Try as I may I can never stray too far from
Nabokov. This afternoon I was listening to a marvellous 2008 production of
Jean-Phillipe Rameau's "Castor et Pollux" (libretto by Pietter-Joseph Bernard),
recorded live at Het Muziektheater,Amsterdam.
A word caught my attention, mainly because I
remembered Priscilla Meyer's reference to a "pâle flambeau" in connection to
In "Find What the Sailor Has Hidden"
(1988) Meyer discusses scientific references in PF ("Flora,Fauna, and
Faery") and brings up CK's note, to line 80, in which he mentions Torfaeus
and A.R.Wallace (a scientist who worked independently of Charles Darwin,
but also came up with the theory of the survival of the
Meyer quotes an exchange from
PF where "Shade takes the materialist position and Kinbote is
aligned with Wallace" and its first lines are: " Shade: Personally, I am with the old
snuff-takers: L'homme est né bon" .
I think Shade is here referring to Jean-Jacques
Rousseau's famous ideal "good savage". Kinbote, to Wallace...
Meyer also mentions Wallace's
"spiritualistic" investigations and informs that "Wallace recorded the
proceedings of the many seances he attended". Wallace offers a
long message,from August 1893, in French and purportedly
sent by a dying Napoleon III to a medium who signed the
poem as "Ésprit C". (
cf.P.Meyer, p.173). The lines she quotes
Des bords du lit funèbre, ou palpite sa proie/
Aux lugubres clartés de son pâle
L'impitoyable mort me montre le tombeau./
Rameau was a contemporary of Jean-Jacques
Rousseau who (information from the Rameau DVD recording) "had never
recovered from Rameau's annihilating judgement on his own compositions."
In "Castor et Pollux," there are words that not only mention a "pâle
flambeau" but are similarly applicable to a dying, or as is the case
of Castor,a dead hero. Castor and Pollux
are indirectly mentioned in ADA ( for example, in the panel in the Three
Swans Hotel, with Leda and her eggs, from which Castor and
Pollux hatched (only Pollux is "Jupiter Olorinus"' son, though). I
don't remember if they are present in PF.
It is impossible to ascertain if the
reference to Rousseau indicates VN's knowledge of Rameau and the
libretto of his opera.
The links with Wallace are clear as is his
reference to a poem "taken down by a medium".
And yet, independently of VN's knowledge (which
was extensive!), certainly what the "Ésprit C" wrote was inspired in
"Castor et Pollux" for there are too many words in common bt. their lines
(flambeaux, tombeau, lugubre, clartés,funèbres...) A clear and demonstrable
hoax, I'm sure.
Cf. ACTE II, SCÈNE 2
(paraît dans le plus grand
Tristes apprêts, pâles flambeaux,
affreux que les ténèbres
Astres lugubres des tombeaux,
Non, je ne verrai
plus que vos clartés funèbres.
Toi, qui vois mon cœur éperdu,
jour, ô soleil, ô mon pére !
Je ne veux plus d'un bien que Castor
renonce à la lumière.
Further links may present themselves ( "to
borrow, to borrow or to borrow"?). Now, I must return to the opera and hear a