“Remember remember the fifth of November, the gunpowder treason and plot. I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.”
I picked up a copy of the graphic novel V for Vendetta by Alan Moore (& David Lloyd) partly because I was so satisfied with Watchmen (Moore), and partly because a key moment in the 2005 film confused me. As it is so often the case, I figured the text would offer more explanation about what was going on. It did, though sixteen years of life experience might have played a hand in that as well.
What was most surprising for me about V for Vendetta was the numerous references to art and literature. Most of the books illustrated in this graphic novel had titles on them, and so I researched these whenever I failed to recognize one. I am a huge fan of reading referenced literature. I imagine the author must have been so impressed upon by what they read that they wanted to include those titles in their own creations. If there’s some aspect of that reference that is going to help me understand the material in more depth, then all the better. (For instance, I can’t imagine having read The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt without having seen an image of the painting by Carel Fabritius to which it refers.)
Faust, Arabian Nights, Hard Times, Don Quixote, Essays of Elia, Gulliver’s Travels, Frankenstein, The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Golden Bough, Shakespeare, Ivanhoe, Divine Comedy, I Am Legend, and To Russia with Love are all titles that appear on V’s bookshelf. On another bookshelf appears Mein Kampf, Utopia, and Capital. V is actively reading V. by Thomas Pynchon at one point in the novel. He reads The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton to Evey in part one, while Mr Finch is reading The Roots of Coincidence by Arthur Koestler at the end of part two.
I felt that these references tell us about who the characters are and what the current climate of the setting is. I’ve yet to read V., The Magic Faraway Tree, or The Roots of Coincidence, but I can point out that Evey’s character was remarkably immature when V read to her from The Magic Faraway Tree. (And, after she grew up, he started calling her Eve.) I’ve read some of Gravity’s Rainbow (Pynchon) and all of Darkness at Noon (Koestler), but I probably ought to give these other two a go.
There are several movie bill posters and paintings that appear in the Shadow Gallery; Shakespearean quotes littered throughout; a reference to Evita and the image of Cosette from Les Miserables that appears later on. I was only able to root out The Three Graces by Raphael among the artwork so apparently my art history days are further behind me than I realized. Nevertheless, it was clear that V reveled in having a well curated gallery of art and literature from pre-fascist England. “Art washes away from the soul the dust of every day life,” as Picasso once said.
It was in trying to catch all the references that the insidiousness of the politics in V for Vendetta struck home. I have the luxury of Google to at least try and research painters from nearly every century. I have the freedom to hop on Amazon and buy myself a copy of Faust. (Or George by Alex Gino, the most censored book of 2020 according to the American Library Association.) At least I have read some Dickens, Cervantes, Shelley, Alighieri and Matheson. I could write my own book, or paint my own painting, independent of any party line.
It was not being able to differentiate between anarchy and chaos that caused me to stumble in my understanding of V for Vendetta before. Something else Picasso said puts it more succinctly:
“Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction.”
Now I think I get it. For Eve, it was about forgetting how powerless young waifs were supposed to be in her society. In her expectation to live a mediocre life of degradation despite her fears, she was trapped. Schooling ourselves means breaking down the walls of who we think we are and what we think we’re supposed to be. In destroying these expectations, we have the room to decide whom we want to be without constraint.