NABOKV-L post 0026527, Tue, 13 Oct 2015 03:10:18 -0700

Philomela and Pale Fire?
In a recent post Jansy quoted Matt Roth:

*Roth: “Shade is a waxwing, Sybil a swallow (hirondelle), and Hazel a
nightingale/pheasant. As far as I know, this arrangement has only one
precedent: the myth of Tereus, Procne, Philomel, and Itys. [ ] As you
may have guessed, I believe that this is no mere coincidence, and I
likewise believe that it supports a reading of the novel wherein there
is some kind of unnatural relationship (active or passive) between
John Shade and Hazel. In Ovid, it is very clear that Tereus's
relationship with Philomel is seen as a form of incest, and the
father's devouring of his child is simply an alimentary form of
incest. Note too that in one scene in the Metamorphoses, Tereus, while
witnessing Philomel embracing her father (the king), wishes that he
were her father, so that he could indulge his passion incestuously.
(Shade, by the way, twice imagines himself a king in "PF"--see lines
605 and 894; in the latter of these, he, like Kinbote, imagines
himself both as a king and as the victim of an assassin.)…We can now
also note another link to Eliot's "Game of Chess," which Shade (or
Nabokov) parodies in Canto Three.” …

Matt Roth also mentions Shade’s transcription of a few bird sounds:
“To-wee and Come here, come herrr (but not chippo, as far as I can
tell) can be read as words from Hazel to her father. To-wee becomes
"two, we" (we two) and Come here, come herrr becomes a plea for
attention and a play on Shade's name, which is, in Spanish, "almost
man," just as herr, in German, means ‘mister’."

Dear Jansy,

I guess I'm confused here (or herrrr). Philomel (or Philomela) was
raped by her brother-in-law, so not really incest - the rape was
aggravated by the rapist's attempt to hide the crime by cutting out
Philomela's tongue so she could not tell what had happened to her.

When her sister Procne "read" the truth in a tapestry Philomela had
woven, she serves up her and Tereus's (the rapist's) son to him. This
I assume is the "alimentary" incest of which Matt Roth writes.
Was the rape incestuous? Only in the way Henry VIII claimed his
marriage to Catherine of Aragon was incestuous - that is to say, very
tenuously. And why isn't cannibalizing one's own child bad enough, but
it has to be "incestuous" too??

If there is any evidence that Shade's relationship with his daughter
was unnatural, I have missed it. I have missed how Hazel is either a
nightingale (they don't exist on the American continent after all) or
a pheasant. Shade is not a waxwing, but the shadow of one, which is
only his poetic way of saying that he was watching when a waxwing
flew into his window; he could see the bird, whose shadow presumably
fell on the poet, but the bird only saw the reflected sky. Sybil is an
Irondell, so I suppose she could be said to be a swallow. Sylvia too
has avian traits - she is said to perch in between peregrinations.
Shade imagining himself a king is too generic an idea to point to the
Ovid story ... so Matt is going to have to defend this idea - I just
don't get it.

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