Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026413, Thu, 3 Sep 2015 09:44:52 -0700

Nabokov’s allusions to Midsummer Night’s Dream AND Mansfield Park in L_o_l_i_t_a
Eric Hyman wrote this response to my post “The Connected Enchanted Hunters
of Mansfield Park & L_o_l_i_t_a”: “This seems to me to be a stretch.
Certainly amateur theatricals are central to Mansfield Park, but are they
central enough to L----- to constitute an allusion? One might just as well
argue that L----- alludes to the amateur theatricals in Shakespeare’s
Midsummer Night’s Dream—for those actually take place in the woods, are
more explicitly sexual, have the tragic death of a young woman, and, most
of all, have enchantments. We know that Nabokov, like all educated
Russians, was deeply interested in Shakespeare because Bend Sinister has a
parody of Hamlet.” END QUOTE

Eric, I have two answers to your very interesting response:

First, if you read my earlier posts (from the past few weeks) about the
allusion to *Mansfield Park *that I see in L----, you’ll see that my
amplification of Nepomnyashchy’s earlier claim re the play *Enchanted
Hunters *in L--- alluding to *Lovers Vows *in *Mansfield Park *is only
part of a much larger allusion by Nabokov to MP in L---. Had the amateur
theatrical parallel been all there was, I would agree with you that it
could be coincidence. But it’s not—far from it. I continue to claim that
what Nabokov was really responding to most of all in MP, was the incestuous
sexual abuse theme that Austen hid in plain sight there, as I have been
arguing for a number of years (not in this group, but in my own blog and in
various Austen online venues). Plus, I think that Nabokov giving the play
virtually the same title as the name of the fateful motel where Humbert
first abuses L--- gives the otherwise short play episode much greater
significance—he’s telling us, in an overt way, that the abuse and the play
are thematically connected.

Second, your suggestion of *Midsummer Nights Dream *as a more likely
candidate for allusive source for *The Enchanted Hunters *in L---- is
interesting on its own terms, for the reasons you briefly state—but even if
supported by additional textual evidence upon closer examination, why do
you assume that this would rule out the allusion to *Mansfield Park* that I
claim is there in L----? Would you not agree that Nabokov, being the
extremely erudite and sophisticated literary scholar that he was, was
perfectly capable of layering in multiple allusive sources? I’ve found that
to be true of all the great writers I’ve studied—the correct critical
answer re allusions is often not “either/or” but “both”.

And that layering would make even more sense in this particular case,
given that (as you may or may not be aware) *Midsummer Night’s Dream *was
an important allusive source for multiple Austen novels, most notably *Emma.
*So, if Nabokov did have MND in mind as he wrote L----, it would suggest to
me that he had also recognized the allusion to MND in MP, which I have
previously noted, and will give you a few highlights of, off the top of my

ONE: It has been recognized for some time by several Austen scholars that
the Sotherton “ha-ha” scene in MP, when the mismatched lovers, Maria,
Henry, Edmund, and Mary bypass the gate and enter the “garden” where bites
of the proverbial apple are taken, to the prim and proper Fanny Price’s
horror, is an obvious allusion to the young mismatched lovers of MND.

TWO: Sir Thomas Bertram has deep roots in the character of the domineering
patriarch of MND, Egeon, who tries to force his dutiful daughter Hermia to
marry the wealthy jerk Demetrius, just as Sir Thomas first turns a blind
eye when his daughter Maria marries the wealthy fool Rushworth, and then
cruelly coerces niece Fanny in an attempt to get her to marry the rake
Henry Crawford.

THREE: There is a disturbing pedophilic subplot in MND in which Oberon and
Titania spar over the little changeling boy whom Oberon demands as his
“henchman”--- that is parallel both with the bringing of Fanny Price to
Mansfield Park where (I claim) Sir Thomas sexually abuses her, and also
(obviously) with Humbert Humbert vis a vis Lolita.

