Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024874, Tue, 10 Dec 2013 15:44:28 +0000

THOUGHTS re: mandibles, mandevils, man devils
Carolyn brought up the passage in Shade’s poem (243-44) that reads: “Lafontaine was wrong: / Dead is the mandible, alive the song.” I will go way out on a limb (if anyone comes with me it will crack) and say that I have always felt there was something undiscovered here. I haven’t worked it out, but two connections come to mind. “Mandible” chimes with “Mandevil,” the surname of the Zemblan cousins Mirador (good) and Radomir (bad). So there may be some connection to Kinbote’s tale. But I have never been able to shake a supplementary echo from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (IV.2), which ends with a song by the clown, Feste (who has been engaged in trying to convince a sane man, Malvolio, that he is mad):

I am gone, sir,
And anon, sir,
I'll be with you again,
In a trice,
Like to the old Vice,
Your need to sustain;
Who, with dagger of lath,
In his rage and his wrath,
Cries, ah, ha! to the devil:
Like a mad lad,
Pare thy nails, dad;
Adieu, goodman devil.

Vice was the devil’s fool in the old morality plays, wherein he tried to pare the devil’s long nails with his wooden sword. If we look back at the passage in “PF,” we see that the next line after the “mandible” line reads: “And so I pare my nails . . . .” In my fever dream, then, Shade is the mad lad (“in my demented youth”), the man-devil, paring his nails. And if “man devil” = “mandible,” we can then can read the passage as “Shade is dead, but his poem will live on by way of Kinbote.” As I said, highly speculative, but one of those private associations that nonetheless vibrates a little in my upper spine.

Matt Roth

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