|A Reader's Guide
to William Gaddis's The Recognitions
Pages 568-646; Saturday night, 24 December 1949.
Esther's Christmas Eve party is an occasion to meet one of her favorite authors. The party is attended by most of the same people who were at the early party (I.5), most exchanging pseudoliterary chitchat as Esther's mad sister Rose plays random recordings of Handel. Also present are Edna Mims (Otto's Radcliffe girlfriend when he was at Harvard), "the Argentine trade commissioner, at the wrong party" (551), and Benny, Wyatt's former supervisor, now in advertising with Ellery.
Wyatt shows up, much to Esther's surprise, to collect some of his old clothes. At first hoping he has returned for good, Esther realizes after a fruitless argument that he has not changed. Benny catches a glimpse of him as he leaves, is reminded of their former relationship, and grows disgusted at what he has become without him.
The party rambles on; a little girl from downstairs keeps returning for more sleeping pills for her mother; a baby and a kitten wander under the guests' feet; Stanley redoubles his efforts to lead the stray Agnes back into the Catholic fold. The black critic in the green wool shirt (the extent of his wardrobe, apparently), hearing Benny is in television, begins to blame Benny for the faults of that medium; a vehement argument follows, with Benny delivering a blistering indictment of quasi-intellectuals like the critic. By now the guest of honor has arrived, followed shortly by a bedraggled Otto. He and Esther have an argument similar to the earlier one between Wyatt and Esther (the verbal parallels are numerous). Anselm, who has been silently watching everything, begins taunting almost everyone again. His glee at the discovery of Max's unwitting plagiarism of Rilke's Duino Elegies is soured when he learns that Charles has attempted suicide in the bathroom; he argues with him and pockets the razor - the same razor Wyatt took from his father when he left home. The critic tries to persuade Anselm to leave, and when Anselm makes public the critic's penchant for masturbation, the critic hits him. Stanley tries to comfort the fallen Anselm, but Agnes also demands his attention; Stanley tries to explain to her that he cannot abandon Anselm just when he needs him most, but while he is doing so Anselm sneaks out.
The party comes to a messy end. The kitten is killed when Agnes accidentally sits on it (she then stuffs it into her purse); Maude Munk steals the unattended baby while her husband has a homosexual encounter with Sonny Byron; Mr. Feddle, quoting Tolstoy, inadvertently puts the idea of suicide into Benny's head; Esther realizes that Ellery has had sex with Adeline during the party; and Ed Feasley loses a chance to sell his father's battleship to the Argentine trade commissioner. Esther retreats to her bedroom with the critic, who asks her to watch as he masturbates.
Meanwhile, Anselm is crawling down the subway steps when he encounters his mother on the subway; he evades her and goes into the men's room, where he castrates himself with Rev. Gwyon's razor.
Walking home with Stanley, Agnes is robbed by a purse-snatcher. Stanley then tries to take her into a church, but she breaks away and goes into a bar instead. She decides to leave and go to a hotel and write Dr. Weisgall a letter; Stanley tries to pay for her drink with Otto's counterfeit twenty and is apprehended by the bartender, who turns him over to the police.