NABOKV-L post 0018276, Fri, 1 May 2009 02:14:26 -0300

[NABOKOV-L] John Webster's wolf, Eliot's dog, Kinbote's fox...
Dear List,

Nabokov's opening lines in "Speak Memory" ["The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness."] suggest a vague expectation about an expansion of existence (ie: it's merely "common sense" that spoils our hopes).

Nevertheless, when a variant appears in Shade's Pale Fire, this optimistic view is gone:
"Outstare the stars. Infinite foretime and/ Infinite aftertime: above your head/ They close like giant wings, and you are dead.
(John Shade, in V.Nabokov´s Pale Fire,lines 122/124).

There are verses by John Webster that resonate with Shade's conclusion:
"I do not look who went before, nor who shall follow me; / No, at myself I will begin and end."
( Flamineo, in John Webster´s The White Devil, V,vi).

The Webster reference, in Pale Fire, the one that is clearly established, comes through T.S.Eliot's "The Waste Land."* (in which the original wolf is transformed into a dog).
Webster's inclusion of the wolf refers to ancient belief that holds that when a wolf digs up a grave it means that its occupant has been murdered (as happened with Marcello, mourned by Cornelia) **

But James Joyce comes in, too - in the sequence that offers another transformation: from dog into fox (in "Ulysses")***.
btw: all three are related to a grandmother.

*Brian Boyd praises the intrincacies of the connection made by VN between two poems by Eliot. It is when he mentions the lines:
" 'O keep the Dog far hence, that's friend to men,/ 'Or with his nails he'll dig it up again!," and Eliot's reference to "the Dirge in Webster´s White Devil" [Cf. "Nabokov´s Pale Fire, the magic of artistic discovery", Princeton University Press, 1999].
Boyd chose not to mention another line by Webster ( 'Is the wind in that door still?'), which also merits a quote by Eliot for "'What is that noise?'/ The wind under the door. / 'What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?'/ Nothing again nothing."
Its echoes are to be found in Shade's lines 443-447: "Was that the phone?" You listened at the door. Nothing (...) There was no sense/ In window-rubbing: only some white fence... and 479-480: "We heard the wind. We heard it rush and throw/ Twigs at the windowpane. Phone ringing? No."
The window-rubbing/wind noises were probably provoked by C.Kinbote's prowling around the Shade's. The wind deserves a special note by Kinbote, writing about Shade's use of "The Erlking". Kinbote mentions "the bonus of an unexpected rhyme" in French and Zemblan in a parenthetic note to line 662: "(also in French: vent-enfant)," but not its occurrence in the original German.
For Zemblan: "vett/dett" we have Goethe's "Wind/Kind"!

** In Webster's "The White Devil", act 5, scene 4. Cornelia is preparing Marcello's body for burial and sings a song that her grandmother used to sing and where she laments those who have died and remained unburied. It invites robins and other animals to bury the body to keep off the wolves. Here are her words:
Call for the robin redbreast, and the wren,
[Cornelia doth this in several forms of distraction.]
Since o'er shady groves they hover,
And with leaves and flowers do cover
The friendless bodies of unburied men.
Call unto his funeral dole
The ant, the fieldmouse, and the mole,
To rear him hillocks that shall keep him warm,
And (when gay tombs are robb'd) sustain no harm;
But keep the wolf far thence, that 's foe to men,
For with his nails he 'll dig them up again.
They would not bury him 'cause he died in a quarrel;
But I have an answer for them:
Let holy Church receive him duly,
Since he paid the church-tithes truly.
His wealth is summ'd, and this is all his store,
This poor men get, and great men get no more.
Now the wares are gone, we may shut up shop.
Bless you all, good people.

(If you can still bear another connection, in RLSK there is a reference to the nursery-rhyme "Cock-Robin" in which various animals are called in to mourn for his death (mainly insects, a fish and an ox). One of the names Sebastian had intended for one of his novels had been "Cock Robin Hits Back", but he substituted it later following Clare's, not his publisher's, advice.)

*** In his Lectures on Literature (Bowers,page 297) Nabokov observes: "Notice, by the way, the term poor dogsbody. The symbol of a forlorn dog will be attached to Stephen through the book" and then a little further: "Stephen will not go to Padddy Dignam´s funeral. He answers his riddle, " - The fox burying his grandmother under a hollybush" (...) In the next chapter Stephen, walking on the beach, sees a dog, and the dog idea and fox idea merge as the dog foxily scrapes up the sand, and listens, for he has buried something, his grandmother" (Bowers,page 299).
There are foxes in PF: "And our best yesterdays are now foul piles/ Of crumpled names, phone numbers and foxed files"
and Kinbote on line Line 71, referring to the "old fox in the book publishing business" to whom his map must be sent: "The black trunk stands on another brown or brownish even larger one, and there is I think a stuffed fox or coyote next to them in their dark corner."

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