Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0007226, Wed, 4 Dec 2002 17:29:46 -0800

Fw: nuns, beards and witches in a note to Pale Fire
nuns, beards and witches in a note to Pale Fire
----- Original Message -----
From: Carolyn Kunin
To: Vladimir Nabokov Forum
Sent: Wednesday, December 04, 2002 2:55 PM
Subject: nuns, beards and witches in a note to Pale Fire

The reference to the king's reputed escape disguised as "the nun" occurs in the same commentary (note to line 894 the king) as the German visitor who thinks he recognizes beardless Charles II of Zembla in bearded Kinbote.

There are several hints in this note that lead to MacBeth (mentioned earlier in relation to Prince Charles' Scottish tutor). Kinbote's quip "The third in the witch row" (which I don't "get") prompted me to think of the three weird sisters of MacBeth.

The sisters, as it turns out, are bearded:

Shakespeare's Witches are bearded. ("You should be women, and yet your beards forbid me to interpret that you are so." Act i, scene 3.)

t need scarcely be brought to recollection that a commingling of the female and male character occurs in the divine and semi-divine figures of various mythological systems---including the Bearded Venus. Of decisive importance is, however, the fact of a bearded Weird Sister having apparently been believed in by our heathen German forefathers.

There is also the possibility that the three witches can be linked with the Fates, in the Germanic tradition, "did Norne." Karl Blind links them to "die Nonne" in a folksong :

Though the word "Norn" has been lost in England and Germany, it is possibly preserved in a German folk-lore ditty, which speaks of three Sisters of Fate as "Nuns." ...

In every resepct, therefore, his [Shakespeare's] "Witches" are an echo from the ancient Germanic creed---an echo, moreover, coming to us in the oldest Teutonic verse-form; that is, in the staff-rime.
Karl Blind.*

Whether Nabokov had any of this in mind, I don't know, but it could explain why the German visitor's "alderwood ancestry" allowed him to "catch the eerie note that had throbbed by and was gone."

Carolyn Kunin

*Karl Blind (1826-1907), German political agitator, refugee, and author of numerous political essays, biographies, articles on Germanic folklore, etc.