Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0015708, Tue, 27 Nov 2007 15:35:49 -0500

THOUGHTS: Tumbled Beds
Dear list,

I've been doing some image-collecting in VN's works and thought I'd share
what I've found (all emphases mine):

LitD: "He [Albinus] had come in at the end of a film: a girl was receding
among tumbled furniture before a masked man with a gun." Context: Albinus'
first contact with Margo Peters.

"Double Monster": "With the kind of unrestrained, ignorant, passionately
communicative folks that surrounded us, the highly vocal household just
beyond the limits of her tumbled bed must, surely, have told her at once
that something had gone dreadfully wrong." Context: Lloyd & Floyd's mother,
who has been raped, on her birthing/death bed. (I tend to think, btw, that
she was raped by her father and not by some traveling taxidermist.)

Lolita: Ch. 16: "The hollow of my hand was still ivory-full of Lolita--full
of the feel of her pre-adolescently incurved back, that ivory-smooth,
sliding sensation of her skin through the thin frock that I had worked up
and down while I
held her. I marched into her tumbled room, threw open the door of
the closet, and plunged into a heap of crumpled things that had touched

"The Vane Sisters": "Cynthia led me upstairs to a chilly little bedroom,
just to show me, as if I were the police or a sympathetic Irish
neighbor, two empty pill bottles and the tumbled bed from which a tender,
inessential body, that D. must have known down to its last velvet detail,
had been already removed." Context: Sybil's bed after her affair and

Pale Fire: "She'd criticize / Ferociously our projects, and with eyes /
Expressionless sit on her tumbled bed / Spreading her swollen feet,
scratching her head..." Context: Shade's description of Hazel

Pale Fire: C79: "The wise at nightfall praise the day, / The wife when she
has passed away, / The ice when it is crossed, the bride / When tumbled, and
the horse when tried." Context: W.F. Kirby's (maybe) translation of the
Zemblan counterpart to the Elder Edda.

ADA: 357.16-19: "...Van reclined, pouting pensively, pensively caressing
the pretty head on his chest, flooded by the black hair of a much younger
sister or cousin of the wretched florinda on the tumbled bed." Context: Van
in a brothel with young Ada/Adora. The "florinda" is a pregnant prostitute,
smoking and "scratching her brown groin."

Is there a thread that runs though all of these tumblings? I believe so. In
each case, except for that of Hazel, there is an obvious sexual context.
More specifically, these tumbled beds and rooms appear in the context of an
older man's sexual affair with a young woman or child. There is a criminal
element to several of the images--most undisguised in LitD, but also present
in "Double Monster" and Lolita. In two cases, the tumbled bed holds a woman
who is pregnant (or has just given birth) as the result of an illicit

The two occurrences of "tumbled" in PF are interesting because the first
occurrence does not seem to have this sexual connotation while the second
occurrence is the only one in which "tumbled" is a direct metonymy for
sexual intercourse. I would like to suggest that VN is telling us something
about how to interpret that word. Hazel's tumbled bed is presented to us
along with her "swollen feet." Given that the Greek word for "swollen feet"
is oedipus, we perhaps should consider ways in which Hazel's tumbled bed
resembles the other tumblings in VN's works.

Matt Roth

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