Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0015517, Mon, 1 Oct 2007 12:40:31 -0400

THOUGHTS: Hazel Shade & Catskin/Catkins
As some of you know, I am working on a (wildly unpopular) argument which posits an incestuous relationship between John Shade and his daughter Hazel. I can't get into all of the premises here (contact me off-list if you are interested) except to say that there is a network of allusions to cannibalism which are inextricably intertwined with notions of incest.

Btw, Hazel suffers from "swollen feet," the very condition which gives Oedipus his name.

Anyway, I don't want to argue that here; I simply want to establish that as the backdrop for these observations. First, the facts as I see them:

I. Shade's Shagbark Hickory closely related to Hazel:
A. Lines 49-57 (description of tree) invoke Hazel in several ways:
1."The phantom of my daughter's little swing" is obvious.
2. "White butterflies turn lavender" when they pass where swing was
a. Boyd sees this as a foreshadowing image of Hazel's transformation from Toothwort White into Red Admirable. (Btw, has anyone ever pointed out that Toothwort--the plant--specifically feeds on Hazel roots? I have not found this noted anywhere in Boyd or elsewhere).
3. Shadows under the tree are like "undone garlands." The garland in VN's work is closely associated with Ophelia and the naiads, both related to Hazel via her drowning. See DBJ's Naiads essay and Devries's "Sandro Botticelli and Hazel Shade." Devries thinks that Hazel gets her garland via Arnold's "Scholar Gypsy." I think she gets it here and through her death along the "reedy bank": Hazel is an ironic Syrinx, chased into the reeds by Pan's failure to pursue her, by Pete Dean's running from her. Those reeds may be Ophelia's long-purples, the Lythrum salicaria (Purple Loosestrife) that grows along the banks (perhaps referenced by Kinbote via "willow-herb" in C. 347). Moreover, Hazel's transformation (into Syrinx) among the reeds relates her to the lilac (Syringa) which was once called "pipe wood" because it was easily drilled out and made into a flute. Either purple then relates back to the Shagbark's shady garlands that turn the white butterflies lavender. End of digression.
B. Lines 650-652
1. Hazel's "phantom" will not greet John & Sybil "In the dark garden, near the shagbark tree."
2. Hazel has a "pet name." (Possible play on "Cat-skin," as we shall see).

II. Shagbark and the "brown ament"
A. The shagbark hickory produces catkins in the spring.
B. In line 965, Shade mentions the brown ament (catkin) in his lines which at the same time demonstrate his "sensual love for the consonne / D'appui, Echo's fey child."
1. The ament likely came from the shagbark tree.
2. Priscilla Meyer, I believe, argues that Hazel is in some sense the "fey child." (Source anyone?)
a. Remember, she is Shade's physical rhyme (l. 294: "Nature chose me"). Thus, Shade's "sensual love" for Hazel. (Ugh!)
C. Catkin: Wedgwood's Dictionary of English Etymology says that catkin is "probably not so much from the resemblance to a cat's tail as from a cat being taken as the type of what is furry or downy that the name of catkin, Fr. calons, Du. kalte, kälteten, G. kätzchen, little cat, is given to the downy or feathery flowers of the willow, hazel, &c. Thus Bav. mudel, puss, is used in the sense of cat-skin, fur in general."

III. Cinderella & Princess Catskin
M. R. Cox's famous study breaks the Cinderella myth into three main variant groups: A. Cinderella, B.Catskin, and C. Cap O' Rushes.
A. Hazel & Cinderella (A) variants
1. The hazel-bough: In many of the (A) variants Cinderella's father asks his 3 daughters what they want him to bring back for them. The other two daughters want dresses and jewels, but Cinderella asks her father for a branch from the first tree that knocks against his hat. This turns out to be a hazel tree. "As soon as he got home, he gave his stepdaughters what they had wished for, and to Cinderella he gave the hazel branch. She thanked him very much, and going to her mother's grave she planted the branch on it, and wept so long that her tears fell and watered it, so that it grew and became a beautiful tree."
2. Lines 329-31: "The telephone that rang before a ball / Every two minutes in Sorosa Hall / For her would never ring." As in the Cinderella story, Hazel cannot go to the ball.
B. Hazel & Catskin (B) variants (see here for Grimm's version: http://web.ukonline.co.uk/archer/catskin.html)
1. Resemblance & Incest
a. In (B) widow king wants to marry his daughter because she looks "just like his late queen"
b. Inversely, Hazel got all of Shade's features and none of Sybil's. If Shade is incestuous father, then it is a kind of self-devouring or self-love?
2. Fur Mantle
a. Daughter escapes wearing a fur mantle that her father gave her.
b. Line 360: "she tried on your furs" -- one of several images where Hazel & Sybil merge in John Shade's mind.
3. Catkin/Catskin
a. When princess is found by huntsmen in hollow tree (related to Boscobel narrative?) they give her the name Cat-skin.
b. Given the shagbark's association with Hazel, we can now read catkin (the noun he meant) as a play on Cat-skin. Also note the etymology above.
4. Charwoman
a. Cat-skin is employed in the castle: 'Yes, Miss Cat-skin, you will do for the kitchen; you can sweep up the ashes, and do things of that sort.'
b. In the school play, Hazel plays a "charwoman with slop-pail and broom" (l. 314).
5. Transformation/Revelation
a. "Then he got hold of the fur and tore it off, and her golden hair and beautiful form were seen, and she could no longer hide herself: so she washed the soot and ashes from her face, and showed herself to be the most beautiful princess upon the face of the earth."
b. "When Hazel headed alone to the edge of Dulwich Forest . . . like the Toothwort White that 'haunted our woods,' she was troubled and sullen. Now she seems transformed from dinginess and depression into the resplendent color and the confident play of the atalanta that she animates for the moment. Then she was difficult, morose, inclined to sit and moan in a monotone. Now she seems not only to take after her mother in appearance..." (Boyd, PFMAD 137).
C. Cap O' Rushes: I don't think this one has much to do with Hazel except, perhaps:
1. Daughter dons cloak and hood made of rushes she collected at edge of a fen.
2. Hazel is found among the reeds at the edge of Lake Lochan

All of this evidence taken together indicates to me that Hazel is a Cinderella figure, and more specifically a Catskin figure. The emphasis on that particular variant group (510-B) brings in the narrative of the incestuous father, which I believe is part of a larger riddle indicating an unnatural relationship between John and Hazel Shade. This relationship is echoed, btw, in VV's relationship to Bel in LATH. While VV is clearly Humbert-like, he is also like John Shade in many ways (his childhood fits, for example).

Matt Roth

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