Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0003335, Tue, 25 Aug 1998 13:33:18 -0700

Thrushes, Bosquets, and Sentiments (fwd)
EDITOR's NOTE. My thanks to all those who responded to my "thrush" (and
anthemion) query: Abdellah Bouazza,Malcolm Reynolds, Jerry Friedman, Peter
Clasen. The fullest answer is from Brian Boyd. Eric Naiman
supplied a useful reply on the stylistic level. I have included an
exchange between Eric and myself on that matter. My
original query is at the end.

Dear Don and List:

The word "anthemion" does not occur in ADA (though it does of course in
the foreword Nabokov added to SPEAK, MEMORY after the first flash of ADA
had come to him), but the word "anthemia" (a flower cluster or mass) does:
Pt. 1. Ch. 12, 71.02: "a thematic anthemia of such events."

In answer to D. Barton Johnson's query about thrush and thistle in Pt. 2,
Ch. 10, I leave the thrush to be identified by the foremost ornithologist
among Nabokovians, our listmaster himself; it can be spotted in the middle
of the central panel of Hieronymus Bosch's painting Garden of Earthly
Delights (which Demon's hurtling mind has begun to move to in the sentence
ending "in a thrush, in a thistle of that ducal bosquet" and explicitly
refers to in the next, before luxuriating over the painting's images for
most of the rest of a long paragraph). A Tortoiseshell butterfly (so
identified by Ada, Lucette and Demon in the following sentence), a thistle
(there is another fabulous thistle further to the left of the panel,
accompanied by an owl, a duck, and a raft of gaudy birds), and a bird that
I assume to be the thrush in question (on a red conical tree) stand out in
the center of the panel against a hedge that could well mark the edge of a
ducal bosquet; certainly the procession of horses and other human-bearing
quadrupeds (cattle, swine, deer, camels, unicorns, cats, even birds¯this
is Bosch, after all) within the perimeter of the hedge resembles (given
the Boschean filter) the kind of procession we see in the Duc de Berry's
forest in the May scene from the Tr*s riches Heures of the Duc de Berry,
but this may seem to be just winking tiddles into a cup, since Bosch's
surname derives from the town where he lived and worked, 's-Hertogenbosch
or Bois-le-Duc (or ducal bosquet), on the edge of the then Duchy of
Brabant (now Nord-Brabant in the Netherlands): another bright
chrysanthemum, then, in the thematic Dutch anthemia in Ada, where the
architects the van Veens (Van Veen is a Dutch surname) create parodies of
erotic parodise in their Villa Venuses not unlike Bosch's or the Veens'.

"Good question(s), as they say"¯but why couldn't DBJ just have waited
twenty years until I reached episode 53 of that unmissable cliffhanger,
"Annotations to ADA"?

Might I add, re the "sentimentality" string, that a) sentimentality as
"unearned emotion" seems to derive ultimately from Stephen Dedalus's
telegram to Buck Mulligan, in chapter 9 of Ulysses ("The sentimentalist is
he who would enjoy without incurring the immense debtorship for a thing
done"), which is itself a quotation from Meredith's Ordeal of Richard
Feverel, and b) that for me there are two loci classici for VN's attitudes
to sentimentality: the first, the negative, where he defines sentiment
(especially 19C and earlier) as "conventional tears over conventional
virtue," in the EO commentary's discussion of types of romanticism (I
don't think there's a better definition of old-style sentimentality); the
second, the positive, Lectures on Literature pp. 86-87 (which by the way
nicely refutes Galya Diment's overly cynical jest that VN deplores as
sentiment in others what he extols as tenderness in himself): " I should
not like to hear the charge of sentimentality made against this strain
that runs through Bleak House. I want to submit that people who denounce
the sentimental are generally unaware of what sentiment is. . . .
Dickens's great art should not be mistaken for a cockney version of the
seat of emotion," etc. (See also VN on Dickens and the pathos of childhood
on p. 83).

Brian Boyd
English Department
University of Auckland
Auckland, New Zealand
FAX + 64 9 373 7599 ext 7429
e-mail: b.boyd@auckland.ac.nz

From naiman@socrates.berkeley.edu Tue Aug 25 13:15:55 1998
From: Eric Naiman

There may be something deeper, but in keeping with the sense of the
paragraph -- don't be a masterpiece baiter, accept the play of the
surface, rather than the depth -- a sense that may well be misleading, of
course, all VN's masterpieces are baited -- it may be worth stressing the
pure alliterative fun here -- one expects "in a rush" (how passionately,
how incandescently, how incestuously, how in a rush), and is forced to
pause as one rushes by a distinct object: in a thrush. Same thing with
thistle -- in a THIStle of THAT ducal bosquet (where we here le/al as an
internal rhyme, let alone the Bosch in bosquet)
On Sat, 22 Aug 1998, Donald Barton Johnson wrote:

> Your editor begs assistance:
> 1) I lost my note card and can't find where the word "anthemion" occurs in
> 2) On p. 436 of ADA (original hardback ed.; Part II, chptr 10) Demon says:
> "If I could write,... I would describe, ... how passionately, how
> incandescently, how incestuously -- c'est le mot -- art and science meet
> in an insect, in a thrush, in a thistle of that ducal bosquet." He goes
> onto illustrate how Ada & Lucette have (in the name of scientific
> accuracy) noted an error in a Bosch butterfly rendition; he maintains that
> the artist was simply amusing himself, "crossbreeding causual fancies,"
> i.e. art.
> OK, the incestuous insect in the ducal thicket of art&science is easy BUT
> what about the thrush? (And the thistle?). Why a THRUSH? If it is just a
> matter of a ceature being both a matter of beauty and scientific study,
> any bird would have done. VN must have chosen the thrush for some reason.
> I don't see it as an incest-related anagram. Or am I missing something?
> Nor does the scientific name Turdus (philomelos - if it is the
> European Song Thrush)suggest anything (relevant). Nor does
> the Russian name Drozd.
> Does "thistle" help any?
> And I'm not too sure about that "ducal bosquet" either. Ducal?
> Shakespeare?
> D. Barton Johnson
> Department of Germanic, Slavic and Semitic Studies
> Phelps Hall
> University of California at Santa Barbara
> Santa Barbara, CA 93106
> Phone and Fax: (805) 687-1825
> Home Phone: (805) 682-4618