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The Reverend's audience once more raises objections to his story based on historical facts, while the Rev'd himself maintains that history is preserved not in universal acceptance of one story but in the propagation of different interpretations by novelists, playwrights, and poets. Thus armed, the good Rev'd sets the scene for his reunion with the astronomers in a Philadelphia watering hole known as The India Queen. There, the Reverend encounters locals much concerned with religion since the revelation experienced by one of their members who now wanders the west in an attempt to convert others to his vision.

Decidedly nonplussed by this revelation, the duo welcome his company and proceed to spend the night at the inn drinking, talking, and observing the variety of clientele brought in by the storm while they enjoy the food of its exiled French Chef, Armand Allegre. The next morning, before the assembled guests, Allegre embarks on a recollection of his story, dubbed the Iliad of Inconvenience.

on Thomas Pynchon's Mason and Dixon: Introduction

Allegre recounts his long apprenticeship to one of the great chefs in Paris, culminating in his own fame throughout France for his various preparations of duck. His fame brings him to the attention of the Mechanical Duck, the invention of one Jacques de Vaucanson. By reasons not entirely understood, the Duck attains consciousness and an exponential leap in its physical abilities far beyond human ingenuity.

Thus imbued, it now holds Allegre responsible for the death of all fellow ducks prepared for the dining room table and demands as payment that he assist the Duck by rescuing another of Vauscanon's automaton, a counterpart duck. Ever-persecuted by the Duck, Allegre flees to America. Back in the India Queen, Allegre's story is challenged by a Mr. Dimdown, but the potential duel is interrupted by the Duck when Dimdown's sword is flung from his hand by an invisible force.

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A discussion on the Duck's continued ascent beyond the simple physics of its design and Allegre's wonder at the foods in America eventually turns to serious discussion of Christian rituals of communion versus heathen beliefs about cannibalism. Dimdown and Allegre reconcile over comparisons between the layers of pastry and the layered Damascus steel of Dimdown's blade. While Dixon grows fat eating the baked goods of his amorous object, Mason steadfastly refuses to enjoy sensual delights.

When a break in the weather permits their departure, the two ride in separate directions: Mason to the north, and Dixon to the south. Dixon journeys to Virginia where Thomas Jefferson offers a brief history on Virginia's own border.

Thomas Pynchon’s ‘Mason & Dixon’

Six years after Rebekah's passing, Mason journeys north into Manhattan and eventually Long Island where he is nearly attacked by a gang of thieves. He pretends briefly to be French rather than British and ends up avoiding unpleasantness by helping to fix the band's telescope. During the course of his work he and the gang discuss actual slavery versus the virtual slavery of contemporary wage-labor, the lack of colonial representation in the House of Commons, and how the British image of America contrasts with the reality.

Leaving the group and headed towards Philadelphia again, Mason begins to sense for the first time how public sentiment in the colonies is shaping the future of the world. The Reverend's brother-in-law, LeSpark, reveals that he briefly encountered the astronomers in the private ridotto of the iron-monger, slave-holder, and inveterate gambler Lord Lepton. Lepton, who fled England to escape his gambling debts, entertains the surveyors at his private castle in the Pennsylvania country side. With concubines purchased from the Canadian convent the Widows of Christ, Lepton's debauched party takes on a hellish air that unnerves the surveyors and makes them anxious to flee.

Dixon proposes to steal one of Lepton's iron bath tubs as compensation for the twenty pounds he believes were unfairly taken from him during a night of gambling. Using magnetic principles taught to him by Emerson, he and Mason attempt to steal the tub but are distracted first by one of Lepton's servants who reminds them of a previous acquaintance and then by the appearance of a pentacle that unpleasantly connects Lepton to the massacre at Lancaster. They make a hasty departure, having taken on new party members, including an electric ray they presently begin to use as a compass.

They retrieve their correspondence from the previous months and Mason learns that Maskelyne has been appointed Astronomer Royal, replacing Mason's departed mentor, Bradley. In typical fashion, Dixon consoles Mason who, despite his common background, had hoped his association with Bradley and the work done on the Transit might make him a candidate for the post.

