Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026526, Mon, 12 Oct 2015 23:30:09 -0300

RES:[NABOKV-L] More on Kater Murr
C. Kunin: Ah, yes, now I remember what Hoffmann's The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr has to do with Pale Fire ... it sound[s] very much like Pale Fire ...

Jansy Mello: Thanks for the reproduction of the two Sibyls by Michelangelo and for warning me about spelling differences (Sybil, Sibyl) and the information about ETA Hoffmann’s story.

Our associative whims may lead us astray but it’s always a hoot (as you describe it) and a joy to follow most of them, even if the stimulus for a roundabout way is not truly Nabokovian.
For example, consider the derivations related to Tomcat Murr, as they were recently mentioned by you:

“On Oct 9, 2015, at 6:46 AM, Alexey Sklyarenko wrote amongst other things: In a variant of ll. 231-234 quoted by Kinbote in his Commentary (note to Line 231) Shade mentions “pets, revived, and invalids, grown well” who dwell in a strange Other World ... In his poem Pamyati kota Murra (“In Memory of the Tomcat Murr,” 1934) Hodasevich mentions poetov i zverey vozlyublennye teni (the beloved shades of poets and animals) enjoying the deserved rest of eternity in the gardens beyond the river of fire…”[ ] In this interesting post, you neglected to mention that Tom Cat Murr (Kater Murr) is one of the longer tales of E. T. A. Hoffmann [ ] I tried once to read Hoffmann's nutcracker story…That it was a hard slog, that I remember all too well.”

We’ve exchanged posts about Tomcat Murr and Pale Fire* and about Hoffmann’s “My Cousin’s Corner Window”.It’s available in English (in a smudged reproduction) at this address: <http://www.berlin.ucla.edu/research/1811_people/texts/Hoffmann.pdf> http://www.berlin.ucla.edu/research/1811_people/texts/Hoffmann.pdf. **

A similar web of analogies led me from Eliot’s Philomel/swallow, to a different world of myths and legends – and then away from VN - after I remembered the similar themes they shared (rape, incest, adultery, brotherly feuds, parricide, cannibalism and infanticide) connecting Philomel to the legend of two brothers, “Atreus and Thyestes,”*** - mentioned by E.A.Poe at the end of “The Purloined Letter.” In the French play, Atreus discovers that his brother had killed his sons, and cooked them as a dish he’d just finished eating, because he had betrayed him with T’s wife, his sister in-law (cannibalism, parricide, incest start with Tantalus and proceed along the more familiar stories of Agamemnon, Menelaus, Clitemnestra, Electra, etc…) I finally managed to return to VN (but not to PF) by considering that Nabokov, like Poe, chose to quote a couple of verses in French in “Transparent Things”; in both cases the citations were, apparently, isolated from the main theme of the story (that’s the parallel that I contrived to pull together).

In TT the quoted lines were extracted from A.de Musset’s “Julia,” indicating a new thread, Hercules and Dejanira, who gave her husband a poisoned vest, “the shirt of Nessus.” In this story, we hear about a cloth that adhered to and burned his skin, impelling him to throw himself into a bonfire. We know that there’s a Julia in VN’s novel and death by incineration (Hugh Person’s), besides several warning signals about jealousy, murder, incest, burning houses and spouses.****There’s no filicide, though. No cannibalism! Also, there’s no descent into Hades in TT, but a change of “worlds” in time/space (the “Hereafter”).
Poisoned clothes reappear in the legend of another jealous mother who gave a burning dress to kill a rival, after murdering her own children, namely, Medea. You quote one Greek king (or nymph or brother) and you quote them all…What seems to tie down for us the infinite derivations of myths or legends is the author’s choice after he indicates a specific play or poem in which they appear with precise quotes (as it was the case with Crébillon and Musset).

VN’s quotation: “Ouvre ta robe, Déjanire that I may mount sur mon bûcher.”


