by Gerard de Vries
In response to Alain Champlain’s intriguing submission of 8 July, “A few notes on spacetime in Pale Fire,” Mary Ross writes that “there seems no gratuitous remarks in PF.” It is this fact, that somewhere a meaning is waiting to be discovered, that stimulates Nabokovians to besiege VN’s dazzling puzzles, even when failure is a more likely upshot than success.
That “Shade’s maternal grandmother” is “a first cousin of Sybil’s grandfather” (if Kinbote is not greatly mistaken) (C. 247), is, once this casual remark is regarded as a challenge, such an impregnable looking perplexity, as there seems no clue for finding the bearing this wayward remark might have on the various stories told in PF.
Not much is related about Shade’s family, and even less about Sybil’s. Shade’s father died in 1902, four years after his son was born, and his mother died about the same time (“I was an infant when my parents died”).
His mother, “née Caroline Lukin, assisted him [her husband] in his work and drew the admirable figures of his Birds of Mexico.” Kinbote gleaned this detail from the obituary Professor Hurley wrote (C. 71). “What the obituarist does not know,” Kinbote continues, “is that Lukin comes from Luke,” and that for this reason the patronymic is an offspring of the use of “a Christian name.” Kinbote calls this patronymic “hereditary” and because surnames are usually inherited one wonders whether this hereditary aspect might apply to this Christian connotation. This question deserves attention because Kinbote’s gloss is conspicuous as being a not very relevant one:
As a Christian name “Luke” refers to St. Luke, the writer of the third Gospel. St. Luke is believed to be of Greek origin (Alison Jones, The Wordsworth Dictionary of Saints. Ware, 1994), named “Loukas,” meaning “of or belonging to Lucania” (Chambers Bibliographical Dictionary; E.G. Withycombe, The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names. Oxford: OUP, 1946).
“The name [Luke]”, writes Withycombe, “is not found in England before the Norman Conquest, and seems to have come into use in the 12thC.” As this happened about a millennium after Christianity entered England, it seems a bit contrived to associate the use of the name of Luke in England with St. Luke.
Shade’s mother, Caroline Lukin, is “a descendant” of “an old Essex family.” This addition gives the Christian aspect more import. Some research on the internet produces the name of Henry Lukin, (1627-1719), a Puritan divine from Essex who published many religious tracts and became a friend of John Locke. Essex was “the hotbed of Calvinistic Puritanism in England” (Gerald Garth Johnson, Puritan Children in Exile.Bowie: Heritage Books, 2002, 90). Between 1620 and 1640 thousands of English Puritans left England and established settlements in New England of which Boston is probably the best known one. Several of Boston’s citizens have been given prominence in PF.
Religious groups are prone to endogamy, and intermarriage among Puritans often happened (Steven Mintz and Susan Kellogg, Domestic Revolution. A Social History of American Family Life. NY: The Free Press, 1988, Ch. I).
The Shades’ marriage is marked by a small degree of consanguinity as John and Sybil are third cousins. Having great great grandparents in common is in no country considered as an obstacle for moral, legal or medical reasons to marry. So why is this detail mentioned at all?
It may be that it acquires some meaning when combined with the other particulars related about Sybil’s family, as her surname “Irondell” comes from the French for “swallow,” Hirondelle,and that she “came of Canadian stock.” These details open the possibility that Sybil’s ancestors were Huguenots of which a number fled to Canada in order to escape the suppression of Calvinists in France.
The prosecution of (groups of) Protestants in England and France, that they sought to escape by emigration, was most severe in the 17thC. A more recent example of endogamy among Huguenots is the marriage of AndréGide (mentioned in C. 691) to his first cousin Madeleine Rondeaux. He was attracted to her because she shared his moral stance that was rather peculiar due to his “Puritan” upbringing (If It Die. NY: Vintage, 238).
Puritanism can frequently observed in PF, and Sybil’s religious strictness is most likely a manifestation of it, as I have argued elsewhere (“Hazel Shade’s ‘Pale Spectres’ and ‘Purple Fires.’” Nabokov Online Journal, vol. XII ).
Kinbote points out that it is Shade’s “maternal” grandmother who is the first cousin of Sybil’s grandfather. It seems that three generations of Shades, John, Samuel and Samuel’s father, all married women with Puritan antecedents.