The episode's epigraph quotes the Reverend on the properties of ley lines and recalls Dixon's own scholarship on the topic under Emerson's guidance as the crew speculates on the effects of placing crystal markers exactly upon these mystical points.

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Several ax-men, many of Swedish origin, are added to the crew and in April the surveyors begin to move west, dividing north and south and even a house as they go. The Mechanical Duck continues to follow Allegre and the rest of the crew as they survey west. Allegre proposes that the Duck's obsession with him is tied to its paradoxical evolution, in which it both ascends beyond the realm of limited physical ability and is simultaneously bound to more earthly motivations.

Mason inevitably and perhaps subconsciously links the Duck's passage from one world to the next, and Vaucanson's efforts to understand the resulting change, to his own feelings on Rebekah's passing. One common complaint is the extortion practiced by the prostitutes following the camp. The episode is extended by negotiations between the camp pimp, Nathanael McLean, and the head girl, Mrs. Ordered to extend the Tangent and Meridian, the crew passes into dairy country and young Nathanael in particular is smitten by one of the plethora of fair milk-maids.

The surveyors continue to draw their line, moving back eastward at the opening of the section but always near the Susquehanna River which serves as a boundary of more than one type.


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In their efforts to close off the Tangent line they discover some anomalies in previous measurements as well as legal inconsistencies that leave a small "Wedge" of ambiguous territory neither in Maryland or Pennsylvania, creating yet another of the novel's uncharted alternate domains. The chapter closes with the discovery of their subterfuge, Squire Haligast warning that the party will soon encounter "China-men," and the delivery of a package from Maskelyne telling of geographical interferences with measurements that forces Mason to recall the windward side of St.

As they cross the Susquehanna and the colonist population begins to thin, the camp's retinue grows increasingly large and lengthens behind them. The near-Eden of unspoiled country, mystical and mesmerizing, prompts reflection and some paranoia over the future on the part of the duo.

Thomas Pynchon Retrospective: Mason And Dixon Part One

Acknowledging their obligations and the compulsory nature of their work, the two wonder whether they are not being used, each favoring their usual conspiracy: religion and the Jesuits for Mason, commerce and the East India Co. They draw near the Redzinger farm and discover that Peter, the wandering apostle, has returned, claiming Christ has abandoned him. The Reverend and his audience close the episode with speculation on the mathematical shape of heaven and hell.

As fall approaches, Mason and Dixon adopt a habit of exploring local roads for taverns and inns at the end of each day's surveying. The episode's main action takes place in one such locale, The Rabbi of Prague, whose denizens consist of Kabbalistic individuals and whose habits and bearings resemble, among others, those of Popeye and Mr. Passing the evening in their company, Dixon learns of a local golem created by Native Americans and of theories that the American continent was "discovered" as a result of God's retreat at the dawn of the Enlightenment.

An opening that features the two main characters playing practical jokes on one another is followed by a night of heavy rain and fearful talk of Indian attack and The Black Dog, the latest fearsome-fantastic rumored to stalk the wilderness and a possible stand-in for Cerberus. There, they tour a cave system with spectacular formations and some ancient and undecipherable writings that produce profoundly different reactions in the polar temperaments of the surveyors.

With the summer of surveying drawing to a close, the camp passes over the west branch of Conococheague Creek, a territory claimed by the Black Boys and echoing with their deeds. Turning back East for the winter, the crew pass near the site of General Braddock's defeat some years earlier. The scenery and passing of the seasons moves their thoughts to the past, causing Mason and Dixon to wonder on the relation between this defeat and the treatment of British weavers rebelling against wage reduction by James Wolfe, hero of Quebec. The episode closes during winter and New Year with sledding, drinking, and discussions of altitude and unbounded space.

An apparent captivity narrative begins, telling of how an unidentified colonial American woman is taken from her farmstead by nonviolent Indians across the Susquehanna River and north to a Jesuit college in Quebec.


