Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025829, Tue, 18 Nov 2014 13:27:37 -0200

{THOUGHTS] Berkeley and "Vanessa" in Pale Fire

In an old (28 Feb 2007) posting on “Blue reality” there’s an exchange that
mentions Bishop Berkeley:

CHW: "…there might be some philosophical distinction between the independent
existence of “blue” and the Juniper tree in the quad, when there’s no-one
around to see it. There seems to me a difference between the human
perception of colours and the perception of concrete objects..." [ ]
.."that could mean that Zembla also has reality, since it is so vividly
perceived by Kinbote, and therefore also by God. Most fiction is, and most
people in fiction are, I suppose, much more real than the nameless
multitudes who have led “real” lives."
JM: Charles must have been quoting Bishop Berkeley ( "If a tree falls in the
forest and no one hears it, did it really fall?")

Long before (date unavailable) Berkeley also came up in a posting by Carolyn

CK: The names and relations between Violet Knox and Ronald Oranger have
always intrigued me. [ ] I may have stumbled on at least part of the
solution. I think VN is referring to Monsignor Ronald Knox. From the
Wikipedia article I noticed his associations with Sherlock Holmes & G K
Chesterton that could link him to interests of VN. But they aren't
sufficient to explain his "appearance" in Ada, if that it be. Therefore, I
suspect it's the monsignor's famous limerick that holds the key. Here is the
limerick which was Knox's humorous comment on the pre-existential
philosopher Berkeley's concerns about perceptions and reality:
There was a young man who said "God
Must think it exceedingly odd
If he finds that this tree
Continues to be
When there's no one
About in the quad."

"Dear Sir, your astontishment's odd,
I am always about in the quad;
And thefore the tree
Will continue to be
Since observed by
Yours faithfully, God."
My guess is that Oranger is an anglicism of "orangier" (orange tree) and
refers to Berkeley's Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous:
Philonous: Ask the gardner why he thinks yonder cherry tree exists in the
garden, and he shall tell you, because he sees and feels it; in a word,
because he perceives it by his senses. Ask him, why he thinks an orange tree
not to be there, and he shall tell you, because he does not perceive it.

I chose to bring up those old postings because, during my “ninety minutes”
reading of Paul Strathern’s booklet on “Berkeley,” I came across an
interesting information about the Irish philosopher and his friend, Jonathan
Apparently Esther Vanromrigh, Swift’s beloved “Vanessa”*, left three
thousand pounds in her will to Swift’s friend George Berkeley who, at that
time, was planning to move to America, after his disenchantment with Great
Britain (Cf. “An Essay Towards Preventing the Ruin of Great Britain” and a
prophetic poem “Westward the Course of Empire Take Its Way”). **

Berkeley’s theories about his inability to form “abstract ideas,” instead of
particularizing every perceived or imagined object, might have interested
Vladimir Nabokov in his dissatisfaction with “symbols,” as it’s well
illustrated in his examples addressed to Rowe: “The fatal flaw in Mr. Rowe's
treatment of recurrent words, such as "garden" or "water," is his regarding
them as abstractions, and not realizing that the sound of a bath being
filled, say, in the world of Laughter in the Dark, is as different from the
limes rustling in the rain of Speak, Memory as the Garden of Delights in Ada
is from the lawns in Lolita.” VN’s proximity to the theories of
“intelligent design” (in his paper about mimicry) seem to suggest Berkeley’s
conclusion about “esse est percipi” and God’s role in “sustaining” the
existing material world. The motivation related to Bishop Berkeley’s move to
America might also have struck VN.
Would Nabokov have been familiar with Berkeley’s philosophy and chosen to
refer to him, only indirectly, through his mention of J.Swift and the
Vanessas, in Pale Fire?

* - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esther_Vanhomrigh
Esther Vanhomrigh (known by the pseudonym Vanessa; c. 1688 – 2 June 1723),
an Irish woman of Dutch descent, was a longtime lover and correspondent
ofJonathan Swift. Swift's letters to her were published after her death. Her
fictional name “Vanessa” was created by Swift by taking Van from her
surname, Vanhomrigh, and adding Esse, the pet form of her first name,
She was fictionalized as “Vanessa” in Swift's poem Cadenus and Vanessa
(1713) [ ] Their relationship was fraught. It was broken up after 17 years
by Swift's relationship with another woman, Esther Johnson, whom he called
"Stella", in 1723. Swift had known Stella since about 1690, when she was a
little girl in the household of his employer Sir William Temple; their
relationship was intense and it is possible that they had secretly married
in 1716. Esther is thought to have asked Swift not to see Stella again, and
he apparently refused, thus putting an end to their relationship. Esther
never recovered from his rejection and died on June 2 of that year, probably
from tuberculosis contracted from nursing her sister Mary; some accused
Swift of inadvertently causing her death. Her father had left her well
provided for, but she was burdened by debts accumulated by her mother and
spendthrift brother Bartholomew. In her will, she named Robert Marshall and
George Berkeley co-executors and joint residuary legatees of her estate,
although she knew neither man particularly well. Due to the debts, a
protracted lawsuit ensued and a large part of the estate was lost in the
legal costs. It was widely reported that she had made it a condition of the
inheritance that they publish all her correspondence with Swift, but in fact
no such stipulation seems to have been made.

** - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Berkeley
In 1723 following her violent quarrel with Jonathan Swift, Esther
Vanhomrigh ("Vanessa") named Berkeley her co-heir along with the barrister
Robert Marshall; her choice of legatees caused surprise since she did not
know either of them well, although Berkeley as a very young man had known
her father. Swift said generously that he did not grudge Berkeley his
inheritance, much of which vanished in a lawsuit in any event[ ] In 1725,
he began the project of founding a college in Bermuda for training ministers
and missionaries in the colony, in pursuit of which he gave up his deanery
with its income of £1100.. In 1728, he married Anne Forster…He then went to
America on a salary of £100 per annum. He landed near Newport, Rhode Island,
where he bought a plantation in Middletown, Rhode Island – the famous
"Whitehall". It has been claimed that "he introduced Palladianism into
America by borrowing a design from [William] Kent's Designs of Inigo Jones
for the door-case of his house in Rhode Island [Whitehall]". He also brought
to New England John Smibert, the British artist he "discovered" in Italy,
who is generally regarded as the founding father of American portrait
painting. Meanwhile, he drew up plans for the ideal city he planned to build
on Bermuda.[9] He lived at the plantation while he waited for funds for his
college to arrive. The funds, however, were not forthcoming and, in 1732, he
left America and returned to London.

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