NABOKV-L post 0018772, Thu, 12 Nov 2009 23:38:13 -0200

[NABOKOV-L] Punch and Judy in relation to Punchinello:wild leaps

In his Kafka lecture Nabokov writes about art and compassion. He states:
"you have to have in you some cell, some gene, some germ that will vibrate in answer to sensations that you can neither define, nor dismiss. Beauty plus pity-that is the closest we can get to a definition of art."
For him, there was a brand of cruelty in R.L.Stevenson's "Dr Jekyll and Mr.Hyde" that verged on what is found in the "low Italian comedy": "Stevenson devotes many pages to the horror of Jekyll's plight, but the thing, after all, is only a superb Punch-and-Judy show*. The beauty of Kafka's and Gogol's private nightmares is that their central human characters belong to the same private fantastic world as the inhuman characters around them, but the central one tries to get out of that world, to cast off the mask, to transcend the cloak or the carapace. But in Stevenson's story there is none of that unity and none of that contrast."
Is it Satan rebuking sin, or VN's moments of dark cruelty serve a specific purpose?

In her thorough study of "Nabokov at the Movies", Barbara Wyllie envisions Lolita's cinematic qualities in association to "American noir," combined with another "contemporary film genre, "screwball" comedy, as reflective of the novel's dominant preoccupation: the consequences - dramatic, thematic, perceptual - of juxtaposing two antithetical, conflicting entities..."( p.121) She describes the original primary elements of noir - social alienation, amorality, decadence, sexual degeneray and violence - to their extrremes." (p.83), before she develops the parallels bt. Nabokov "noir" and other authors and film-makers.
Perhaps we could also add Nabokov's allusions to Punch and other "Commedia" characters to this listing but, although they do bob around in his novels, their appearance is scarce ( at least, in a first over-view).

Taking the hint from Sweeney's find about the Columbine in relation to Harlequin and Pierrot (Quilty's biographical sketch places him at the university of Columbia), I tried to gather a small collection of references which might suggest, albeit indirectly in most instances, the Commedia dell'Arte characters and mood. Examining those novels I'm more familiar with ( so, no LATH), I realized that even the beverage ( punch) might be used to set the musical key to a particular emotional tone.

1.Bend Sinister: "Ember, still far away, was bobbing and straining, like Punch**, trying to get a glimpse of Krug over the shoulders and heads...'It's all right, go on,' said Krug. 'I was just trying to remember. You were arrested - let me see - just before the cat left the room. I suppose -' (Krug waved to Ember whose big nose and red ears kept appearing here and there between soldiers and shoulders). 'Yes, I think I remember now.' "

2. Pnin: "The organs concerned in the production of English speech sounds are the larynx, the velum, the lips, the tongue [that punchinello in the troupe), and, last but not least, the lower jaw... the stained-glass casements that coloured the sunlight orange and green and violet on the verandas of Russian country houses..."

3. Lolita: "To know that this semi-animated, subhuman trickster who had sodomized my darling - oh, my darling, this was intolerable bliss![...]"Guess again, Punch."..."Ah," said Punch, "so you have not come to bother me about those long-distance calls?"... Phil calls Philadelphia. Pat calls Patagonia. I refuse to pay. You have a funny accent, Captain." "Quilty," I said."
"Jean (Farlow), his youngish wife (and first cousin), was a long-limbed girl in harlequin glasses ..."
"Several times already, a trick of harlequin light that fell through the glass upon an alien handwriting had twisted it into a semblance of Lolita's script ... sex is but the ancilla of art."
(other references to Bertoldo, to Gratiano, to Columbine were quoted in a former posting)

4. ADA: Cordula " relished every morsel, every sip, every jest, every sob, and he found ravishing the velvety rose of her cheeks, and the azure-pure iris of her festively painted eyes to which indigo-black thick lashes, lengthening and upcurving at the outer canthus, added what fashion called the 'harlequin slant.'
..."honest Van chided himself for having attempted to use a little pauper instead of the princess in the fairy tale - 'whose precious flesh must not blush with the impression of a chastising hand,' says Pierrot in Peterson's version."


* One of the commedia dell'arte theatrical offspring is the Punch-and-Judy show, where Punch is short for Punchinello.

wiki:Pulcinella, often called Punch or Punchinello in English, Polichinelle in French, is a classical character that originated in the Commedia dell'arte of the 17th century and became a stock character in Neapolitan puppetry.His main characteristic, from which he acquired his name, is his extremely long nose, which resembles a beak. In Latin, this was a pullus gallinaceus, which led to the word "Pulliciniello" and "Pulcinella," related to the Italian pulcino or chick...Ever white dressed and black masked (hence conciliating the opposites of life and death), he stands out thanks to his peculiar voice, the sharp and vibrant qualities of which contribute intense tempo of the show. According to Pierre Louis Duchartre, his traditional temperament is to be mean, vicious, and crafty: his main mode of defense is to pretend to be too stupid to know what's going on, and his secondary mode is to physically beat people.

**Is there a coincidence bt. BS's Ember and Punch in ADA? "Her ember-bright hair flew into his face ...She sat in his lap, heavily, dreamily, full of foie gras and peach punch..." In "Pnin" the reference to this beverage is more clearly indicative of Punchinello than it seems to be the case in Ada. For example, "Pnin's Punch and Betty's scotch were causing some of the guests to talk louder ...A last drop of Pnin's punch glistened in its beautiful bowl ..." while discussing the magic bluish-green color of Pnin's bowl and the vair/verre "columbine". It is when Pnin observes (in Italian): " primo, he would like ...and, secundo, that Cendrillon's shoes were not made of glass but of Russian squirrel fur - vair, in French... from veveritsa, Slavic for a certain beautiful, pale, winter-squirrel fur, having a bluish, or better say sizïy, columbine, shade - 'from columba, Latin for "pigeon ", as somebody here well knows ...('I always thought "columbine" was some sort of flower,' said Thomas to Betty...) Frequently wearing "dove gray" and described in a landscape with city "doves" in RLSK, we find sad, abandoned Clare Bishop. Her "clear" name reappears in Quilty's (there are gender changes, in a ploy suggested by Lolita, bt. Dark Vivian and Clare Q.) I haven't yet checked into the "tumbler pigeon/angel" or "winged clowns" opposites, nor the references to conjurors or the tearful donjuanesque "Willy." in this context.

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