Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0018068, Thu, 26 Mar 2009 09:34:27 -0400

Re: Maud & Sybil

I am thankful to SB for pointing out the resonance at play b/w Aunts Maud
and Sybil. Like Maud, Sybil is a poet and seems a bit eccentric ("poetically
superstitious"). She predicts her own death, when HH is sixteen. Maud
likewise dies when Hazel is sixteen, and it seems that she may have been a
more maternal figure to Hazel than Hazel's own mother (Sybil) ever was.
What's more, just as Aunt Sybil predicts her own death, Aunt Maud seems to
have been able to predict John Shade's death. So this seems a typically
Nabokovian rearrangement of details, where there is not an exact one-to-one
narrative analog but the individual parts are recognizably allied. As for
"fatal rigidity," I see this as HH's explanation of his own rigidity as a
"parent." So fatal here means something like "fated," as HH sees in his own
manner the marks of Aunt Sybil.

I wonder if the conflation of Maud and Sybil doesn't lend further
legitimacy to Jim Twiggs's theory that Aunt Maud had a sexual relationship
with young John Shade--a relationship later replaced by his relationship
with Sybil.

Matt Roth


JA: Jansy's quite right, H.H. reports, servants rumors I believe, that
Sybil was in love with his father and that he "light heartedly" took
advantage of this fact one rainy afternoon and forgot about it entirely by
the time the weather had cleared, more or less correctly paraphrased. I've
always had a slight fondness for this self sacrificing woman whose maternal
dedication seems to have gone sadly unappreciated. I explained my own views
of the meaning "fatal rigidity" in a previous response.

EDNote: to my ear, this passage resonates eerily --why?--with the following
from Lolita: "My mother's elder sister, Sybil, whom a cousin of my father's
had married and then neglected, served in my immediate family as a kind of
unpaid governess and housekeeper. [. . . .] I was extremely fond of her,
despite the rigidity--the fatal rigidity--of some of her rules. Perhaps she
wanted to make of me, in the fullness of time, a better widower than my
father" (10). Why "fatal rigidity"? ~SB

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