Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0020811, Fri, 1 Oct 2010 11:38:40 -0400

Re: Poltergeists & DJ West
Jim Twiggs recently argued that the poltergeist in PF was probably just Hazel showing her unhappiness. This observation sent me back to VN's 1957 notes (from the Berg archive) on Donald J. West's book Psychical Research Today. VN's interest in the book clearly relates to PF, as on the front of the index card in question, he wrote:

a victim of mental dissociation, he developed a secondary personality
wearing a radiant crown (the king as lecturer in Zembla)

In his recent book, SB wonders if this might have been the moment of Zembla's creation.

But regarding, poltergeists, we should note the back of the card, where VN wrote:

household articles thrown about -- poltergeistic pranks

The phrases comes from page 123 of West's book. When we look at the whole passage, it seems to affirm Jim Twiggs' interpretation. I will quote the relevant passages:

Poltergeists have peculiar features all their own, a sort of family tradition, like a pantomime, that repeats itself generation after generation. Noises, household articles thrown about and smashed, untidy messes, and disappearances; these are the stock-in-trade of the poltergeist....A naughty child is often responsible, but there is more to it than simple mischief. A healthy child in a normal family does not take to poltergeistic pranks, or if he does parental firmness soon puts an end to the little joke. The typical poltergeist child is a dull or frustrated boy or girl, seeking excitement or attention. The typical parent in the case is anxious and insecure, with a considerable emotional resistance to admitting that their child could be playing tricks. . . . [A typical case was reported once in France]. . . The chief agent in the case was Jeanne, aged 15. . . . The beginning of the affair was grandfather's bed being found disarranged. [This happened several times]. . . . Then one day Jeanne, summoning help with a piercing shriek, told how she had seen a vision of a skeleton in the garden. Jeanne's mother became so scared she had to seek refuge in a neighbor's house, and news of the haunt soon spread. . . . Then came raps in the night, the disappearance of money from a purse, and the smashing of some shutters. The editor of an occult paper, whose advice was sought, said that there must be a medium in the house. Jeanne was sent away for a while, and all the disturbances ceased until she returned. . . . [More rapping] . . . One morning the family got into conversation with the raps, which came through the wall leading form Jeanne's room. . . . Jeanne was removed to a hospital for observation. The doctors found she suffered from anaesthesia of the throat and contraction of the vision, both common signs of hysteria. She was subject to hysterical crises and hallucinations. Her morals were frightful. She stole money and tried to frighten her companions with pretended spirit raps, and she invented scandalous stories with herself as the heroine. . . . As it is, the case is an instructive example of the curious mixture of fraud, psychological abnormality, and superstition that go to make the typical poltergeist.

Does this sound like our Hazel? I should also note another possible link to the episode in PF. You will recall that the incidents stop after a visit by Dr. Sutton. In the West book, there is a footnote at the bottom of page 123. It refers to a passage about the Borley Rectory poltergeist, which West discusses just before he starts the Jeanne narrative. West says there is no need to discuss all of the details of the case, since an S.P.R. "lengthy survey of the case" is forthcoming. This is followed by the footnote, which reads " Proc S.P.R., li, 1954. (in preparation); C. Sutton in Inky Way Annual, ii, London, 1948." Farther down on VN's notecard, he wrote "see also Proc. S.P.R. 1954," so he clearly noticed this footnote. Might it be that Dr. Sutton has his genesis in this Charles Sutton, a debunker of poltergeists associated with the SPR? You will recall that VN used a footnote in a similar way in reference to his etymology of Shakespeare (Shalksbore, knave's farm). He got this info from Baring-Gould's Family Names and Their Story, page 366. Just under the sentence about knave's farm, which appears near the end of the page, there is a footnote referring to a previous passage. The footnote reads "Harald Harf. Saga, c. 62." The combination of Baring-Gould's note on Shakespeare/Shalksbore and his footnote gives us Baron Harfar Shalksbore, aka Curdy Buff, man of fashion and Zemblan patriot.

Matt Roth

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