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  • There, she begins training to become a Widow of Christ, encounters the intricacies of Jesuit telegraphy, and meets a Chinese Feng-shui master. The captivity narrative continues, and is revealed as a hijacking of the story by potentially amorous young cousins who thus far have listened to Cherrycoke's tale, but now combine it with passages from The Ghastly Fop, a pulp series. A discussion of metempsychosis ensues. Mason then has strange dreams of Rebekah, and decides the American Woman is not so like her after all. Captain Zhang the Chinese Feng-shui master, convinced the party is being tracked by Jesuits, ignites discussion within the company of various conspiracy theories concerning the line.

    Included are the possibilities that they are being used by Jesuits to rid the earth of Feng-shui the line being a terrible example of it, according to Zhang , or guided, perhaps magnetically, to secret ore deposits cherished by the Indians and required for the manufacture of ammunition. Captain Zhang's paranoia turns maniacal; he becomes convinced he himself is in fact the Jesuit spy until debunked by the other members of the party. Meanwhile, the amorous cousins part unrequited, she having fallen asleep, and Cherrycoke resumes control.

    Mason tells Dixon how he visited the missing eleven days that were canceled when England adopted the Gregorian calendar in He found himself "alone in the material World", without any people, and visited Oxford, finding the city completely empty. He perused the Bodleian Library, and felt that other entities, possibly intelligent, were searching the volumes there. Early Dimdown, similarly transformed, re-enters and Dixon marvels at the breadth of the movement and the possibility of insurrection, discussing grievances against the crown before engaging in a friendly debate over the quality of American versus British beer.

    Mason travels south to Virginia, where he revisits with George Washington in a billiard hall and, much like Dixon in New York, discovers conversation monopolized by pre-revolutionary indignation. Mason is then questioned by Nathanael McLean, a former member of his party turned slothful student, about the repercussions, karmic or otherwise, of the line. The surveyors return to camp in spring from their respective winter destinations to find it in disarray.

    An episode involving Captain Shelby, a member of their party, performing a shotgun wedding, including details of the preceding fighting and ensuing partying, is related to them. Shelby, also a surveyor and possibly unstable, accompanies the party westward and questions Dixon about the line. Dixon and Zhang then converse and arrive at the subject of dragons, whence Dixon relates the long tale of the Lambton Worm, conquered by a returning crusader who, following the battle, broke the oath he swore with God in order to achieve victory—an act that left his family cursed for nine generations.

    The party discuss and interpret the tale, and Shelby suggests, perhaps menacingly, that the surveyors accompany him to a "serpent mound" whose design can only be appreciated from far above, alluding to Dixon's past with Emerson and the ley-lines.

    Shelby insists it is of both Welsh and Native American origin, and that cryptic markings scratched into its side are warnings to the surveyors, who discover their compasses malfunction while in its vicinity. Back in camp with Zhang, they discuss Jesuit machinations and their possible connection to extraterrestrials, in conjunction with a debate over hollow-earth theories.


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    The chapter ends with a humorous episode in which either Death or The Devil, following the party as a "third surveyor", tries to hire a lawyer. Stig, an axman in the party, is exposed as spy working on behalf of a group Dixon dubs "Swedish Jacobites", who Stig claims descended from the far north and were the first to arrive at Philadelphia, where they lived in peace with the natives, irking the Americans with their claim to the land and thus somehow leading to the boundary dispute and the line. All this is thrown into relief by Stig's own admission he may not even be Swedish, that he may be a mercenary, and that he believes an armed attack against Philadelphia an imminent possibility.

    Meanwhile, the party continues west; Dixon, in discussion with Mason and Zhang, notes the only true difference between the individual colonies, and the expedition is confronted by bushmen. A brief episode involving Zepho Bark, owner of a farmhouse near the line, who, upon the emergence of the full moon, becomes a were-beaver—leading him to enter into a moonlit tree-felling contest with Stig the axman. Zepho takes a massive lead, only to lose his beaver form mid-contest as a result of a lunar eclipse the astronomers had forgotten was taking place.

    Gamblers betting on Zepho suggest a lawsuit should be brought against them, could it be proven they knew it would happen. Zhang tells them he knows of just such an incident, and begins to relate the story. Zhang tells the story of Hsi and Ho, ancient Chinese astronomers, who are forced to flee when they fail to predict an eclipse, embarrassing their master the emperor who should have intimate knowledge of all "divine" occurrences.