NABOKV-L post 0018472, Mon, 20 Jul 2009 08:08:44 -0300

[NABOKOV-L] Goethe's and Mann's cradle-gondola
Even after the age of seventy Goethe remained actively attracted by very young ladies.Thus it came to pass that, in a health-cure in Marienbad, he flirted and proposed to 19 year-old Ulrike (she refused him; he wrote the Marienbader Elegie).

Another lady ( who, at 22, described herself in connection to Goethe as a "Kind" and struck elfin poses, in the manner of Goethe's character "Mignon") was named Bettina.
Bettina is also the name Goethe chose for a contorsionist whose flexibility allowed her to lick herself all over in the lascivious cruel "Venetian Epigrams" (1790)*
Bettina's acrobatic feats, while keeping her hands are on the ground and legs pointing upwards, made me think of maniambulator Van's, in "Ada or Ardor"**

One of Goethe's epigrams reminded me of Nabokov's first chapter in SM, the oft-quoted "the cradle rocks above an abyss", in particular the structural contrast of the opening lines with a cradle and the coffin in its last paragraph, both wavering at the edge of nothingness.

I WOULD liken this gondola unto the soft-rocking cradle,
And the chest on its deck seems a vast coffin to be.
Yes! 'tween the cradle and coffin, we totter and waver for ever
On the mighty canal, careless our lifetime is spent.
(internet translation)

Surprisingly, another link led me to Thomas Mann's "Death in Venice" ( particularly aimed by VN's strong opinions) related to Goethe's tumbler: In "The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Mann," page 103: "There is, however, a more specific association between Aschenbach and Goethe. Goethe's visit to Venice in spring 1790 gave rise to the Venetian Epigrams. Here Mann found the famous comparison of a black gondola to a coffin (VIII,464,G 1,176).

* "Bettina wird immer geschikter,/Immer beweglicher wird jegliches Gliedchen an ihr;/ Endlich bringt sie das Züngelchen noch ins zierliche Fötzschen/Spielt mit dem artigen selbst, achtet die Männer nicht viel."

** - "More centrally, several epigrams celebrate a group of street acrobats, including a preternaturally agile girl called Bettina. Watching them as a tourist, Goethe is in a position like that of Aschenbach watching Tadzio and his friends....when she stands on her hands with legs (and bottom) pointing skywards, Goethe pretends to fear that she will attract Jupiter away from his boy-lover Ganymede..." (The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Mann)

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors:,
Visit Zembla:
View Nabokv-L policies:
Visit "Nabokov Online Journal:"

Manage subscription options: