Vladimir Nabokov

Nabokov and Joyce (quoits update, and Rudy Bloom's birthday)

By Alain Champlain, 4 December, 2020

I wanted to pop back in and give a bit of an update on my old "quoits" thread (and belatedly say thanks to Shakeeb for the encouragement there).

I've mostly been able to find possible counter-evidence, though it's shaky. In his Lectures on Literature, Nabokov spends quite a bit of time with the jingling in this passage (Part Two, Chapter 8), though he doesn't explicitly connect it to Molly's jingling bed:

Bloom and Boylan are not only sensed coming—they are sensed going. Boylan, after talking horses with Lenehan, drinking a slow, syrupy sloe gin, and watching coy Miss Douce imitate a ringing clock by smacking her garter against her thigh, impatiently leaves, heading for Molly, but with Lenehan starting to go with him to tell him about Tom Rochford. As the drinkers continue in the bar, and the eaters in the restaurant, his jingle jaunty jingle is sensed receding both by Bloom and the author, and his progress in the jaunting car (also known as a jaunty car) to Eccles Street is marked by such notices as "Jingle a tinkle jaunted” and "Jingle jaunted down the quays. Blazes sprawled on bounding tyres” and "By Bachelors walk jogjaunty jingled Blazes Boylan, bachelor, in sun, in heat, mare's glossy rump atrot, with flick of whip, on bounding tyres: sprawled, warmseated, Boylan impatience, ardentbold” and "By Graham Lemon’s pineapple rock, by Elvery’s elephant jingle jogged.” Moving at a slower rate than in Bloom's mind, "Jingle by monuments of sir John Gray, Horatio onehanded Nelson, reverend father Theobald Matthew, jaunted as said before just now. Atrot, in heat, heatseated. Cloche. Sonnez la. Cloche. Sonnez la. Slower the mare went up the hill by the Rotunda, Rutland square. Too slow for Boylan, blazes Boylan, impatience Boylan, joggled the mare.” Then "Jingle into Dorset street” and, coming closer, "A hackney car, number three hundred and twenty-four, driver Barton, James of number one Harmony avenue, Donnybrook, on which sat a fare, a young gentleman, stylishly dressed in an indigoblue serge suit made by George Robert Mesias, tailor and cutter, of number five Eden quay, and wearing a straw hat very dressy, bought of John Plasto of number one Great Brunswick street, hatter. Eh? This is the jingle that joggled and jingled. By Dlugacz’ porkshop bright tubes of Agendath trotted a gallantbuttocked mare.” The jingle even imposes itself on Bloom’s stream of thought in the hotel as he is composing a letter in return to Martha: "Jingle, have you the?” The missing word is-, of course, horn, for Bloom is mentally following Boylan's progress. In fact, in Bloom’s feverish imagination he has Boylan arrive and make love to Molly sooner than he actually does. While Bloom listens to the music in the bar and to Richie Goulding talking, his thought ranges, and one part is "Her wavyavyeavyheavyeavyevyevy hair un comb:’d”— meaning that in Bloom’s hasty mind her hair has been uncombed already by her lover. Actually, at this point Boylan has only reached Dorset Street. Finally, Boylan arrives: "Jog jig jogged stopped. Dandy tan shoe of dandy Boylan socks skyblue clocks came light to earth... 

One rapped on a door, one rapped with a knock, did he knock Paul de Kock, with a loud proud knocker, with a cock carracarracarra cock. Cockcock.”

The closest he comes to making that connection is in Part Three, Chapter 3, when in summarizing he briefly states: “She gets out of the jingling bed."

Nothing conclusive, though I'd love to see his copy of Ulysses someday — I can't remember where that's gone and whether it's accessible. Anyone?

The other possible debt to Ulysses' jingling, I should mention, is the way the sound morphs throughout Pale Fire, though Nabokov has stylized it in his own way (emphasis mine):

“Somewhere horseshoes are being tossed. Click. Clunk.” (Line 991)

“From far below mounted the clink and tinkle of distant masonry work [...]” (Note to Line 408)

“Neither Shade nor I had ever been able to ascertain whence precisely those ringing sounds came—which of the five families dwelling across the road on the lower slopes of our woody hill played horseshoe quoits every other evening; but the tantalizing tingles and jingles contributed a pleasant melancholy note to the rest of Dulwich Hill’s evening sonorities—children calling to each other, children being called home, and the ecstatic barking of the boxer dog whom most of the neighbors disliked (he overturned garbage cans) greeting his master home." (Note to Line 991)

Clink-clank, came the horseshoe music from Mystery Lodge.” (Note to Line 991)

There may be a few more instances I'm forgetting, but that should give you an idea.


On the subject of Nabokov and Ulysses, I'd also like to point out that Nabokov errs here: “Their daughter Milly was born on 15 June 1889, son Rudy in 1894, died when only eleven days old.”

Rudy was born in 1893, not 1894 — Nabokov was not off by a whole year, but rather by a few days: he deduced an early January birthday, instead of the correct December 29.

I haven't been able to find any Ulysses papers that mention this, but Joyce chose this date because A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was published on that date (in 1916). I'd be very surprised if this was a new find, but... maybe?

I bring up Nabokov's error only to point out that he failed to notice Joyce's use of a technique that Nabokov himself would use over and over again.

PS By a nice coincidence (one of too many), December 29th also marks the completion of Nabokov's "first" English work (his own translation of Despair, completed well after midnight of the 28th, I believe) and the start of his "first" French work (Mademoiselle O, begun later the same day).