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Introduction: The Times of Mason & Dixon

from The Rounds of History

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 September 2012

Elizabeth Jane Wall Hinds
Affiliation:
SUNY Brockport
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Summary

Happy are those ages when the starry sky is the map of all possible paths — ages whose paths are illuminated by the light of the stars. Everything in such ages is new and yet familiar, full of adventure and yet their own. The world is wide and yet it is like home, for the fire that burns in the soul is of the same essential nature as the stars.

— György Lukács, The Theory of the Novel

Making the Rounds of History

THOMAS PYNCHON'S 1997 Mason & Dixon is a novel obsessed with time. A “postmodern” novel, it reconstructs a historical period, the mid- to late-eighteenth century, with both an accuracy surpassing many bona fide histories and a disregard for the actual past seldom met with in a historical novel. Its play of and with histories, along with its determinedly late-twentieth-century timbre, makes time — and especially its passing — a constant focus. From first to last, from character Charles Mason's melancholia associated with his wife's passing, to the deep and broad concern with calendar reform in the novel, to the very fact of its being an “eighteenth-century” novel, Mason & Dixon layers time periods and temporal themes to produce an uncertainty of reading bordering on vertigo; finally, and from the first page, this constant thrust of time passing sets up a nostalgia that progresses and deepens at the same time the novel mocks the ludicrous idea of nostalgic sentimentality.

Type
Chapter
Information
The Multiple Worlds of Pynchon's 'Mason and Dixon'
Eighteenth-Century Contexts, Postmodern Observations
, pp. 3 - 24
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2005

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