NABOKV-L post 0020794, Wed, 29 Sep 2010 14:44:16 -0700

Re: Botkin
JANSY MELLO: "Sybil, as a shrew, must certainly derive from Kinbote's own vision
of her!"

In fact, Jansy, I was thinking not of Sybil's treatment of the boorish pest
Kinbote (which seems well-deserved) but of her coldness toward Hazel. There are
two or three instances of this, the main one occurring in the commentary to line
230, when she has Maud's Skye terrier put to death. This entire entry,
describing the possible poltergeist manifestations, is surely one of the key
passages in the novel. At the end of the passage, Kinbote gives us a choice
between a natural and a supernatural account of these events, declaring that
for himself the two possible sources of disturbance are equally mysterious.

The natural explanation, which has always seemed right to me, is by far the more
frightening. There is no poltergeist, there's only poor Hazel, throwing a
monumental, month-long tantrum. This is a source of great embarrassment to her
parents, who, completely befuddled themselves, would never, thanks to an
intellectual prejudice, consult a psychiatrist. But never mind, old Doc Sutton
comes to the rescue with a solution that's even crueler than the killing of the
dog: threaten the girl with the loss of the home she's strongly attached to.
That'll shut her up, by golly. And so it does. Tragically, though, what
Kierkegaard referred to as shut-up-ness is already a big part of her problem.
The reason I prefer the natural explanation is that it tells us so much of
genuine interest about Hazel.

The Shades, and especially Sybil, have a lot to answer for in the upbringing of
their daughter.

It goes without saying that we have only Kinbote's word that the events he
describes (as allegedly told to him by Jane Provost) actually occurred. But then
again, how reliable a narrator is Shade? Does the fact that he chooses not to
include certain events in his poem mean that they never happened?

I leave it to someone who believes the supernatural version to tell us in what
way it's preferable to the one I've outlined above.

Jim Twiggs

From: Jansy Berndt de Souza Mello <jansy@AETERN.US>
Sent: Tue, September 28, 2010 2:38:02 PM
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] Botkin

James Twiggs: "although we, as readers of VN’s novel, can see just how mad
Botkin/Kinbote is, this would not necessarily have been so clear to his
colleagues...By the way, why is it so seldom mentioned that Shade, in his
obsession with the afterlife, is a bit on the batty side himself and that Sybil
is something of a shrew? "

JM: We seem to agree that Shade was quite "batty," although Sybil, as a shrew,
must certainly derive from Kinbote's own vision of her! Anyway, a great many
mental illnesses exhibit no dramatic outward signs. Pulling open Gerald's
emerald bow-tie or playing pingpong with two sets of tables seems to
be harmless enough, just like Kinbote's reported conversations with his
colleagues in Wordsmith. Kinbote, at times, seems to be saner than Shade, were
it not for something masterfully conveyed by Nabokov, a visual
element (confessedly interested in observing and reproducing little ticks and
idiosyncratic gestures) that makes me sense, always, Kinbote's manic
jauntiness, shiny eyes, syncopated movements, independently of what he writes
about himself.
In Brazil, thanks to the Jesuits (Kinbote might have been educated by them,
although he mentions Augustine and not Aquinas) we had a flourishing barroque
period. I cannot remember anything barroque in America, except for..say..
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