NABOKV-L post 0026533, Wed, 14 Oct 2015 18:45:34 -0700

Kater Murr, Philomela and Pale Fire
Dear Jansy,

re: Kater Murr - I have found the book and will read (read: try to
read) it (auf Englisch).

re: Philomel[a]: It makes you wonder what those ancient Greeks were up
to - if VN's sexual tastes can be questioned it is bad news for them.

re: Pale Fire: I really can't find where Disa laughs in the novel -
this may have referred to something else. Whatever it was, it's lost
in the archives and can't be retrieved.


On Oct 12, 2015, at 7:30 PM, Jansy Mello wrote:

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:
. **

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 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 usthe
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

*- Your early posting about Hoffman and Tomcat Murr to the VN-L can be
found here:;%20charset=utf-8&XSS=3&header=1

**- My posting about this text by ETA Hoffman can be found at the VN-L
archives. Check
and also;%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,

”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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