Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0023379, Wed, 10 Oct 2012 01:28:55 -0300

Re: THOUGHT and Frost
Brian Boyd:" I quote at VNAY 454 the letter from Nabokov to Andrew Field, decoding the message in the Haunted Barn and declaring: “It is told by the spirit in the barn.” Véra Nabokov’s July 8, 1980 letter to Igor Yefimov reads: “the point here is that while Kinbote looks in his text for indications of Hentzner’s death announced by Hentzner, actually you can find in it a shadow of warning of aunt Maud about Shade’s death.” Her letter to Gennady Barabtarlo, explaining her Russian rendition of the passage, explains: “The entire message of the ghost, if carefully read, represents a clear warning from Aunt Maud advising Shade not to go to Goldsworth’s” (Barabtarlo, Aerial View, 208)[ ] Notice in Kinbote’s description of the text spelled out by the light in the Barn the word “empasted,” which seems to occur in English literature just once prior to this (to judge by a search through Literature Online), in the second Quarto edition of Hamlet (it becomes “impasted” in the Folio). This may be a further clue to Maud, who as an oil painter must at least have been intimately familiar with the possibilities of the painterly technique of impasto (not as vanishingly rare a word as “empasted” or “impasted,” but uncommon outside the world of painting).
[ ] I fully agree with Barrie Akin* that Maud’s ability to foresee events almost three years ahead—events dependent on a conjunction of the caprices of two madmen, Kinbote and Jack Grey—is passing strange, especially in a writer who repeatedly denies that the future is an item of time... It has always seemed to me puzzling that Maud should be allowed this prescience, in view of VN’s usual insistence that the future is open possibility, not merely not-yet-reached actualities. "

Jansy Mello: Empastar is not an uncommon word in Portuguese and in Spanish. It has various different meanings, but there's one about a sick or a drunken person's voice ("voz empastada") that fits in well with Maud's disturbed speech. It seems that Nabokov's employ of "empasted" is closer to its coloquial use in Portuguese (a clammy blurred voice), than to what seems to be the special meaning in Italian ( covered by paste? oily?)

What strikes me concerning Aunt Maud's ability to foresee the future is that her message indicates, but vaguely, a very definite event that will take place three years later (John Shade must not cross the lane to go to Goldsworth's house). Either Shade's movements must become severely restricted from that date onwards, or his crossing the lane, at any time, would instantly precipitate the tragedy.
One may also assume that Nabokov's intention is related to hidden patterns, i.e: this fatidic conjunction will inevitably happen one day, independently of any ghostly warning ( in Pale Fire he was clearly making fun of Wallace's beliefs in spiritual séances, wasn't he?).
There's still a fourth possibility: Kinbote constructed the haunted barn message only after Jack Grey murdered John Shade by mistake.
*- Barrie writes:What troubles me is that, if we accept that Aunt Maud is warning Hazel that John Shade should not cross the lane – and there are references to the Red Admiral (which BB identifies with Hazel herself) and so on in the fractured words spelled out by the light (“Pada atalana…etc”) then we must accept that Aunt Maud’s ghost is able to foresee the future. So if she is attempting to warn John Shade through Hazel about the fate that awaits him if he crosses the lane...

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