Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0020853, Sat, 9 Oct 2010 01:12:41 -0300

[NABOVOV-L] Ex[SIGHTING] a trip to a Loch to greet James
Macpherson, through Norman Douglas's commentaries.
Dear List,

By devious routes and resuscitations, I departed from "Pale Fire" ( boarding a 1962 hostile review), to travel down to Capri with Norman Douglas, before I once again returned, through the scholarly finds related to Nabokov's "Slovo" and James Macpherson's "Ossian," to CK's notes on Shade's crystal land.
You must read ND's commentary to limerick 20 carefully to enjoy the fun.

Here is an abbreviated report about my voyage:
In an Elaborate Spoof, Nabokov Takes Us to the Never-Never Land of Zembla, by George Cloyne ( A Pale Fire Review, May 27, 1962) the critic compares Nabokov's innovations ( poem, commentary and index) with previous works by two other writers: "Others before him have toyed with the same procedure. Norman Douglas liked annotating limericks with fragments of arcane learning. Max Jacob wrote imaginary letters of a more or less laconic kind and adorned them with a vast elucidation. In both cases the joke was flung off with the lightest of touches, whereas Mr. Nabokov deliberately adopts a more ponderous tone: he is, as it were, pulling his own leg as well as that of his public."

To explore this thread a little further, I copied one of Norman Douglas' limericks.*

Limerick #20
There was a young man of Loch Leven
Who went for a walk about seven.
He fell into a pit
That was brimful of shit,
And now the poor buggar's in heaven.

"This faulty rime must have been concocted by an Englishman or American; no native of the country would think of making "Loch Leven" go together with "Heaven," save so far as natural scenery is concerned. And the accident becomes intelligible if we suppose that it occurred not in the morning but at seven in the evening. At that hour of an autumn or winter month it is already pitch-dark in the latitude of Loch Leven.
"The shit-pits, as they are locally called, used to be very common in England. Fabyan's Chronicles (1516) relate that in 1252 a Jew of Tewkesbury fell into one of them on a Saturday, but refused to be taken out on his Sabbath; whereupon the Earl of Gloucester, who was not to be outdone in religious zeal, refused to take him out on Sunday. On Monday he was found to be dead." They were introduced into Scotland about 150 years ago by one James Macpherson, a tea-merchant and shrewd pioneer, who has observed them in China, where they are known as pupu-holes. To disappear into an unfenced pupu-hole - if fenced round, how are you going to use it? - is an ordinary form of death out there, and even in Scotland fatal accidents have lately become so frequent that the custom, despite its obvious conveniences, is beginning to lose ground.
"As to the victim being now in Heaven - we must take our poet's word for that. I think, unless they have fished him out, he will be found where he was."

* Norman Douglas (December 8, 1868 - February 7, 1952) was a British writer, now best known for his 1917 novel South Wind.
... his circle of acquaintances included the writer Graham Greene.. In the 1920s, perhaps piqued by D. H. Lawrence's success with Lady Chatterley, Douglas published Some Limericks, an anthology of more-or-less obscene limericks with a mock-scholarly critical apparatus. This classic (of its kind) has been frequently republished, often without acknowledgement in pirate editions. A definitive edition has now been published by Atlas Press. (wiki)
Cf. also "A review of Some Limericks by Norman Douglas by P.P.O. Kane." www.compulsivereader.com/html/index.php?name... -
excerpts: " In his introduction and commentary to the limericks, Douglas strikes a certain kind of pose: magisterial and magnanimous, mock-authoritative and understanding, bullet-proof as far as being shocked or outraged is concerned. It is a stance that gives rise to a definite and delightful frisson when set beside limericks that are salacious, scatological and blasphemous - or all three together, a rare treat. Douglas' Geographical Index is a helpful pointer toward his choicest and wittiest remarks..."

** - Two Former Nab-List postings on Macpherson in connection to "Pale Fire." (related to CK's note to line 12: that crystal land)..."Of course, it would have been unseemly for a monarch to appear in the robes of learning at a university lectern and present to rosy youths Finnigan's Wake as a monstrous extension of Angus Mac-Diarmid's "incoherent transactions" and of Southey's Lingo-Grande ("Dear Stumparumper," etc.) or discuss the Zemblan variants, collected in 1798 by Hodinski, of the Kongsskugg-sio (The Royal Mirror), an anonymous masterpiece of the twelfth century."
NABOKV-L Archives -- December 2008 (#99)
Re: [NABOKV-L] Thoughts: McDarmiad, Lochearnhead
excerpts (from Dieter Zimmer's annotations translated into English): "Angus MacDiarmid...Author of an unintendedly hilarious book in an awry kind of English: Striking and picturesque delineations of the grand, beautiful, wonderful, and interesting scenery around Loch-Earn (Edinburgh 1815) [...] According to Kinbote, Hodinski who is said to have collected the Zemblan variants of Kongs-skugg-sia in 1798 was a "Russian adventurer, court jester and a poet of genius." As a lover of Queen Yaruga ("reigned 1799-1800"), he was perhaps an ancestor of Charles the Beloved. Hodinski who lived in Zembla from 1778 to 1800 is "said to have forged in his spare time a famous old Russian chanson de geste, generally attributed to an anonymous bard of the twelfth century" (PF, p.246). This is the "famous pastiche" mentioned in Kinbote's Index (PF, p.307). The allusion may be to the Song of Igor's Campaign. This speculation is corroborated by the fact that Hodinski is the lover of Queen Yaruga and that her name is derived from an obsolete Russian word for 'precipice,' yaruga, occuring three times in the Song of Igor's Campaign. The authenticity of the Song of Igors Campaign was often put to doubt. Nabokov who in 1960 translated it into English considered it genuine." [...]The "Russian chanson de geste" which is said to be a forgery by Hodinski alias Hodyna from 1795 may well be the Song of Igor's Campaign.... published in 1800 under the title Slovo o polku Igoreve. ..Nothing is known about the author...Some have though it to be a Russian imitation of Ossian. Nabokov who in 1953/1960 translated it into English was convinced of its authenticity; if Kinbote is ascribing it to an ancestor of Charles the Beloved, he was not. From some correspondences with James Macpherson's notoriously famous Ossian (that influenced the German "Romantik") Nabokov did not conclude that Igor was a forgery but that Macpherson must have used some genuine medieval elements: "Throughout The Song there occur here and there a few poetical formulas strikingly resembling those in Macpherson's Ossian. Paradoxically, these coincidences tend to prove not that a Russian of the eighteenth century emulated Macpherson, but that Macpherson's conconction does contain after all scraps derived from authentic ancient poems. It is not unreasonable to assume that through the mist of Scandinavian sagas certain bridges or ruins of bridges may be distinguished linking Scottic-Gaelic romances with Kievan ones."
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