NABOKV-L post 0017511, Mon, 22 Dec 2008 20:45:20 +0100

Re: MacDiarmid, Southey, etc.
Re: [NABOKV-L] Thoughts: McDarmiad, Lochearnhead

Dear List -

in the copious notes to my new German edition of Pale Fire (Fahles Feuer, Rowohlt, March 2008) I have glossed the whole passage about Kinbote's scholarly predilections which may give a hint as to his "real" specialty at New Wye University. As some of the points of the Southey connection may not have been noticed before, here is a quick and dirty English translation of my respective notes. The pages and lines refer to the German edition.

The passage goes: "At forty, not long before the collapse of his throne, he had attained such a degree of scholarship that he dared accede to his venerable uncle's raucous dying request: 'Teach, Karlik!' Of course, it would have been unseemly for a monarch to appear in the robes of learning at a university lectern and present to rosy youths Finnigan's Wake as a monstrous extension of Angus MacDiarmid's 'incoherent transactions' and of Southey's Lingo-Grande ("Dear Stumparumper," etc.) or discuss the Zemblan variants, collected in 1798 by Hodinski, of the Kongs-skugg-sio (The Royal Mirror), an anonymous masterpiece of the twelfth century. Therefore he lectured under an assumed name and in a heavy make-up, with wig and false whiskers" (PF, p.76). (Perhaps giving him the appearance of one of Southey's rats.)


85.16 Finnigan's Wake] The common denominator for Charles' rather marginal scholarly pursuits seems to be: North European (Scandinavian - including Zemblan -, Scottish and Irish) cultural history, synthetical languages and dialects of literature and the suspicion that they are phony to which they were frequently exposed. It was a topic that must have seemed urgent to Kinbote who himself was just inventing "Zemblan."

Finnigan's Wake is Kinbote's intentionally wrong spelling of James Joyce's last novel Finnegans Wake (1939). Nabokov who was an ardent admirer of Joyce and especially of Ulysses did not at all care for Finnegans Wake, calling it "nothing but a formless and dull mass of phony folklore" (SO, p.71). The spelling (Tim) Finnigan's Wake is the title of a comic Irish music-hall ballad from which Joyce took the title of his monster book.

85.17-18 Angus MacDiarmid] Author of an unintendedly hilarious book in an awry kind of English: Striking and picturesque delineations of the grand, beautiful, wonderful, and interesting scenery around Loch-Earn (Edinburgh 1815). Nabokov's source probably was a book by Robert Scott Fittis, Sports and Pastimes of Scotland (London 1891). Fittis mentions Angus MacDiarmid and says about him: "Angus was a thorough Child of the Mist-a trusty gillie on the moors, and a genius to boot. He appears to have acquired just sufficient knowledge of the English language to enable him to use an English dictionary, from the study of which his untutored mind formed an extraordinary style of composition" (p.42). Fittis quotes a page passage about a wolf hunt: "About the same time, the cattle of Glendochard inhabitants has been taken away by violence or pillage, by barbarous men of incoherent transactions. At that depredation, a most excellent bull break out from the force of the ravisher; which bull shelter himself in a vacant hovel, laying a distant from the rest of the houses; he was much troubled by one of the wolfs already mentioned ." (p.43).

Fittis also mentions that a copy of this book must have fallen tinto the hands of the poet Robert Southey (q.v. note 85.18 Southey) "who quoted and laughed over one of its queer phrases-"'men of incoherent transactions" (p.42). Indeed, in a letter to his sister Edith May Southey (April 3, 1834) in which he complained about his publisher John Murray: ". {the less I have to do with a man of such 'incoherent transactions,' the better for me}" (New Letters of Robert Southey, New York 1965, vol. 2, p.406). {The brackets indicate that this sentence has been retranslated by me as the source is currently unavailable.} Priscilla Meyer who it seems did not know of Angus MacDiarmid argued that the name is an allusion to an author of the Scottish Renaissance, Hugh MacDiarmid (real name C.M. Grieve, 1892-1978), an admirer of Lenin, who wrote in English as well as in the synthetic Scottish dialect Lallans ("Lowlands") which he had created and went on advocating. He also edited poems by Marion Angus (1866-1946), a Scottish poetess who wrote in Angus Scots.

85.18 Southey] The English poet Robert Southey (1774-1843), Poeta laureatus, whom literary historians have often ranged with Wordsworth and Coleridge. He was on friendly terms with both. In two letters (September 14, 1821, and December 24, 1822) to his good personal friend, Grosvenor C. Bedford, he described the nonsensical language Sara Coleridge, the poet's wife, had invented and which he himself called her "Lingo-Grande" [Coleridge and Southey had married sisters, Sara and Edith Fricker, so Sara-whom Coleridge later divorced-was Southey's sister-in-law]: "Dear Stumparumper, . the purport of this letter . is to give you some account (though but an imperfect one) of the language spoken in the house by ----- [Sara Coleridge née Fricker], and invented by her. I have carefully composed a vocabulary of it by help of her daughter [equally Sara Coleridge] and mine. she asks me, how can I be such a Tomnoddycum ., and calls me detesty, a maffrum, a goffrum, a chatterpye, a sillycum, and a great mawkinfort. But when she speaks of you it is with kinder meaning. The appellations she has in store for you are either words of direct endearment, or of that sort of objurgation which is the playfullest mood of kindness. Thus you are a stumparumper, because you are a shortycum ." (Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols, ed. John Wood Warter, London 1856, vol. 3, pp.270-271). Sara Coleridge's silly "Lingo-Grande" had a counterpart in the pseudo baby talk used in their letters by Swift and his mistress Esther Johnson ("Stella")-not Esther Vanhomrigh ("Vanessa")-which they called their "little language," such as oo for you, dallar for girl, deelest for dearest.

