James Twiggs [to
JM's "Sybil, as a shrew, must certainly derive from Kinbote's
own vision of her!"] In fact, Jansy, I was thinking not of Sybil's
treatment of the boorish pest Kinbote (which seems well-deserved) but of her
coldness toward Hazel. There are two or three instances of this, the main one
occurring in the commentary to line 230, when she has Maud's Skye terrier put to
death. It goes without saying that we have only Kinbote's word that the events
he describes (as allegedly told to him by Jane Provost) actually occurred. But
then again, how reliable a narrator is Shade? Does the fact that he chooses not
to include certain events in his poem mean that they never happened?
JM: Perhaps I misunderstood your choice of
the word "shrew" applied to Sybil. Hazel's plights are then
a question of "cherchez la mère."
There are various ways to read into the bits of story we get
throgh Shade and Kinbote (via Jane). There are those tender moments when
both parents engage with Hazel's toils with Eliot, when Sybil grieves holding in
her hand an old toy, seems to wander forlornly in the garden or cries
while she listens to Shade's lines about the night their daughter committed
There are signs that the couple is perfectly aware that their
daughter is mentally unbalanced, or deficient (why would they worry
protectively because a 23 year-old woman isn't back home before
midnight?) and not a wealth of details to pin down Sybil as
a "motherly shrew."
Take Aunt Maud's ailing skye-terrier occurrence. Couldn't
Sybil have tried to spare Aunt Maud with some
reluctance should the dog also be in physical distress?
Anyway, there's no way to know, one way or the other. In his
poem, falsely or not, Shade is extremely grateful and loving of his wife. Both
are sexagenarians and, although I haven't stopped to count days and years, Hazel
was not born very early in their marriage (I must check when they visited
Nice. They had a thing with France, no?)