|A Reader's Guide
to William Gaddis's The Recognitions
Pages 824-55; early 1950.
Stanley's maddening adventures at sea are featured in this chapter (which precedes much of the action in the previous chapter). Esme has made contact with Valentine (whom she calls "the Cold Man") and is increasingly proving a trial for Stanley. At one point the ship stops to retrieve the survivors of a shipwrecked cargo ship (the Purdue Victory from I.1); one of the dying crew resembles Wyatt, and Esme, believing it is indeed he, faints. Stanley takes her back to their stateroom, but she insists on seeing the sailor, and Stanley has to restrain her physically (and experiences an orgasm in the process).
Esme later overhears Father Martin administer Extreme Unction to the dying sailor; back in their room afterward, Stanley and Esme have another argument - though there are hints on pp. 842-43 that he is alone, only hallucinating her presence. The sailor dies during the night and is buried at sea the next morning. Esme, convinced that it is Wyatt being buried, runs to the railing, and Stanley pursues her, afraid she is going to jump. Instead, as we learn later, Stanley himself attempts to jump overboard.
Also on board is a popular novelist named Ludy, en route to Spain to gather material for a sentimental article on religion. His reading of Masefield's The Everlasting Mercy is interrupted by a man from the newspaper being sued by Sr. Hermoso, who regales Ludy with misquoted lines from Joaquin Miller's "Columbus" and some amusing inside information on Columbus's voyage.
Stanley awakes in the ship's hospital (having been prevented from jumping overboard by an Italian waiter), apparently in the same bed in which the sailor had died. Another patient teases Stanley about being excommunicated and tells him he has been talking deliriously in his sleep. Stanley, however, insists he remembers everything clearly and relates several incidents that may or may not have happened. (The difference between hallucination and reality is very murky at this point.)
Esme and Valentine (among others) disembark at Naples, but Stanley is still confined to the hospital. The chapter ends with an ominous reference to the proverb "see Naples and die."