85.21 Kongs-skugg-sia] 'Kings' Mirror,' a medieval Old Norse work in which a father explains to his son the geography, climate, fauna and flora of Scandinavia, Ireland, Iceland and Greenland, interspersed with medieval tales of wonder. The author is unknown. The assumption is that it was written around 1160 in Norway. Old Norse skugg is 'shadow' and skugg-sia is 'mirror' but literally 'seeing shadows'. Thus the word reflects the notion that what you see in the mirror are the shadows of things. [Of course, Kinbote cannot have espied even a shadow of Zembla in that mirror.]

According to Kinbote, Hodinski who is said to have collected the Zemblan variants of Kongs-skugg-sia in 1798 was a "Russian adventurer, court jester and a poet of genius." As a lover of Queen Yaruga ("reigned 1799-1800"), he was perhaps an ancestor of Charles the Beloved. Hodinski who lived in Zembla from 1778 to 1800 is "said to have forged in his spare time a famous old Russian chanson de geste, generally attributed to an anonymous bard of the twelfth century" (PF, p.246). This is the "famous pastiche" mentioned in Kinbote's Index (PF, p.307). The allusion may be to the Song of Igor's Campaign. This speculation is corroborated by the fact that Hodinski is the lover of Queen Yaruga and that her name is derived from an obsolete Russian word for 'precipice,' yaruga, occuring three times in the Song of Igor's Campaign. The authenticity of the Song of Igors Campaign was often put to doubt. Nabokov who in 1960 translated it into English considered it genuine with some disturbing marks that could be construed as manipulations, but not so André Masson who in 1940 called it "a work of more recent origin in the form of a pastiche" [q.v. note p.303.10 chanson de geste].

238.27-29 Southey . rats . bishop] In his ballad God's Judgment on a Wicked Bishop (1799), the poet Robert Southey gives his own version of the tales surrounding the famous "Mäuseturm" (Mice Tower) on an island in the Rhine near the town of Bingen: How Archbishop Hatto I of Mayence acquitted himself of starving people by having them burnt, was pursued by mice (turned into rats by Southey), rescued himself into a tower in the Rhine and there was devoured by them. Roast rat is mentioned by Southey in a letter to his friend Grosvenor C. Bedford, May 5, 1819: "I have nothing else to tell you, except that lately I had a rat roasted for supper, which was very good, though it would have been better had the rat been not so young. It was more like roasted pig than anything else. Shedaw [Southey's daughter] liked it much; Sara [Coleridge's daugher] thought it not amiss; but as for Mrs. C----- [Coleridge's wife Sara née Fricker], you should have seen her face when we talked of it at breakfast" (Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols, ed. John Wood Warter, London 1856, vol. 3, p.131).

303.10 chanson de geste] French, 'epic song of heroic deeds.' The "Russian chanson de geste" which is said to be a forgery by Hodinski alias Hodyna from 1795 may well be the Song of Igor's Campaign. A copy of the missing manuscript had under mysterious circumstances been acquired in 1790 by a Russian collector, Count Mussin-Pushkin who edited it sloppily and had it published in 1800 under the title Slovo o polku Igoreve. The manuscript that was the basis of this edition burnt in the great Moscow conflagration of 1812. Nothing is known about the author. It may have been written around 1187. Because of its obscure past, the authenticity was often disputed. Some have though it to be a Russian imitation of Ossian. Nabokov who in 1953/1960 translated it into English was convinced of its authenticity; if Kinbote is ascribing it to an ancestor of Charles the Beloved, he was not. From some correspondences with James Macpherson's notoriously famous Ossian (that influenced the German "Romantik") Nabokov did not conclude that Igor was a forgery but that Macpherson must have used some genuine medieval elements: "Throughout The Song there occur here and there a few poetical formulas strikingly resembling those in Macpherson's Ossian. Paradoxically, these coincidences tend to prove not that a Russian of the eighteenth century emulated Macpherson, but that Macpherson's conconction does contain after all scraps derived from authentic ancient poems. It is not unreasonable to assume that through the mist of Scandinavian sagas certain bridges or ruins of bridges may be distinguished linking Scottic-Gaelic romances with Kievan ones. The curious point is that if we imagine a Russian forger around 1790 constructing a mosaic out of genuine odds and ends with his own mortar, we must further imagine that he knew English well enough to be affected by specific elements of Macpherson's style; but in the eighteenth century, and well into the age of Pushkin, English poetry was known to Russians only through French versions, and therefore the Russian forger would not have rendered, as Letourneur did not render them, the very special details of that curious 'Ossianic' style ." (TSoIC, pp.12-13). If the adventurer and court jester Hodinski/Hodyna (who drowned with Queen Yaruga in an ice-hole in 1800) was the author of such a pastiche, he must have accomplished excactly that impossible feat, [imitating English tropes unknown to him]. His name sounds suspiciously like Harry Houdini (1784-1926), the Hungarian-American magician, escapologist and actor who knew how to wriggle out of any noose.

Dieter Zimmer, Berlin

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