Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0016321, Fri, 2 May 2008 12:32:55 -0400

THOUGHTS: Bourne, Berne, Berneville, Bourneville
Matt Roth here:

All of what follows may be coincidence (but of a Nabokovian flavor).

1. James Ramey, in his article, "Parasitism and Pale Fire's Camouflage," points out that in a passage from Ada (p. 230-231), Nabokov uses the French word berne (meaning trick, dupe, fool). Here is Ramey's analysis:

And it is perfectly true that “berne,” in French, means “trick,” “dupe,” or
“fool.” But that in itself may be a hint that the reader is being duped (or
burned) by this very word. Recall that deception itself is Nabokov’s supreme
“novelistic theme of written communications.” It all makes sense
only when we discover that in Webster’s Second, “berne” is listed inconspicuously
in the lower section of p. 256 as a synonym of “TORCEL.” When we
follow this indexical plot twist, we find “torcel” listed on p. 2671 as “The
larva of a South American botfly (Dermatobia hominis) that lives beneath
the human skin.” Thus the berne in Ada is yet another mimesis of nature’s
mimicry, deceiving us once again into blithely taking appearances as they

Given these meanings of berne (both trick and botfly larva), we might better expect, for obvious reasons, to find the word in Pale Fire. And perhaps we do:

2. "PF" 823-5: "Causing a chunk of ice formed on a high- / Flying airplane to plummet from the sky / And strike a farmer dead..."
This sounds like it could have been ripped from the headlines, doesn't it? Perhaps Nabokov heard about this:

"Farmer Edwin Groff of bernville, Pennsylvania was witness to a 50-pound, white globe of ice that whooshed through the sky and crashed on his property in 1957. A few seconds later, a second ball of ice, half the size of the first, smashed into his flower bed, just a few yards from where he was standing." http://www.ijsklompen.net/divers.htm

This event likely appeared in newspapers at the time, and it appeared in at least two books: http://books.google.com/books?ei=_DgbSML0HoKWzASvyfz-DA&q=%22edwin+groff%22+ice. The date of one of the books (1953), if correct, would seem to make the 1957 date impossible, but it does make clear that this story was being circulated in the 1950s, the time when VN was gathering bits and pieces for PF.

At any rate, that's a second bern[e].

3. Kinbote mentions that Dr. Ahlert once confused neuralgia with Cerebral Sclerosis. One of the alternate names of Cerebral Sclerosis (the version likewise analogous to Tuberous/Tuberose Sclerosis) is "Bourneville's Disease." So that's a berne, a bernville, and a bourneville.

4. Stephen Blackwell informed us in a past post that the Berg Archive contains some notes from VN on DJ West's book Psychical Research Today. In these notes, of which I have since learned more details, VN shows a particular interest in West's third chapter. In one of his notes, he mentions a male who, because of dissociation, developed another personality. The only male subject of this type covered in West's chapter in Ansel Bourne. I have mentioned him before on the list. West: "He was a rather unhealthy man who had since childhood suffered from depressed moods. When he was sixty-one [the same age as John Shade at his death] he lost his sense of identity, and wandered off into a distant town, and set up as a storekeeper under another name." NB: Perhaps VN was also drawn to the last sentence of the previous paragraph, where West says (speaking of FWH Myers--see the Vane Sisters) that "he quoted cases in which the secondary phase was not restricted to writing, but for periods banished the primary personality altogether, so that the individual live a sort of Jekyll and Hyde existence, now with one character, now with another. [paragraph break] A case of this kind was Ansel Bourne..."

berne, bernville, bourneville, bourne

As I said, this could all be happy coincidence. Or it could VN's ruse. I don't know.

Matt Roth

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