Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024822, Sat, 23 Nov 2013 11:27:25 -0200

Re: QUERY: "Wodnaggen" in PF

Jenefer Coates: ""wodnaggen" has a double meaning - material and metaphorical. "wod": adj. and noun: Old English (1) = wood, woods, forest; wooden (2) = insane, furious, mad; madness, insanity etc. The connection is unclear, but in early OE and medieval Romance texts, "wod" states of insanity, derangement & fury often occur in the wild of the woods. "naggen": vb.: from Scand/Old Icelandic nagga = grumble etc. mod. English incl. = nag, agitate, irritate, worry and fret. [ ] the metaphorical/psychological dimension also gives us: nagged or fretted by madness. So in describing the house, Kinbote projects his own state of mind, although the extent of his insanity is not yet fully apparent, and only the re-reader could decode this meaning. "

Jansy Mello: Your explanation of "wod" as indicative of "derangement and fury...in the wild of the woods" led me to remember a short-story I read while still a young girl which masterfully describes this kind of insanity in an explorer who got lost in the deep woods and found no civilized references to recover human speech. I was reminded of this particular rendering of madness and panic fear while reading Nabokov's "Terra Incognita" (not the entire short-story, only snippets of it while dealing with complete isolation). I think the word "amok" appears in it - but it's not Stephan Zweig's narrative about a doctor in Indonesia. Very frustrating....

Great developments related to "wodnaggen" and its double meaning, Jenefer (it was you I met in 2007 in Oxford?) A group of coincidences led me in a different interpretative direction from yours concerning Kinbote's description of the Judge's house. They form a rather extensive flight of imagination not fully guaranteed by well-established information and facts and I refrained from posting it at the time, also because of its length. Now I'll be adding my arguments here, but as a skippable foot-note.* What inspired me was a quote related to R.L.Stevenson's two "Gothic" stories (The Strange Case of Dr.J&Mr.H & Olalla) that reads:
" 'The Gothic castle or house is not just an old sinister building; it is a house of degeneration, even of decomposition' [ ] Geography and environment thus go beyond providing atmospheric effects [ ]These also conform to Gothic type [ ] 'typically a Gothic tale will invoke the tyranny of the past ( a familoy curse, the survival of archaic forms of despotism and of superstition) with such weight as to stifle the hopes of the present'." (Chris Baldick, quoted by R.Mighall). I found, in PF, one reference to "gothic" ** (the world of the Zemblan "Shadows").

Departing from your proposition, that in describing the judge's house C.Kinbote is "projecting in it his own state of mind", we'll agree that the place cannot be objectively aprehended by the reader (although, at first, he is fooled into believing its fictional real-life contours). The rented house might be an extension of CK's emotional life in Zembla, transplanted onto New Wye like an embassy (and here I'm reminded of the word "bot" in German and a "Botschaft"). The great "gothic" menace would arise should the innocent poet cross over from his American house to share a knackle of nuts or a glass of Tokay with Kinbote in that unreal "palace."



* - In the beginning of the second semester 2013 Greg Buzzwell [http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/english-and-drama/2013/07/the-mystery-of-the-neglected-vampire.html ] wrote "The Victorian fin de si?ècle was an era noted for its decadents, aesthetes, dandies and New Women. Viewed from a sunny perspective all could be seen as positive signs of a new age of liberation and freedom dawning within society. Viewed from a gloomier aspect however all could be seen as signs of transgression, perversity and moral and physical degeneration. Perhaps the latter view had something to do with the prevalence of another popular figure during the Victorian fin de siècle [ ], namely the vampire. As a metaphor for vile transgression, disease and decay few literary tropes served quite so well as a pale undead figure with a taste for human blood[ ] Robert Louis Stevenson's enigmatic short story 'Olalla', published in the Christmas of 1885, sits in the shadow of the more illustrious 'Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde ' (1886). Stevenson was writing the former at the same time as he was going through the proofs for the latter but while Jekyll and Hyde opened a Pandora's Box of new urban, scientific and psychological horrors 'Olalla' acts as something of a loving farewell to the golden age of Gothic fiction. Taken together they serve as a staging post between old and new nightmares."

In his commentary to 'Olalla' he indicates
"several typically Gothic elements. It is set in the past and takes place in an exotic Southern European Catholic country. The landscape, in the tradition of Ann Radcliffe, is beautifully described. There is even a portrait on a wall which depicts a long-dead ancestor who bears an uncanny resemblance to someone still living - an echo of both Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto and Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables (and a device later used by Arthur Conan Doyle in The Hound of the Baskervilles). The decayed Spanish house and the strangely lifeless figure of the mother mirror each other in the same fashion as the unravelling once grand Ushers mirror their literally collapsing mansion in Edgar Allan Poe's famous tale. Ancestral secrets and physical decay were staples of early Gothic fiction and Stevenson gathers together the traditional themes and adds a twist of post-Darwinian theory in the idea of physical and mental flaws being inherited, rather than ancestral sins [ ] Having completed the tale Stevenson returned to the proofs of Jekyll and Hyde, a narrative in which he held up a mirror to the very different dawning nightmares of the future - nightmares being played out not in a foreign land of long ago but in the here and now of London. Sweet dreams ....."

