a bar until "Last Call" (149) and then proceeding, on the next page, to have them search the city until midnight; having Sidney arrive in Valletta in the winter but then writing "it's June" on the same page;12 writing "two pages on . . . it's been 7 months since armistice," that is, in June, though it soon becomes winter again; and using Arabic gebel to mean desert when "it means mountain."
Pynchon, of course, wanted to correct the text, but because he had not seen the errors until after the first printing and Lippincott wasn't going to pulp a print run for editorial reasons, putting back the publication date yet again,13 the best he could hope for was that future printings and editions, that is, the British edition, the Bantam paperback, and, if he knew about it as early as March 1963, the Modern Library edition, the rights for which had been secured by the end of the summer of 1963,14 could be fixed. Correcting the British edition was not a problem. The British publisher Jonathan Cape had printed its own Advanced Reading Copy, and perhaps even galleys, and Pynchon had sent a letter discussing corrections for it, almost certainly pointing out the newly discovered problems, to Candida Donadio on March 4.15 He also informed Lippincott, telling Stewart (Sandy) "Richardson about them all because Bantam bought it for paperback and the goofs ought to be cleared up before then."16 The Lippincott hardcover, Pynchon must have hoped, would be the only edition that had not been cleaned up, and he even harbored the illusion that hardback reprints could be fixed as well, explaining to Sale at the end of June, "all I could do was write Richardson . . . and ask him to edit it [the mistake] out of any other printings there might be."17
Lippincott never made the corrections for the three hardcover reprints, the last of which was issued in June 1963,18 but the 1964 Bantam paperback was published in a corrected state, meaning either Richardson passed on the corrections or Pynchon informed Bantam of his post-publication edits as he had done with Jonathan Cape, whose edition also lacks the obvious errata found in the first American edition. Those with the edition of V. published by Lippincott find "'the city is only the desert — gebel — in disguise.' Gebel, Gebrail. Why should he not call himself by the desert's name? Why not?" (83),19 whereas those in possession of a British or a Bantam edition, read at the same point in the novel, "the city is only the desert in disguise" (Cape, 83). On the following page of the Lippincott text, a sentence begins "But Gebrail/Gebel, the desert's angel, had . . ." while the corrected version reads, "But the desert's angel had . . ." (Cape, 84; Bantam, 72).20 "They stayed to near Last Call," (149) in the Lippincott edition becomes "They stayed till 9:30 or 10" (Bantam, 135) — although the Jonathan Cape/Vintage edition contains a typo so that 9:30 is printed with a dot between 9 and 3 instead of a colon (149) — and in the first line of the next paragraph of the Cape and Bantam editions, "around midnight" (Lippincott, 149) has been removed. In the Epilogue, "[T]hough it was June" (456), as well as "After seven months" (458), is left out of the British and Bantam editions.
The most obvious problems, then, had been solved on both sides of the Atlantic by the spring of 1964, but the fact that the novel put out by Lippincott needed to be corrected was soon forgotten. The Modern Library V. (1966) was published in the original form, apparently having been printed using the film that was used to print the first edition or film produced from a copy of that edition. That does not mean corrections could not have been made. The Cape edition also seems to have been produced from a Lippincott copy, for besides using the same font and design as was used in the U.S. edition, the production staff at Cape did its best to align the British edition's pages to those in the American one, adding an extra line after the roman numeral v above the fifth section of Chapter 3 on page 81 so that page 85 and those that follow it in the chapter match the Lippincott edition, despite the changes made to pages 83 and 84, the latter of which begins and ends with the same words in both editions. However the various editions of V. were produced, of those that were printed from 1963 to 1966, only the British one and the Bantam mass market paperback contain Pynchon's final revisions, while the Lippincott and Modern Library texts contain the errors that contributed to Pynchon's condemning V. as "the worst novel in decades"21 and referring to it as "that wretched novel of mine."22
The issue, in any case, should have been settled, indeed had been settled in Britain and in the United States for about twenty years — between 1967 and 1986 — while the corrected Bantam edition was the only U.S. text being reproduced, but the problem resurfaced when Bantam lost the rights to reprint its edition and Lippincott's fiction catalogue was taken over by Harper and Row in the mid-1980s. The text of the first Perennial reprint — which also seems to have been produced using the original Lippincott edition, even though the chapter titles are centered rather than flushed to the left — followed the original American text to the letter and the later reprints continue to do so, with the exception of the introduction of new typos after two resettings, one in 1999 and the other in 2005. Meanwhile, the text that continues to be printed in Britain follows the Cape edition. Consequently, since 1986, the two versions of V. that were issued between 1963 and 1966 have been available to readers, and as in 1963, the corrected, near definitive edition,23 has only been the British one, a Vintage paperback in its present manifestation, while those in the U.S who have been relying on the Perennial imprints, or the newly released Penguin e-book, have been reading an unauthorized text.