|A Reader's Guide
to William Gaddis's The Recognitions
Pages 901-56; spring 1950.
Wyatt's story finished, the concluding chapter follows the fates of the rest of the novel's characters. Finally in Rome, Stanley makes his way to the home of Agnes Deigh's mother on the Via Flaminia. Through her connections he hopes to arrange to play his organ composition at the church at Fenestrula. During his stay in Rome he encounters many of the novel's other characters: at one point he spies Esme but is interrupted by Don Bildow (wanting to know the Italian word for contraceptive); he asks Big Anna of Esme's whereabouts and learns that she plans to become a nun. Ellery tells Stanley he wants to cast Esme as the Virgin Mary in an upcoming movie, and consequently indulged her wish to travel to Assisi to gain indulgences for Wyatt in Purgatory.
Meanwhile Anselm has published his confessions, denouncing all his former friends. We also learn that Inononu has killed Sinisterra (assuming he was Yák) and has received instructions to kill Father Martin next; Valentine will point him out, betraying his schoolboy companion a final time. Inononu leaves and his place at Valentine's table is taken by Esme. Stanley overhears her propose marriage to Valentine, who of course rejects the idea.
Back at Mrs. Deigh's, a distracted Stanley tells her that Esme proposed to him. He receives another shock when Mrs. Deigh returns for her prayers nude (the condition in which she was mistaken in Portugal years ago for an apparition of the Virgin - at just about the same time the Virgin is said to have appeared to three children at Fátima). Stanley flees, and in front of her house he is almost run over by a Fiat.
A number of short vignettes follow. In Barbados, Otto (as Gordon) assists Dr. Fell with menial tasks. (He has given the local natives the names of her former friends.) Up at his father's estate in the Hudson River Valley, Ed Feasley has his hands full supervising a collection of feebleminded patients (the overflow from the nearby mental institution), to whom he too has given the names of his old acquaintances.
Eddie Zefnic has written a letter to Mr. Pivner, again reassuring him about undertaking the lobotomy that should "cure" him of his counterfeiting tendencies. Eddie writes naively of his unconscionable science experiments and tells Mr. Pivner, by way of edification, about the newspaper account of Sinisterra's "suicide" in Spain (which Memento Associates offers to "permanize" for Mrs. Sinisterra).
In New York, befuddled Mr. Feddle is using reviews of Anselm's book (with the heading torn off) to boast about his recently published book of poetry (actually a copy of Dostoevski's Idiot with a phony dust jacket around it). He does not fool the critic in the green wool shirt, who is carrying a thick book (quite similar to The Recognitions itself) that helps him fall asleep at night.
In Paris, which (as verbal echoes indicate) has not changed much since Wyatt was there in the 1930s (I.2), Hannah, Max, and the others are going on much as before. Crémer has approached Max with the same offer he made to Wyatt then; Max cheerfully accepts, for "any good publicity agent charges ten percent." Rudy and Frank have married; Arny Munk, after writing a letter to Maude explaining his turn toward homosexuality, dies in the collapse of a hotel by opening a window that had supported its facade.
Fresh examples of suicide, stupidity, and corruption are reported from around the world in newsreel fashion. In a hospital in Budapest, Valentine is dying for reasons that baffle the doctors; he has been unable to sleep for some time and becomes delirious upon learning Inononu has shot Father Martin. Back in Barbados, where Fuller also now resides, Otto/Gordon learns that Jesse has stolen his counterfeit money, and he is told by Dr. Fell, "You can . . . you must . . . start all over again."
Back in Rome, Stanley is recovering from two tragedies: his letter of introduction from Mrs. Deigh to play at Fenestrula proves to be merely a grocery list, then he hears of Father Martin's assassination only hours after the priest handled Stanley's arrangements for Fenestrula; and, second, Esme has died - a "staphylococcic infection [...] from kissing Saint-Peter-in-the-Boat." He runs into Don Bildow a final time, who leaves for Paris. (En route Bildow disposes of his only clothes only to find that his new suit is a little boy's sailor outfit.)
On Easter Sunday, Stanley goes to the church at Fenestrula. Not understanding the priest's warning against using bass notes and dissonances, Stanley pulls out all the stops and begins playing; the vibrations cause the old church to collapse, killing him. His music, however, survives, "and it is still spoken of, when it is noted, with high regard, though seldom played."