Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0002534, Sun, 2 Nov 1997 09:34:34 -0800

Lehmann's disease (fwd)
From: Robert Cook <rcook@rhi.hi.is>
Thanks to the tip from Charles Nicol I have found two reference to
Lehmann's disease in my New Directions (1959) edition of The Real Life of
Sebastian Knight. The first occurs on p. 11 of chapter 1, describing the
death of Sebastian's mother, Virginia Knight:
"She died of heart-failure (Lehmann's disease) at the little town of
Roquebrune, in the summer of 1909."
Later in the novel, chapter 9 (p. 89), we read:
"I suppose Sebastian already knew from what exact heart-disease he was
suffering. His mother had died of the same complaint, a rather rare variety
of angina pectoris, called by some doctors 'Lehmann's disease.' It appears,
however, that after the first attack he had at least a year's respite,
though now and then he did experience a queer twinge as of inner itch (sic)
in his left arm."
The librarian at the National Hospital of Iceland tells me, by phone, that
her search of the reference books there reveals no disease by that name.
This leaves us free to speculate.
Didier Machu's reference to "lemans and laymen" in Ada seems to confirm the
play on Lehmann-lem(m)an in Sebastian Knight. In Ada, however, he is
punning on the sound, since "Lehmann" would not mean "layman" - the German
for "layman" would be "Laie" - whereas "Lehmann," I suppose, must mean
"vassal". This would be quite appropriate, since lemmans are vassals (to
the God of Love).
That both Virginia and Sebastian should die of "lemman's disease," i.e.
"lover's disease," is, I suppose, fitting - Sebastian because of his
Russian love, Virginia because of her many, if fitfully pursued, loves,
which she tended to forget "midway, as one forgets one's umbrella in a
taxicab" (pp. 8-9). Perhaps her last months, in which she roamed restlessly
around southern France, testify to a deeper passion, though this question
is left open (p. 11). In this connection, why does she die at Roquebrune
(not, like Lehmann's disease, a fictional name)?
Robert Cook