Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0017578, Wed, 7 Jan 2009 11:43:22 -0500

THOUGHTS: Re: SKB on Allusions
SKB's remarks (below) caused me to think about the larger question of how we might categorize VN's allusions, and to what end. I might, for instance, break them down as follows (though there is of course some crossover between categories):

A. Direct & Certain: VN directly names the work or historical fact/person and there can be no doubt about intent. Example: The various jokes about Freud throughout VN's novels.

B. Direct & Uncertain: VN directly mentions a source but his intent is slightly unclear: Example 1: In PF, "Finnigan's Wake," which may either be a mistaken misspelling of Joyce's novel or an intentional misspelling, perhaps sending us back to the ballad that gave Joyce's novel its name. Example 2: Edsel Ford. It is fairly safe to assume that VN knew that the author of "The Image of Desire" was not the car maker (or the car!) but we can't absolutely know this for sure. Therefore, we cannot be certain whether or not VN was making the joke he thought he was making!

C. Direct but Hidden: The source is directly mentioned, but the reference is so obscure as to be missed by all but the most inquisitive reader. Example: Jim Coates, the reporter in Shade's poem. As Priscilla Meyer revealed, James Coates was the author of several spiritualism books, including "Photographs of the Invisible," etc. We don't have direct external evidence that VN knew of Coates, but the context in which the name appears is solid enough to confirm VN's intent. For some, "Charlotte Hayes" falls into this category, though for SKB the internal evidence is not yet strong enough.

D. Ambiguous Intent: VN intentionally mentions a historical or literary source, but we can't be certain what particular aspect of the source he wants us to notice. Example: John Shade's poem about Mont Blanc. We know it's an actual mountain, but are we supposed to think of Shelley's poem about it? Wordsworth's? Or the fact that Victor meet his Monster on its icy slopes above Chamonix? We can't be sure.

E. Ambiguous Existence: In this case, it is unclear whether or not a name or action in the novel is an allusion. Is John Shade trimming his nails an allusion to a scene in Ulysses? (VN says no). But maybe it's an allusion to Twelfth Night, 4.2.25-27 ("Like a mad lad / Pare thy nails, dad; / Adieu, goodman devil.") Mad lad? [check] Paring nails? [check] Mandevil? [check]! Hmm...or not! We don't have enough certainty to say for sure.

F. Source vs. Allusion: In this case, we have tracked down the source of a portion of VN's text, but it is unclear whether or not VN wanted us to find it or whether the source is important to our understanding of VN's text. Example: My recent discovery of J.A. Symonds' footnote in "Renaissance in Italy," which provides Kinbote with his story about the tyrant being eaten alive in the public square. By knowing this, do we know anything more about Pale Fire? I'm not sure.

G. Character Allusion vs. Authorial Allusion: In some cases, an allusion is made by one of VN's characters, which may have meaning for that character. In other cases, the allusion may be hidden to the character but functions at the authorial level. In a third case, the allusion may have one apparent meaning for the character and another for the author. Example: If we were to accept that Charlotte Haze is related to Charlotte Hayes, we must then decide whether or not Humbert Humbert was aware of the allusion or whether it dwells entirely at VN's level. If we decide that the allusion falls within HH's intention, then we must consider whether his meaning matches VN's or stands apart from it. Thorny!

I'm sure there are other kinds and functions of allusions that I have forgotten, but alas I am out of time for now. Perhaps others can fill in what I have missed, or correct what I have misrepresented.

Matt Roth

>>> On 1/7/2009 at 6:14 AM, in message <C58A3F06.33D7%skb@bootle.biz>, Stan Kelly-Bootle <skb@BOOTLE.BIZ> wrote:
Jansy: you still miss the point that there’s no evidence that VN (or VN via HH) was making any connection between the two Charlottes via phonetic wordplay on Haze/Hayes. READERS have certainly imputed to VN such a deliberate connection based on such slender suppositions as “VN the voracious reader must have seen the literature on whore-mongress C Hayes — although rare, it was known to be on sale at book stalls along the Seine — QED!” And then, with typical LitCrit illogic, comes the assertion “Of course VN knew about Madame C Hayes, or why else would he have named Lo’s mum C Haze?” This is the sort of false “proof by assertion” that starts by assuming that which needs to be proved. Until we have more evidence, it’s fruitlessly premature to strongly opinionate on whether the mooted Hayes/Haze wordplay is childish/cruel/demeaning, brilliantly justified, or so damned cunningly Nabokovian/Humbertian, or whatever.

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