Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0006957, Wed, 23 Oct 2002 12:17:46 -0700

Fw: ==- On Hazel's Suicide -==
EDNOTE. Tom Bolt is a man who has thought long about and creatively about
Nabokov and PALE FIRE. I strongly recommend his long poem DARK ICE at
----- Original Message -----
From: "Thomas Bolt -- b0sh0tmalt" <bolt@tbolt.com>
To: "Vladimir Nabokov Forum" <NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU>
> ======================
> There is a straw woman argument that
> goes like this: "In PALE FIRE, Hazel
> Shade kills herself because of a
> humiliating blind date. No one would
> kill herself or himself because of one
> bad experience, or because one is
> unattractive physically. Therefore,
> Hazel's death is less than believable."
> Whether PALE FIRE is written by John
> Shade and Charles Kinbote, Professor
> Botkin alone, Shade alone, Kinbote
> alone, Hazel's shade, or the gardener
> with the wheelbarrow, it is still the
> reader's duty to imagine, from the
> evidence given, Hazel's real situation
> and fate. As so often with Nabokov,
> the most important thing is not an
> exercise in ingenuity, trying on
> clever readings one after another like
> Lolita with her new skates and swooners,
> but an exercise in empathy.
> As with Lucette in ADA and Lolita in
> LOLITA, we need to pay serious attention
> to Hazel; her life and death are at the
> center of the book.
> The first sentence of the Straw Woman
> argument (as I've stated it), "Hazel
> kills herself because of a humiliating
> blind date," contains a word that makes
> the proposition a fallacy (begging the
> question): "because of." She does not
> kill herself "because of" a date, but
> AFTER a date.
> There are many reasons on record (often
> survivors' guesses, unless a truthful
> communication has been left behind) why
> people take their lives--these stated
> or surmised reasons range from business
> failure to breakup of a relationship
> to unknown, unknown, unknown. Most people
> are able to deal with serious misfortunes
> without killing themselves; some are not,
> or do not choose to go on and recover.
> It may be--it almost certainly is, in
> some cases--that however much some
> suicides or their surviving friends and
> family might think so, it is not any one
> event that explains the choice of suicide,
> but a history of inescapable emotional pain,
> with no relief in view. Alternatively, a
> person who ordinary has the resources to
> survive a difficult event might be caught
> at a low point, or by too many such events
> at once, and find his or her resources
> temporarily overwhelmed.
> Mine is a Last Straw argument: Hazel is
> miserable. She has long been miserable,
> and is extremely sensitive to her
> "defeats." She has a history of embarking
> hopefully on new projects, and on having
> those hopes cruelly dashed. She is
> emotionally and physically tormented.
> She is no ordinary college girl of the
> late 1950s, and does not expect (I would
> guess) to "fit in," but she does nurse
> "a small mad hope." Her only friends are
> others who are excluded from the college
> social world, especially the realm of
> dating: another virgin (who becomes a
> nun) and a Korean boy (good luck to
> this young man, who may be a war orphan,
> at finding a date. He is also the Irving
> Flashman of PALE FIRE).
> On top of her physical, emotional, and
> social difficulties, Hazel Shade is not
> just less than pretty: she is, like her
> father, ugly. She is also coming into
> her own as a young woman. Insofar as she
> resembles "a fleshy Hogarthian tippler
> of indeterminate sex," she does not
> expect finding love to be easy; but
> expectation and desire are seldom one
> thing.
> Hazel is intelligent enough to be, not
> just aware, but hyperaware of the
> unlikelihood of her ever taking part
> in romantic love (from her perspective--
> we need not endorse her view, only
> understand it). She might well have
> been precociously cynical about such
> things--yet how could she not long to
> express this part of herself?
> On that windy spring night, after the
> absurdity of one more failed attempt
> at life--Hazel decides to die.
> People have suffered worse and lived
> on, and had rewarding lives, but we
> are concerned with Hazel. We are
> concerned not only with that evening,
> not only with one botched date, but
> with the feeling of not EVER being
> socially or sexually viable, at least
> not in the world in which she finds
> herself--and this is nothing to be
> taken lightly.
> The Dean/Provost humiliation might
> seem minor to us, but in the context
> of Hazel's life up to that evening,
> could be taken as a confirmation of
> her own worst fears about her future.
> Does she kill herself only because of
> how she looks? Merely because of the
> latest item in a series of defeats and
> humiliations, or because of the series?
> And because, that night, she saw or
> thought she saw the series of defeats
> repeating without relief, on and on?
> As with Lucette and Lolita, Hazel's
> own point of view, never explicitly
> given, is ours to imagine. We must
> imagine it, or she will not exist;
> but it is all there. The book demands
> that we imagine it. As Lolita's own
> story and inner life is ours to tease
> from LOLITA, Hazel's point of view is
> the book behind the book.
> Nabokov does play games with us, but
> they are always serious games.
> --Thomas Bolt
> http://www.tbolt.com