Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027577, Mon, 30 Oct 2017 21:24:19 -0700

WIP: Villa Libitina
HAPPY HALLOWEEN! Welcome to the haunted house…

Gradus believes Odon to be staying at the villa of Joseph S. Lavender (C408). His house is called “Villa Libitina”, the name of the goddess of corpses and tombs. Thus, it is a house of death and spirits. Note that there are three masons (i.e. Masonic members) who show Gradus the way, and a vineyard, with which Gradus is associated. The story as it unfolds there is packed with chthonic, Dionysian, occult, mythological and (surprise) alchemical references. Lavender seems to be an unsavory sort of character who deals in a sort of soft pornography called “ombrioles”, which “combined exquisite beauty with highly indecent subject matter” (an apt description of some of Nabokov’s art, as well). The word means “Shades” in French. “Libitina” would seem to be a bit of a pun on “libertine”, as well. The goddess Libitina was usually shown dressed all in black, the image of our modern day “Morticia”. Mlle Baud (“gaunt jet-glittering”) would seem to fit the type. I wonder if there isn’t some connection in her name to Baudelaire. He was admired by Nabokov and this quote from Wikipedia would seem to suggest Baudelaire would fit nicely into the Villa:

"The principal themes of sex and death were considered scandalous. He also touched on lesbianism, sacred and profane love, metamorphosis, melancholy, the corruption of the city, lost innocence, the oppressiveness of living, and wine."

The name “Lavender” “hails from laundry”, that is, meaning “wash”; he is the “washer”. Jung writes that the ancient alchemists were concerned with the “aqua permanens” which was extracted from the stone in the “nigredo”. This was called the “ablutio”, or “washing”. Kinbote seems to have been through the nigredo previously in his trek through the “underworld” tunnel, replete with kraters, headless Mercury, and other alchemic symbols (see my post 027473). Subsequently he was a guest chez Lavender.
“Altogether, the divine water possesses the power of transformation. It transformed the "nigredo" into the "albedo" through the miraculous “washing” (ablutio); it animated inert matter, made the dead to rise again, and therefore possessed the virtue of the baptismal water in the ecclesiastical rite.” (Jung, Alchemic Studies, CW, Vol.13, p.68)

As for divine water, there is a swimming pool, and a grotto (always indicative of the chthonic realm) and abundant water closets.

Gradus is shown around the Villa by the enticing young Gordon, who either is a shape-shifter, or Kinbote is getting salaciously carried away by this “faunlet”. Faunus is the Latin name of Pan. Gordon is a musical prodigy. In this turnaround Pan plays classical rather than rustic music. He is seen drinking from a pipe, though.

Pan was the dragon/goat god of the ancient Arcadians. If you were to play a word-golf game, changing one letter and then creating an anagram, “Gordon” becomes “dragon”. In fact, there is a word-golf that can associate “Gradus” with “Gordon”, as well as reflecting this whole section of the book:

GRADES = Associated with Gradus
GRAVES = Death/tombs
GRAVEN = Engraved emblemata of alchemy/also tombstones
GARDEN = Gordon has “favorite flowers” (probably narcissus)
DRAGON = Pan/Alchemy

Curiously, Gradus, who seems to be allied with the dark arts, seems not only adversarial to the goings on at the Villa, but also clueless. Gradus and Gordon both belong to the chthonic realms, but are opposites; Gradus is the dull, mean bestial form of the unconscious and Gordon is the erotic (“…his lovely bestial face”). Like many an ego, Kinbote is fearful of some aspects and attracted to others. The King seems to have had a good time at Villa Libitina. Was he washed clean? It appears to be another instance of Kinbote being confronted with the process of alchemy, while remaining essentially unchanged.

The god Mercurius was given many names and forms in alchemy. Jung, interestingly, writes of him sometimes appearing as Pan, and associates this with some alchemic pornographica:

“In the Table of Symbols in Penotus he is associated with nymphs, which reminds one of the pastoral god, Pan. His lasciviousness is borne out by an illustration in the Tripus chimicus of Sendivogius, where he appears on a triumphal chariot drawn by a cock and a hen, and behind him is a naked pair of embracing lovers. In this connection may also be mentioned the numerous somewhat obscene pictures of the "coniunctio" in old prints, often preserved merely as pornographica.” (Jung, Alchemical Studies, CW, Vol.13, p.231)

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