*- Your early posting about Hoffman and Tomcat Murr to the VN-L can be found here: https://listserv.ucsb.edu/lsv-cgi-bin/wa?A3=ind1305 <https://listserv.ucsb.edu/lsv-cgi-bin/wa?A3=ind1305&L=NABOKV-L&E=quoted-printable&P=1095986&B=------%3D_NextPart_000_0028_01CE48C5.E3CD41C0&T=text%2Fhtml;%20charset=utf-8&XSS=3&header=1> &L=NABOKV-L&E=quoted-printable&P=1095986&B=------%3D_NextPart_000_0028_01CE48C5.E3CD41C0&T=text%2Fhtml;%20charset=utf-8&XSS=3&header=1

**- My posting about this text by ETA Hoffman can be found at the VN-L archives. Check https://listserv.ucsb.edu/lsv-cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind1005 <https://listserv.ucsb.edu/lsv-cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind1005&L=NABOKV-L&D=0&P=28188> &L=NABOKV-L&D=0&P=28188 and also https://listserv.ucsb.edu/lsv-cgi-bin/wa?A3=ind1005 <https://listserv.ucsb.edu/lsv-cgi-bin/wa?A3=ind1005&L=NABOKV-L&E=quoted-printable&P=543474&B=------%3D_NextPart_000_0038_01CAEF37.704A07A0&T=text%2Fhtml;%20charset=iso-8859-1&XSS=3&head> &L=NABOKV-L&E=quoted-printable&P=543474&B=------%3D_NextPart_000_0038_01CAEF37.704A07A0&T=text%2Fhtml;%20charset=iso-8859-1&XSS=3&head

***Prosper Jolyot de CRÉBILLON: “Un dessein si funeste, s’il n’est digne d’Atrée, est digne de Thyeste” Atrée et Thyeste (Acte 5)

****- A few excerpts skimming over an announced revenge by fire:

” Her two co-workers, a married couple, had just been hospitalized after a fire in their little apartment, the boss was away on business, and more people were dropping in than habitually would on a Thursday” [ ] ” it was indeed the paperback edition of Figures in a Golden Window [ ] there's a rather dramatic scene in a Riviera villa, when the little girl, the narrator's daughter [ ] sets her new dollhouse on fire and the whole villa burns down; but there's not much violence, I'm afraid; it is all rather symbolic, in the grand manner, and, well, curiously tender at the same time...” (TT,5)

” I have taught French in American schools but have never been able to get rid of my mother's Canadian accent, though I hear it clearly when I whisper French words. Ouvre ta robe, Déjanire that I may mount sur mon bûcher. I can levitate one inch high and keep it up for ten seconds, but cannot climb an apple tree.” (TT,5)

’This part of our translucing is pretty boring, yet we must complete our report./Mr. R. had discovered one day[ ] that his wife Marion was having an affair with Christian Pines, son of the well-known cinema man who had directed the film Golden Windows [ ] Mr. R. welcomed the situation since he was assiduously courting Julia Moore, his eighteen-year-old stepdaughter, and now had plans for the future” (TT,11)

”During their honeymoon in Stresa [ ] she (Armande) decided that last nights were statistically the most dangerous ones in hotels without fire escapes, and their hotel looked indeed most combustible, in a massive old-fashioned way. For some reason or other, television producers consider that there is nothing more photogenic and universally fascinating than a good fire. Armande, viewing the Italian telenews, had been upset or feigned to be upset (she was fond of making herself interesting) by one such calamity on the local screen - little flames like slalom flaglets, huge ones like sudden demons, water squirting in intersecting curves like so many rococo fountains [ ] Her sexual oddities perplexed and distressed Hugh.”(TT18).

[ ]”He did not plan anything. He had slept throughout the horrible automatic act, waking up only when both had landed on the floor by the bed. He had mentioned dreaming the house was on fire? That's right. Flames spurted all around and whatever one saw came through scarlet strips of vitreous plastic. His chance bedmate had flung the window wide open. Oh, who was she? She came from the past [ ] he had clamped Julia nicely and would have saved her from certain death if in her suicidal struggle to escape from the fire she had not slipped somehow over the sill and taken him with her into the void”(TT.20)

[ ] ”Coughing, our Person sat up in asphyxiating darkness and groped for the light, but the click of the lamp was as ineffective as the attempt to move a paralyzed limb. Because the bed in his fourth-floor room had been in another, northern position, he now made for the door and flung it open instead of trying to escape, as he thought he could [ ]. As he reached the window a long lavender-tipped flame danced up to stop him with a graceful gesture of its gloved hand. [ ]Rings of blurred colors circled around him, reminding him briefly of a childhood picture [ ]Its ultimate vision was the incandescence of a book or a box grown completely transparent and hollow. This is, I believe, it: not the crude anguish of physical death but the incomparable pangs of the mysterious mental maneuver needed to pass from one state of being to another. Easy, you know, does it, son.

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