VOLTEMAND

I’d like to share some thoughts about Van Veen’s nom de plume, “Voltemand”:

Nabokov clearly suggests clues to the name’s meaning when he has the reviewer of Veen/Voltemand’s book, Letters from Terra, declare, “If Mr. Voltemand (or Voltimand or Mandalatov) is a psychiatrist, as I think he might be, then I pity his patients, while admiring his talent.’” (Ada, p344)

As Alexey Skylarenko has pointed out ( 027610), “Mandalatov” could mean “mandala”, the sacred Hindu symbol of wholeness that Carl Jung brought into modern psychiatry. This is of particular importance to me, as this supports the idea that VN was familiar with Jung, as I maintain in my thesis on Jung’s influence in Pale Fire. Carl Jung claimed that symbols were more than equivalencies of one thing to another; symbols expressed within themselves multiple meanings that together make one. Although Nabokov claimed to abhor symbols, in fact it seems that he rarely used a single allusion when he could combine many into one.

“Voltemand” suggests several meanings:

>We know that Voltemand was a character in Hamlet, but why this very minor character? I surmise that he needed a “V” name to link with Hamlet, as the question in VN’s work is always a form of “to be, or not to be” (i.e. Time and the hereafter).

>”Voltemand” can be turned into an aural near anagram of “Mandevil”, referencing Baron Mandevil of Pale Fire, who is also a man-devil. The near anagram could be used with either variation, Voltemand or Voltimand, which is why I believe he included the latter; also, perhaps, because the reviewers name is “Mispel” (misspell).

>”Volt” suggests electricity and the banning of electricity in Antiterra is essential to the plot, somehow. I surmise because “electricity” is energy and life, and that possibly in Antiterra the life-stultifying Bolshevik revolution has had more influence than on Earth.

>The word “volt” is French volte, Italian volta from voltare to turn, from Latin volvere. A “volte-face” means a turnabout. Van Veen turns the world upside-down by walking on his hands. The root for “mand” means “hand”.

>More importantly, “hand” means “skill”, as “being an old hand” at something. It is also short for “handwriting” and is recognizable as pertaining to the personality of the writer, as well. One could call it the writer’s “style” – we see his “hand” in the work. On the facing page of the reviewer’s quote is a letter to Van from Ada, wherein she writes, “…once upon libellula wings, not long before my marriage she attended – I mean at that time, I’m stuck in my ‘turnstyle’ – one of your public lectures on dreams…” (Ada, p345, emphasis mine)

“Voltemand” is therefore a style that is turned – anagrams, palindromes, puns. It suggests, as well, what the reviewer admired of Voltemand’s book, his so-to-speak “turns of phrase”. Ultimately, like a symbol of wholeness, all of these meanings revolve and relate to Van Veen.

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