"....Dulcinea and V., of course, are products of very different centuries. Writing in the transition period from the Renaissance to the Baroque, and casting Dulcinea as the supreme embodiment of Don Quijote's chivalric dreams, Cervantes has created a fascinating figure who is the end result of courtly love and Neoplatonist traditions —as well as a parodic reminder of the anachronistic nature of those traditions. The gorgeous green-eyed blonde, physical heir to Melibea, of Don Quijote's fantasy is also a coarse peasant woman of doubtful morality. As Riley has astutely pointed out, Dulcinea's “connection with money is maintained to the end” (Don Quixote 140) through the cave passage, Sancho's paid lashes, and finally the cricket-cage. Dulcinea, like the Orianas and Laureolas of the books of chivalry and the sentimental novels, belongs to the past; Don Diego de Miranda, the bourgeois country gentleman, is more “modern” than Don Quijote. Yet people cherish the ideal in all periods. Thus Dulcinea is very real for Don Quijote, and for the reader, even though we all acknowledge her ethereal nature.
V., on the other hand, is a product of the postmodernist milieu. (But are the two periods so different? According to Ferreras, Cervantes “escribe o recrea un universo donde el desorden, y también el crimen y la sangre, destruyen toda armonía, toda comunión en un solo ideal” .)10 While I emphatically agree with Riley that “any detached and overall view of Dulcinea must combine the very disparate images of her presented by Don Quijote, Sancho, other characters and the narrator” (“Symbolism” 73), these images do tend to conform to either the “ideal” Dulcinea or the “anti-Dulcinea.” In one sense, this is also true of V., “The V composing and forestalling the vide” (Redfield 159). The over-abundance of V.-signifiers in Pynchon's novel, however, corresponds well to postmodernism's “commitment to indeterminancy, openness and multiplicity” (Connor 16), its “denying dichotomies, bipolarities, . . . dissolving binary oppositions” (Mellencamp 98).11 V. is more definitely a what (“‘what: what is she?’” ) than a who. Perhaps, like Stencil, she is essentially a lack, a lack of order: “Pynchon does not . . . offer us Order, and in that he reflects the postmodernist outlook” (Hume 192). This is for me the greatest difference between his worldview and that of Cervantes. Even with the marked sense of desengaño and sadness found in much of Don Quijote, particularly in Part II, Cervantes always conveys to the reader some sense of order, even though it be a Baroque “orden desordenada” (I 519). Alonso Quijano on his deathbed may repudiate “los detestables libros de las caballerías” and their “disparates” and “embelecos” (foremost among them the overly-idealized Dulcinea) (II 1105), but he dies comforted by the supreme Order of grace, “‘las misericordias . . . que en este instante ha usado Dios conmigo’” (ibid.). Alonso Quijano dies sane, with “juicio . . . libre y claro, sin las sombras caliginosas de la ignorancia” caused by too much reading of the books of chivalry; his mind regains its order. In marked contrast, the final chapter of V. is a flashback to the death at sea of old Stencil, a death caused by a blind natural disorder, a gigantic waterspout (492): “Veronica Manganese had kept him only as long as she had to” (492). This is the reader's final glimpse of V., as she turns old Stencil over to disorder and death.
According to Van Delden, “the problem of how and where to find a principle of order in the modern world” is central to V. (118). The problem is unresolved at the novel's close. In comparison with the tremendous positive development of Sancho Panza, Stencil's luckless companion Benny Profane ends the novel much as he started out. Asked by the girl Brenda in Malta, “‘Haven't you learned?,’” Profane answers simply, “‘I haven't learned a goddam thing’” (454). This sense of emptiness and futility is the essence of the “lady V.” Dulcinea, even when viewed as a comic or threatening figure, never conveys such a negative impression. Enough of the ideal forever clings to her, to soften and to dulcify her image.
Dulcinea and Pynchon's V. by Carole A. Holdsworth; originally published in Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 19.1 (1999): 27-39.