Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024656, Thu, 3 Oct 2013 00:13:48 -0300

Re: french terms in pale fire
Yiğit Yavuz: I also personally asked these terms to the Nabokov biographer Andrea Pitzer and to Rene Alladaye, the writer of the latest Pale Fire book. Mr. Alladaye also states that volant en arrière means "flying backwards". But curiously, the term also has the meaning which was already given in the very same sentence: a heraldic insect. Would it be correct to say, then, that Nabokov only makes a repetition here: a heraldic butterfly is a winged insect; in other words, a volant en arrière...
Didier Machu: In heraldics, all insects (as well as reptiles or amphibians) are found depicted in a top-down perspective which is called the "tergiant" (or "tergant") posture, showing the back (Lat. tergum)—with one exception: when the insect is winged, the posture is known as "volant en arrière" (since its front is then visible).

Jansy Mello: By contrasting CK's note: "From far below mounted the clink and tinkle of distant masonry work, and a sudden train passed between gardens, and a heraldic butterfly volant en arrière, sable, a bend gules, traversed the stone parapet, and John Shade took a fresh card." (CK to line 408) to John Shade's lines 991-993 of his poem: "Somewhere horseshoes are being tossed. Click. Clunk.[ ] A dark Vanessa with a crimson band..." a new train of associations came to my mind.

In my eyes, Kinbote's description suggests a static image with its heraldic insistence (not only the use of "volant en arrière" but also the other words used in heraldic descriptions: "sable" and "bend gules." in contrast to John Shade's vivid description of a fluttering and restless butterfly. The noises in the two examples are different (the clink and tinkle of workers over stone echoing the unheard sounds of glittering tinfoil scares in the past*, and the playful Click.Clunk of tossed metal) but they invite a comparison between these two moments, and a question - why would Kinbote insist with the description of a somewhat frozen landscape related to the "harvalda"** ?

Matt Roth's posting about "diagonal crossings-changes of state" might shed a light here, too. The entire paragraph about the "static" butterfly begins with a sort of aerial view and ends with John Shade's picking up a fresh card. Would we find a new clue if we examined the chronology, amply offered along CK's notes, in order to learn about the moment Shade picked this exact fresh card? Would this link be related to Gradus or to King Charles's previous view of this scenery with its deathly intimations?)

"He retrieved his car and drove up to a higher level on the hillside. From the same road bay, on a misty and luminous September day, with the diagonal of the first silver filament crossing the space between two balusters, the King had surveyed the twinkling ripples of Lake Geneva and had noted their antiphonal response, the flashing of tinfoil scares in the hillside vineyards. Gradus as he stood there, and moodily looked down [ ] One assumes he wondered if he should not hang around for a bit to make sure he had not been bamboozled. From far below mounted the clink and tinkle of distant masonry work, and a sudden train passed between gardens, and a heraldic butterfly volant en arrière, sable, a bend gules, traversed the stone parapet, and John Shade took a fresh card."


* - Only now did I realize that Nabokov is working over synesthesia, mingling shimmering light with sounds (the response to the luminous atmosphere with a silver filament by the flash of tinfoil scares is made in an "antiphonal" way (although the word may also be used in a metaphorical sense unrelated to sounds)

** "As to the Vanessa butterfly, it will reappear in lines 993-995 (to which see note). Shade used to say that its Old English name was The Red Admirable, later degraded to The Red Admiral. It is one of the few butterflies I happen to be familiar with. Zemblans call it harvalda (the heraldic one) possibly because a recognizable figure of it is borne in the escutcheon of the Dukes of Payn." CK to line 270

The heraldic insect is related to the Dukes of Payn (and to the King's wife, Disa), whereas the waxwing appears in the armorial bearings of the Zemblan King,Charles the Beloved. Cf. "Incidentally, it is curious to note that a crested bird called in Zemblan sampel ("silktail"), closely resembling a waxwing in shape and shade, is the model of one of the three heraldic creatures (the other two being respectively a reindeer proper and a merman azure, crined or) in the armorial bearings of the Zemblan King, Charles the Beloved (born 1915), whose glorious misfortunes I discussed so often with my friend" CK to line 1-4.

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