I wouldn't have selected this summation about RLS's short story "Olalla" and its relation to "Dr J & Mr.H" if I hadn't just been reading similar information in an excellent introduction to the latter [ "The Strange Case of Dr.Jekyll & Mr Hyde", written by Robert Mighall. R. Mighall details RLS's subtle allusions to homosexual issues (indicating William Veeder, “Children of the Night: Stevenson and Patriarchy”, Hirsch and Veeder (1988), pp. 107-60; Rictor Norton, “A (longish) pre-Victorian digression on blackmail”, enviado para o Victoria Web (http://www.listserv.indiana.edu); Robert Louis Stevenson: The Critical Heritage, Paul Maixner ed. (1981), p. 229. ]and the importance of "houses" and "castles" ( Hugh Walpole "The Castle of Otranto"; E.A. Poe "The House of Usher", Dickens and "Bleak House"; Hawthorne and "The House of Seven Gables"), among other fascinating points.

The VN-L had just responded to M.Couturier's query about the Zemblan "Wodnaggen," applied to Judge Goldsworth's house [ "Actually, it was an old, dismal, white-and-black, half-timbered house, of the type termed wodnaggen in my country, with carved gables, drafty bow windows and a so-called "semi-noble" porch, surmounted by a hideous veranda"] The proximity bt. RLS's London geography and Dr. Jekyll's house, to Judge Goldsworth's "wodnaggen" home and King Charles's castle, in Zembla, was particularly unsettling to me. It invited me to reread "Pale Fire" from a new perspective, mainly as partically presenting a satirical (but appreciative) view of bad blood, lineages and homosexuality - as it had been initiated by R.L.Stevenson. After all the description by CK of the Judge's house, its decoration and "alphabetical daughters" always struck me as being as surreal as the King's castles. If New Wye was situated in the present, but with unspecified locations in a map (like RLS's London), Zemblan was "far,far away" and its emphasis on lineage and decadence more clearly marked. For Mighall " Stevenson's tale put the modern city, and specifically London, firmly on the map of Gothic horror." for, not only "location reinforces the supposed dichotomy between the 'blackguardly' Hyde, and the prosperous and respectable Jekyll..it provides an allegorical reflection of Jekyll's true relationship with Hyde...a geographical expression of the Hyde within Jekyll. ...creating an Urban Gothic stageset for late-Victorian horror."

R. Mighall explains that RLS's intention was to write a "Christmas Crawler" ("a sensational tale of supernatural incident designed to produce a pleasurable chill in its readers."). In "Olalla" Stevenson "provides a modern twist to the conventional Gothic theme of aristrocratic family curses and ancestral returns, adapting it to the concerns of mental pathology or what was termed 'social hygiene' [ ] Stevenson cleverly adapts, and innovates within, the conventional framework of Gothic fiction. He uses stock features of the mode to explore contemporary concerns and emphases..." [ ]"This pattern of suppressed guilt, of a double life of daylight respectability and nocturnal transgression, or the 'ghost' of old crimes overtaking their prepretators, contained...within a fairly conventional supernatural tale, would be developed in a far more subtle and disturbing way later. The "Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde" dispenses entirely with the distancing devices ...set "over there"..and "back then". It is situated in London in the present day, and situates horror within a respectable individual [ ] Stevenson's tale is presented as a 'Case', evoking the procedures of both legal and medical knowledge and testimony; but it is a strange case, its strangeness deriving from its disruption of the very expectations associated with these procedures and forms of writing." After discussing "the 1967 Sexual Offences Act" and the "The Blackmailers' Charter" passed in 1885 and the hints concerning a homosexual connection bt. Jekyll and Hyde (and pedophylia), Mighall notes that "Stevenson's tale is actually more complex and disturbing...for he used this picture of criminal monstrosity to reflect on that which had actually defined it: the world of respectable physicians and legislators."

To isolate, from my former reading of PF, the amusing moments in which VN is writing a satire about Gothic tales and taste while applying to them his own peculiar stylist twists, that is, attuned to a different kind of "dark" comedy, is a terrible task!
In a way it helped me to understand why I could never believe that Zembla was only a reflection about exile and ancient Russia. It also allowed me to envisage a contrast between what happened with Dr.J and Mr. H (ie: that the two are one, with their criminal and respectable sides intermingled - cf. VN's careful diagrams in LOL), in the light of certain theories about John Shade and Charles Kinbote as "one," something still in need of further probing.
What I perceived was how distinct is RLS's depiction of the "duality of man" (and a lot more splits, as we'll find it at the end of Dr.Jekyll's 'Confessions') since it doesn't fit into the Freudian perspective of the "repressed unconscious" (Dr. Jekyll was fully aware of both his noble aspirations and of his dark animal side).
I have the impression that those who favor the "three or two-in-one" authorship of PF, connecting it to RLS's story, inadvertently rely on the popularized Freudian theory to develop some of their arguments (Shade's repressed homosexuality, for one).

** - "A group of especially devout Extremists calling themselves the Shadows had got together and swore to hunt down the King and kill him wherever he might be. They were, in a sense, the shadow twins of the Karlists and indeed several had cousins or even brothers among the followers of the King. No doubt, the origin of either group could be traced to various reckless rituals in student fraternities and military clubs, and their development examined in terms of fads and anti-fads; but whereas an objective historian associates a romantic and noble glamor with Karlism, its shadow group must strike one as something definitely Gothic and nasty. The grotesque figure of Gradus, a cross between bat and crab, was not much odder than many other Shadows, such as, for example, Nodo, Odon’s epileptic half brother who cheated at cards, or a mad Mandevil who had lost a leg in trying to make anti-matter." (Gradus himself bears a similarity to Hyde, he is "a cross between bat and crab")

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