Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0005305, Sat, 8 Jul 2000 16:30:45 -0700

Nymphs in Pope and Nabokov (fwd)
From: Arthur Glass <goliard@worldnet.att.net>

A nymph came pirouetting, under white
Rotating petals, in a vernal rite
To kneel before an altar in a wood
Where various articles of toilet stood.
'Pale Fire,' ll . 413-16.

These lines, of course, describe a cosmetics commercial on the television
station John and Sibyl Shade are watching. The commercial appeals to
feminine vanity, and projects a skin-deep image of female beauty. At the
same moment, Hazel is listening to the fictive excuses of Peter Dean (is it
over-reading to note that Peter, the dean of the Disciples, denied Christ
three times?) and is about to board the bus for the final trip of her life.

Boyd directs our attention to the clear allusion to the most famous rite of
vanity in English literature: Belinda before the mirror in Canto I of Pope's
'The Rape of the Lock,' ll. 121-147. Belinda is called a 'Nymph' in those
First robed in White , the Nymph intent adores
With Head uncover'd the Cosmetic Pow'rs.

But the Nymphs are also one order in the quadripartite apparatus of
supernatural beings in 'The Rape of the Lock.' 'Sylphs' are the spirits of
the air, 'salamanders' of fire, 'gnomes' of earth and 'Nymphs ' of water.
All of these beings are the spirits of beautiful women:

For when the Fair in all their Pride expire
To their first Elements their Souls retire.
ii. 57, 58.
Now, Hazel Shade is, in this life at any rate, anything but a beautiful
Belinda. But her death is by water, which makes for a potential connection
of her with the element of Pope's Nymphs. And of course no reader of VN can
hear the word 'nymph' without thinking of butterflies. But doesn't that
image from 'Pale Fire' of a nymph pirouetting under white petals suggest the
hovering of a butterfly?

Is it possible that in watching this saccharine, vulgar TV commercial, the
Shades are receiving a portentous sign from their poor daughter who is about
to undergo a marvelous metamorphosis?