Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0005290, Thu, 6 Jul 2000 11:00:42 -0700

What was Gordon wearing? (fwd)
From: Arthur Glass <goliard@worldnet.att.net>

In the note to l. 408 of 'Pale Fire,' Charles has Gradus visit the villa
of the American Joseph S. Lavender, 'Libitina.' Now that is a rather morbid
name for a vacation hidwaway. Charles identifies Libitina as 'the Roman
goddess of corpses and tombs;' according to Cassell's Latin-English
Dictionary, the word refers to 'the goddess of the dead, in whose temple the
requisites for a funeral were kept for hire, and the register of deaths was

One wonders, in light of the sexually charged atmosphere of the note,
whether the reader is meant to hear an echo of 'libertine' in the name.
Lavender is a collector of 'ombriolles,' a word my prim Cassell's
French-English Dictionary does not recognize, but which are apparently
high-toned pornographic pictures, which gives the hapless Gradus the cover
of posing as 'the agent of a Strasbourg art dealer.' Lavender is not at
home, but his fourteen year-old nephew Gordon is. The boy appears with
'nothing on save a leopard-skin loincloth.' This pubescent Tarzan takes the
incongruously brown-suited Gradus on a tour of the garden, including the
mattress-furnished Grotto where, he informs Gradus, 'I once spent the night
...with a friend.' The stain on the mattress attests to the nature of the
entertainment, and there is no doubt in the reader's mind that the 'friend'
was the deposed sovereign of Zembla.

But strange! After this faunlet leans over to take a swig of water from a
tap, he is described as wiping his hand on 'his black bathing trunks.' What
happened to the loincloth? A few paragraphs later, Gordon is descibed as
wearing 'white tennis shorts.' When Gradus, and we, last see him, he is
lying in the buff by the pool having cast off 'his Tarzan brief.'

Have we caught Charles here in an inconsistency in construction of his
hallucinated world? The urge to dress and undress the beautiful, if no doubt
fictive, Gordon seems to have gotten the best of paranoid rigor here.

There are many other aspects of 'texture' to discuss in this note, which I
don't recollect Boyd's having mentioned in 'Nabokov's Pale Fire.'
'Lavender,' for example, is a color associated with male homosexuality.
Gradus originally talks to Gordon's governess, whose name is, delightfully,
'Mrs Baud.'And what is the significance of the villa being a 'house of the
dead?' The note seems to be involve asuperposition of sex and death.