Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0019906, Mon, 26 Apr 2010 10:53:11 -0400

Re: Semblable: neighbour, fellow, but not double
Your remarks regarding semblable are interesting indeed. Do you think that Zembla's etymology via "Semblerland" (land of reflections) reinforces or satirizes Eliot's translation? The holograph ms. of PF (now public domain) in the Library of Congress contains an interesting variant related to this Eliot-via-Baudelaire line. Kinbote's note to line 376 concludes, "I deplore my friend's vicious thrusts at the most distinguished poets of his day." Following this in the ms., VN tried out several sentences, but canceled them all with one wavy, looping line. They read:

My reader must help me
^ Here I sit in my bookless mountain cave; but thou, my mirror twin, toilest.

and idle I know
Here I sit bookless ^ in my mountain cave but ^ thou toilest, my reader, my mirror twin.

If nothing else, this further confirms VN's interest in Eliot's line and its original.

On a related topic, while looking through Eliot's notes to The Waste Land, I noted again the origin of Eliot's "Wind under the door" line (pastiched by Shade in Canto Three) in Webster's The Devil's Law Case. Jansy mentioned this connection a couple of times in the past. I found the context interesting in relation to PF. The line ("Is the wind in that door still") is uttered by one of the two surgeons examining the presumed-dead Contarino. In fact, the sound is coming from Contarino, who is not dead after all. Here's the excerpt:

Con. Oh!

First Sur. Did he not groan?

Second Sur. Is the wind in that door still?

My immediate reaction is that this scene, in which Contarino revives as if from the dead, deepens the pathos of Shade's lines, as he and Sybil long for some sign of Hazel's return from death. Shade, then, is imagining Hazel as Contarino, a lost soul somehow returned--though the logical part of him "knew there would be nothing" (648).

This connection is probably enough for us, but it may be even more entertaining if we consider the larger context of Webster's line. Contarino is thought to be dead because he has been stabbed not once but twice. First he was stabbed in a duel by Ercole; then, though "three-quarters" dead (recall Shade's fractional death at the Crashaw Club) he is stabbed by Romelio (who sided with Ercole in the dispute). However, instead of finishing Contarino off, Romelio's incision drains the putrification from Contarino's original wound and he is saved. Ha! If we look at Romelio's speech as he is about to stab Contarino (prone on a hospital bed), we find reference to "stiletto" and "bodkin," both prominent PF terms:

Come forth then
My desperate stiletto, that may be worn
In a woman's hair, and ne'er discovered,
and either would be taken for a bodkin,
or a curling iron at most . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . .
By such a shoemaker's awl as this, his soul let forth
At a hole, no bigger than the incision
made for a wheal!

So Contarino is twice slain, the second time by a bodkin-like stiletto, only to survive after all. John Shade also "dies" twice, the second time because of his association with Kinbote/Botkin. Could this support the theory that Shade too is not dead after all? Also note that bodkin-as-hairpin should make us think of the "The Rape of the Lock," where bodkins are likewise used as weapons.

Matt Roth

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