And last but not least, there is the obligatory textual wordplay, in which
Jane Austen winks to her knowing readers that, yes, she really DID mean to
allude to MND in MP. Here is what Henry Crawford muses while looking back
at the amateur theatricals at Mansfield Park, as if he were Bottom
rhapsodizing about his asses-head interlude with Titania:

"It is as A DREAM, a PLEASANT DREAM!" he exclaimed, breaking forth again,
after a few minutes' musing. "I shall always look back on our theatricals
with exquisite pleasure. There was such an interest, such an animation,
such a spirit diffused. Everybody felt it. We were all alive. There was
employment, hope, solicitude, bustle, for every hour of the day. Always
some little objection, some little doubt, some little anxiety to be got
over. I never was happier."

Do you get the puns on “animation” (Bottom is turned into an animal!) and
“spirit” (meaning Puck, who turns Bottom into a jackass!)?

And, speaking of Bottom the Weaver, there are also four gratuitous,
otherwise trivial references, within a very short amount of text, to a
“bottom” during that same Shakespearean Sotherton “ha-ha” scene:

“A few steps farther brought them out at the BOTTOM of the very walk they
had been talking of; and standing back, well shaded and sheltered, and
looking over a ha-ha into the park, was a comfortable-sized bench, on which
they all sat down….At last it was agreed that they should endeavour to
determine the dimensions of the wood by walking a little more about it.
They would go to one end of it, in the line they were then in—for there was
a straight green walk along the BOTTOM by the side of the ha-ha—and perhaps
turn a little way in some other direction, if it seemed likely to assist
them, and be back in a few minutes….Fanny's thoughts were now all engrossed
by the two who had left her so long ago, and getting quite impatient, she
resolved to go in search of them. She followed their steps along the BOTTOM
walk, and had just turned up into another, when the voice and the laugh of
Miss Crawford once more caught her ear; the sound approached, and a few
more windings brought them before her. They were just returned into the
wilderness from the park, to which a sidegate, not fastened, had tempted
them very soon after their leaving her, and they had been across a portion
of the park into the very avenue which Fanny had been hoping the whole
morning to reach at last, and had been sitting down under one of the
trees…..On reaching the BOTTOM of the steps to the terrace, Mrs. Rushworth
and Mrs. Norris presented themselves at the top, just ready for the
wilderness, at the end of an hour and a half from their leaving the house.
Mrs. Norris had been too well employed to move faster. Whatever
cross-accidents had occurred to intercept the pleasures of her nieces, she
had found a morning of complete enjoyment…”

Of course I claim this is Jane Austen reminding us of “Bottom”, the
dreaming director of the play within a play.

And Nabokov, the master wordplayer, fully understood Austen’s love of
puns, and so here are Nabokov’s winking double entendres (also in one very
short bit of narration in L----) at the scholarly articles, computations,
studies, euphemisms, and descriptions required of his readers in order to
recognize his hallucinatory, mythological Midsummer Night’s Dream allusion
in L---:

“Apart from measurements, I could of course visualize L--- with
HALLUCINATIONAL lucidity; and nursing as I did a tingle on my breastbone at
the exact spot her silky top had come level once or twice with my heart;
and feeling as I did her warm weight in my lap (so that, in a sense, I was
always "with L--" as a woman is "with child"), I was not surprised to
discover later that my computation had been more or less correct. Having
moreover STUDIED A MIDSUMMER sale BOOK, it was with a very knowing air that
I EXAMINED VARIOUS PRETTY ARTICLES, sport shoes, sneakers, pumps of crushed
kid for crushed kids. The painted girl in black who attended to all these
poignant needs of mine turned parental SCHOLARSHIP and PRECISE DESCRIPTION
into commercial EUPHEMISMS, such as "petite."…. There is a touch of the
MYTHOLOGICAL and the ENCHANTED in those large stores where according to ads
a career girl can get a complete desk-to-date wardrobe, and where little
sister can DREAM of the day when her wool jersey will make the boys in the
back row of the classroom drool. Life-size plastic

figures of snubbed-nosed children with dun-colored, greenish, brown-dotted,
FAUNISH faces floated around me.”

Cheers, ARNIE

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