Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0002382, Thu, 25 Sep 1997 14:45:42 -0700

LOLITA's "Chestnut Lodge" (fwd)
From: naiman@socrates.berkeley.edu

I am intrigued by Professor Dolinin's response, but I disagree
with him for the following reasons.

> 1. Nabokov's anagramms, as we know them, always obey certain strict
> rules: they retain all the elements of the anagrammatized word (s)
> including apostrophes and diacritics (see, for example, Gene Barabtarlo's
> ingenious reading of "Mali e trano t'amesti"); they never contain the
> definite article; they are always grammatically correct. Professor Naiman's
> alleged anagramm violates all of the above.

The anagram suggested IS gramatically correct.(NB, too "the
anagramtailed ENTRY in the register of Chestnut Lodge"). I'm not sure I
would agree with Prof. Dolinin that there are no other definite articles;
I'll keep an eye open. In any event, Nabokov's anagrams are often not
quite exact. "Quilty"'s appearances are often interlarded with other,
superfluous letters; the important thing is that all the letters are
there. QUIeTLY the fusion took place. Or look at that early dream 1:11.
The paradigm proposed and mocked is Blanche Schwarzmann's Freudian
interpretation (penetration-orthodoxy) but the dream must be
poetically/phonetically read (something Freud might have done, by the
way): the Quest for the Glasses turned into a QUIet LiTtle orgY (with
extra ts and ls thrown in in case we miss the joke), see the "kind of
meaningful CLARITY" that follows. Poetic suggestion is often more
important than precision.
Here's another example of one letter being off, but the vowel
sounds are sufficiently close:

Mrs. Chatfield's already broken smile now disintegrated
"For shame," she cried, "for shame, Mr. Humbert! The poor boy has
just been killed in Korea."
I said didn't she think "vient de" (italicized - EN) with the
infinitive, expressed recent events so much more neatly than the English
"just," with the past?

We realize that the italicized words may require interpretation,
but let's not fall for the obvious paradigm (French). It is another
anagram, one describing recent events, and Humbert's thoughts, which
earlier in the novel do switch into italics. (change an e to an a) Despite
what we are told elsewhere, the clues ARE often in italics, but the reason
for italicization is not the one that immediately springs to mind in the
context. Without the anagram, there is no convincing motivation for the
introduction of "vient de."

> 2. The corresponding phrase in the Russian version of LOLITA does
> not have anything that could hint at a hidden obscenity; moreover, it omits
> the very mention of "Chestnut Lodge" (translated before as "Kashtanovyi
> dvor" which again does not imply anything bawdy) but refers only to "the
> Kasbeam motel" (kasbim skii motel). On the other hand, the "Enchanted
> Hunters" anagramm is rendered in full though in Russian it consists of 27
> letters.

Not convincing. In his translations, Nabokov often plays
equivalent games, but not in the exact same places. He tends to use more
or less literal translations even where a pun is lost; a pun with similar
freight can be added elsewhere. "A Guide to Berlin" is probably the best
instance of this process, but there are many others, particularly in the
early novels. That there is no mention of the Chestnut Lodge in the
Russian translation of this particular passage strikes me as evidence that
the name was essential to the anagram. In Russian it was pointless, so
perhaps VN dropped it for that reason. In general, VN may have sacrificed
the entire field of Elizabethan bawdy, because there are no parallel
"great text" in Russian with the same degree of lewdness as say, Hamlet or
R&J... Occasionally, particularly in English translations not done by
Nabokov, one detects the wreckage of a pun -- a passage that just doesn't
seem motivated no matter how hard one looks. The explanation can be found
in the Russian original. Deleting an entire scene might have drawn too
much attention to the original, often still unexposed pun.

> 3. Nabokov's anagramms usually have an important meaning and
> function, serving as clues to some re-interpretation of the whole text and
> I think it would be uncharacteristic of him to use the device just for the
> adolescent fun of secretly reiterating the taboo words (whatever their age)
> which belong to the construed dirty mind of Clare Quilty (cf.: Bumper,
> Quimby, Kitzler, and so forth).
> In fact, the original suggestion of a "Chestnut Lodge" connection
> with a psychiatric clinic seems to me much more promising since the motive
> of chestnuts (initially introduced in the reference to the color of Lolita
> /Annabel's hair) resurfaces in Part Two of the novel at the crucial moment
> when HH (together with his narration) goes NUTS and pursues Lolita, "the
> winged fugitive," like Stevenson's Mr.Hyde: "A tepid rain started to drum
> on the chestnut trees" (206).In Chapter 16 HH looks down from Chestnut
> Crest and sees "the road winding down, and then running as straight as a
> hair parting between two rows of chestnut trees" [a combined echo of the
> parting in Annabel's hair on the faded photograph (13) and HH's first
> glimpse of Lolita when he looks at her from above and recognizes "the same
> chestnut head of hair"(39)]; and then makes out "an elf-like girl on an
> insect-like bicycle, and a dog" (212)--an allusion to the scene mentioned
> above in which HH pursues Lolita who has left on a bicycle and almost
> knocks over a "dropsical dackel." In Chapter 22, after HH had taken Lolita
> to the Elphinstone hospital, he "lay on her bed that smelled of chestnuts
> and roses" (241), which probably evokes two components of "chestnut"--chest
> (=coffin) and nut (=mad) and thereby death and madness, the two major
> themes of the novel.
> These are the only notes on chestnuts in my copy of LOLITA but I am
> sure any chestnut hunter will find many more unexplored trails and scents.
> I think it is pertinent that chestnut also means a stale joke and is an
> oriental symbol of foresight.

In fact, the novel is full of similar moments of ribald play.
There are various keys to this rich novel. Butler's butterfly is one;
Elizabethan bawdy is another. On one level, Humbert doesn't travel around
America but about the lower parts of the body. This is a novel that owes
much to "the verve of a fine poet in a wanton mood" -- a poetic stance
placed by Nabokov in Europe "well into the eighteenth century" with
"obvious examples" coming from France -- and less obvious ones, I would
suggest, in Lolita coming from the English dramatic tradition.
Shakespeare's ribald puns were often brilliant and complex. In this text,
at least, he is explicitly posed as a synonym for God.. >

As for the many appearances of chestnuts, Nabokov's work, as is
all great literature, is richly overdetermined. Even so, I would say that
this anagram is where many of those chestnuts are leading....

Finally, I would protest the general premise of Dolinin's
response, that Nabokov's poetics "always obey" strict rules. Nabokov's
genius consists precisely in his playing by different rules than the ones
anticipated by the reader. (Or, as an American lawyer in Moscow recently
said imperialistically: "We don't read the laws, we write 'em"). We
appreciate his operations after the fact, but they aren't predictible or
reliable (and that's what makes reading him so much fun). Did anyone try
to solve those crossword puzzles published recently in Novoe Literaturnoe
Obozrenie? As far as generic rules are concerned, Nabokov at his best was
always a great cheater.