NABOKV-L post 0005882, Sun, 1 Apr 2001 16:06:00 -0700

Nabokovs & May Sarton's cat
Regarding Nabokov's time subletting May Sarton's home and caring for her
cat, Tom Jones, this seems worth sharing:

"... We sublet to Vladimir Nabokov and his beautiful wife, Vera, and
were delighted to accept Tom Jones as a cherished paying guest during
stay. What a bonanza for a gentleman cat to be taken into such a
family with kind Vera and Felidae-lover Vladimir! And to hear cat
translated into Russian.
My study...was at the top of the house; a small, sunny room, one
lined with books, and on the windowed side a long trestle table and a
straight chair. Nabokov removed this austere object and replaced it
with a
huge overstuffed armchair where he could write half lying down. Tom
soon learned that he was welcome to install himself at the very heart of
genius on Nabokov's chest, there to make starfish paws, purr
and sometimes - rather painfully for the object of his pleasure -
knead. I
like to imagine that Lolita was being dreamed that year and that Tom
presence may have had something to do with the creation of that sensuous
world. At any rate, for him it was a year of grandiose meals and subtle

Years later a reunion was attempted when the Nabokovs invited Sarton and
cat to tea at their Cambridge hotel:

"The welcome was warm indeed, not only tea for the attendants, but a
dish of
raw liver cut into small delicate pieces was laid on the floor for the
of the occasion. What happened was distressing. Tom Jones, subject to
fearful attack of agoraphobia, vanished under a velvet sofa and refused
come out during the painful hour of our stay. We had finally to move
sofa and extricate him brutally when it came time to go. The reunion,
Nabokov had fondly imagined it, remembering those hours of loving
in the past, was not a reunion. It was a disaster.
Even so, the fact remains that Tom Jones had proved to be an
cat, a cat worthy of literary glory, and that if a cat may look at a
king, a
king may sometimes also look at a cat."

(From the preface to May Sarton's _The Fur Person_, W.W. Norton & Co.,

>From: "D. Barton Johnson" <>
>Subject: [Fwd: RE: Pale Fire and Dr. Johnson's cat "Hodge"]]
>Date: Sat, 31 Mar 2001 10:00:06 -0800

> ------------------
> Well, cats are said to be the earthly vehicles for familiar spirits, no?
> And doesn't Prof. Boyd argue in his most recent volume that Hazel
> Shade's
> ghost is the co-author of the book? So perhaps . . . okay, it's a
> stretch .
> . . .
> -------------------------------------------
> EDITOR's NOTE. Although I don't know VN's general position on cats, I
> recall he & Vera "cat-sat" for May Sarton while staying in her house.
> Also, I have never received VN communiques through my own cat.
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: D. Barton Johnson []
>> Sent: Thursday, March 29, 2001 7:20 PM
>> Subject: [Re: Pale Fire and Dr. Johnson's cat "Hodge"]
>> ------------------
>> more from Ken Tapscott,
>> Hodge does not reappear in the book, so far as I am aware. On a very
>> attenuated (and increasingly paranoid) note, Dr. Johnson _did_ receive
>> an
>> unasked-for recommendation from Pope, on the basis of "London", seeking
>> a
>> roundabout recommendation for an honorary master's degree through "Dean
>> Swift" from the Univ. of Dublin - the purpose of which was to acquire
>> for
>> Johnson a sinecure of 60 pounds a year from some post or another for
>> which a
>> master's degree was required: the Earl who passed on Pope's appeal to
>> yet
>> another Irish nobleman apologized for wasting the man's time if the
>> request
>> seemed impossible, and begged him to burn the letter in the fire, which
>> immediately reminded me of Charlotte's request to Humbert in _Lolita_.
>> It
>> seems clear just from the epigraph that Nabokov was fully familiar with
>> this
>> biography, and Pope, of course, is important to _Pale Fire_. And _Pale
>> Fire_
>> is obviously reflective of Nabokov's monstrously (and hilariously)
>> pedantic
>> translation and annotation of _Eugene Onegin_. Still, I wonder about
>> that
>> cat Hodge, and the place of that story at the head of this novel. We all
>> know Nabokov didn't put it there just because he thought it was a funny
>> story...
>> -KT
>> ***********************************
>> >From: "D. Barton Johnson" <>
>> >Reply-To: Vladimir Nabokov Forum <NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU>
>> >Subject: : Re: Pale Fire and Dr. Johnson's cat]]
>> >Date: Thu, 29 Mar 2001 11:57:45 -0800
>> >
>> >------------------
>> > Well, I'm sure the purpose of the Boswell epigraph is quite obscure and
>> >clever, but right off the top my head I would suggest that the themes of
>> >self-delusion and the uncertain machinations of fate has something to do
>> >with it. After all in "Pale Fire" Shade addresses these themes
>> >intentionally (as in the fountain/mountain fiasco) and unintentionally
>> >(in
>> >the famous passage at the end of the poem where Shade declares that he
>> >is
>> >confident that he will wake the following day, when, of course, he is
>> >about
>> >to shot dead by Gradus/Grey/Sudarg.) So I would imagine that the use as
>> >an
>> >epigraph of Johnson's confident, but unfounded, assertion that "Hodge
>> >shan't
>> >be shot" by the mysterious (or shadowy or grey) figure who is going
>> >about
>> >London shooting cats is a foreglimpse of some of the novels important
>> >themes
>> >- indeed, two of VN's constant themes. It's been some time since I read
>> >Boswell, but I'm curious: Did Hodge get shot?
>> >
>> >EDITOR's NOTE. No, Hodge does not get shot. Boyd points out that
>> >Boswell's constant urging Dr. J. to visit B's native Scotland (way to
>> >the North) may be echoed by Dr. K.'s urging the ZEMBLA theme on Shade.
>> >Does anyone know why Dr. J. named his cat "Hodge"?
>> _________________________________________________________________
>> Get your FREE download of MSN Explorer at