In V., Chapter 14, Pynchon made passing references to the Dreyfus Affair - a social controversy that divided France near the end of the 19th century. Just by coincidence, I read something about it earlier this year. The Father Brown story “The Duel of Dr Hirsch” by G.K. Chesterton is a very odd detective story, because it’s really a commentary on the Dreyfus Affairs.
The other historical figure that plays a more significant role in V. is Charles Gordon - the British military officer who was killed in the Siege of Khartoum in 1885. Some of the characters in the novel might have encountered Sherlock Holmes because according to The Adventure of the Empty House, Holmes visited Khartoum after The Final Problem (1891)! In The Adventure of the Cardboard Box, it was revealed that Dr. Watson had a portrait of Charles Gordon in his house.