Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0020798, Thu, 30 Sep 2010 00:23:51 -0300

Re: Botkin
James Twiggs [to JM's "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. 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?

JM: Perhaps I misunderstood your choice of the word "shrew" applied to Sybil. Hazel's plights are then a question of "cherchez la mère."
There are various ways to read into the bits of story we get throgh Shade and Kinbote (via Jane). There are those tender moments when both parents engage with Hazel's toils with Eliot, when Sybil grieves holding in her hand an old toy, seems to wander forlornly in the garden or cries while she listens to Shade's lines about the night their daughter committed suicide.
There are signs that the couple is perfectly aware that their daughter is mentally unbalanced, or deficient (why would they worry protectively because a 23 year-old woman isn't back home before midnight?) and not a wealth of details to pin down Sybil as a "motherly shrew."
Take Aunt Maud's ailing skye-terrier occurrence. Couldn't Sybil have tried to spare Aunt Maud with some reluctance should the dog also be in physical distress?
Anyway, there's no way to know, one way or the other. In his poem, falsely or not, Shade is extremely grateful and loving of his wife. Both are sexagenarians and, although I haven't stopped to count days and years, Hazel was not born very early in their marriage (I must check when they visited Nice. They had a thing with France, no?)

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