Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0015561, Tue, 9 Oct 2007 12:00:59 -0400

Re: reply to one of Matt Roth's query & a counter-query
MR responding to CK's comments:

CK: I don't quite understand your interpretation here - - who are you
saying Kinbote thinks is "one and the same" as whom?

MR: I was trying to say that the wife in ballerina black is, as Kinbote
suggests, based on the girl in the black leotard who "haunts Lit. 202."

CK: Shade tells us that "Aunt Maud lived to hear the next babe cry."
Kinbote correctly points out that this can hardly refer to Hazel but by
implication this "next babe," born in her later years, must be a blood
relative of Maud's. The only people capable of engendering a child who would
be related to the elderly Maud are Shade and Hazel. Since there is no
apparent (sorry) child who fits this description in Shade's poem, he or she
seemingly no longer exists or has moved out of Shade's orbit and certainly
has not been recognized as a legitimate child or, in the unlikely event that
Hazel is the parent, grandchild.

MR: I agree with all of this, except I don't dismiss Hazel as the possible
mother-in-question. Also, I take the statement about Aunt Maud ("lived to
hear") to mean that Aunt Maud's reason for living was to see a great-nephew
(essentially a grandchild) born. Unfortunately, I don't think she quite made

CK: This turns out to be literally true, since "the other love," "die
Mutter mit ihrem Kind" and the blonde in a "ballerina black" leotard all
refer to the same person, a former student who committed suicide taking her
child with her in an automobile "accident."

MR: I don't believe they are the same person. Rather, I see Shade's student
as a replacement for Hazel, just as the second wife replaced the first. This
fits in with the replacement we often see in the Cinderella variants. The
first wife in paradise (or hell?) is like Hazel in several ways. She grieves
at the edge of a pond (like the crackling, gulping swamp), and she died on a
"wild March night," just as Hazel did. It is impossible to believe that
Shade could imagine a grieving young woman at the edge of a pond who died on
a wild March night without it bringing Hazel to his mind. The inclusion of
the student/2nd wife underscores the fact that Shade is using people from
his real life as the inspiration for this scene. We are left, then, with two
curious details--the "changeless child" and the car crash. The latter
detail is a bit of camouflage, I believe--something to throw us off the
scent. The child, however, has a basis in reality, which we may uncover with
a close reading of Kinbote's notes to lines 230 and 231.

C. 230 is comprised of the info Kinbote gets from Jane Provost regarding
the strange events that follow Maud's death. I believe that beneath the
surface of this hearsay are several clues that point us to the notion that
Hazel had a miscarriage or gave birth to a stillborn child.
1. "[T]he poltergeist meant to impregnate the disturbance with the identity
of Aunt Maud who had just died." A wink from VN.
2. Conflict between Hazel and Sybil, purportedly over the euthanization of
Aunt Maud's dog.
3. Shade relates events to his old fits, which he compares to an act of
molestation (161-162).
4. "Trying to hide from neighbors these horrible and humiliating phenomena
was not the least of Shade's worries. He was terrified, and he was lacerated
with pity." Horrible and humiliating indeed.
5. They would not take Hazel to a psychiatrist, but "[t]hey had, however, a
secret interview with old-fashioned and learned Dr. Sutton, and this put
them in better spirits." Soon after, the problem went away. But what is he a
doctor of? He's not a psychiatrist and not the family doctor (Dr. Colt and
Dr. Ahlert fill that role). Could he be a gynecologist? It's hard to say.

None of this is conclusive. By itself, C. 230 doesn't sound any alarms. It
is only in combination with C. 231 that the submerged narrative snaps into
focus. Here, immediately, we are presented with a variant quatrain:

Strange Other World where all our still-born dwell,
And pets, revived, and invalids, grown well,
And minds that died before arriving there:
Poor old man Swift, poor ---, poor Baudelaire

The information in C. 230 directly relates to this variant. Clearly, the
pet revived is the Skye terrier and the invalid grown well is Aunt Maud. But
they are the second and third items in a list that begins with "our
still-born." Given that Shade clearly based this variant on actual events
from his life, we have to wonder why he associates a still-born child with
the dog and Maud. As with the Elysian scene, the incorporation of actual
events into a seemingly fictional milieu should lead us to investigate how
all parts of the scene might be tied back to New Wye. If there were a
still-born, we can now see the meaning behind the "changeless child" the
first wife holds. Changeless may mean one thing in paradise, but in the
context of events in New Wye, it becomes a synonym for "still-born."

One more item: going back to C. 230, I would like to look again at the
"Bible-like Webster" open at M, which appears outside on the snow. This is
part of the evidence that Aunt Maud's shade is afoot, since her verse book
was open to M as well--the guide words "moon, moonrise, moor, moral." If we
look for the analogous guide words in Webster's 2nd--the guide words where
"moon" appears--we find Month, Mooncalf, Mooncreeper, Moor Pout. The second
of these, mooncalf, means "a uterine mole, formerly believed to be due to
the effect of the moon," or "a monster, a monstrosity." In other words, a
miscarriage or still-born. Could it be that Aunt Maud was trying to get the
truth out, now that, in the afterlife, she understood the truth of what had

I have looked into many mooncalf associations, including Caliban in The
Tempest, Michael Drayton's poem of that name (which includes a werewolf tale
and a double monster), and now the Pushkin fairy tale Alexey mentioned
(thanks!), but I won't go into all that. Those interested in the term as it
relates to primitive "science," however, may wish to read about it here:

Matt Roth

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