NABOKV-L post 0024733, Thu, 31 Oct 2013 20:08:39 -0700

Re: Trivia: on dogs, cats (Tobermory) and wistful thinking
Dear Jansy,

Thank you for Tobermory - I always enjoy Saki,* whose own life was so tragically short - he died a soldier in the first world war. Don't recall VN ever referring to him, however. But of course there is one literary cat that VN must have known, other than Hodge, of course. And that would be the Cheshire Cat. I don't recall how he translated it, but do recall that Martin Gardener in his Annotated Alice does speculate on whether looking-glass milk (anti-matter) would disagree with an ordinary cat; I believe he concluded that it would.

I have been spending my Hallowe'en eve waiting for goblins that didn't come. To pass the time I'm reading the Annotated Dorian Gray. Can't wait to see what he has to say about Sybil Vane. 


* the name of course comes from the Fitzgerald Rubaiyat. Something tells me VN would have looked down on it.

From: Jansy Mello <jansy.nabokv-L@AETERN.US>
Sent: Thursday, October 31, 2013 3:53 AM
Subject: [NABOKV-L] Trivia: on dogs, cats (Tobermory) and wistful thinking

I -
"First of all, dismiss ideas, and social background,
and train the freshman to shiver, to get drunk on the poetry of Hamlet or Lear,
to read with his spine and not with his skull." Kinbote: "You appreciate
particularly the purple passages?" Shade: "Yes, my dear Charles, I roll upon
them as a grateful mongrel on a spot of turf fouled by a Great
Shade's playful answer to Kinbote ( Hamlet/Great Dane) had escaped me
until a few days ago I saw a TV detective-series in which an
investigator was bitten by Hamlet, a Great Dane (of course).
Nabokov's ghost is always ready to make his comic presence
II -
While selecting quotes, I came across C. Kinbote's note on "debris"
(line 550): "I wish to say something about an earlier
note (to line 12). Conscience and scholarship have debated the question, and I
now think that the two lines given in that note are distorted and tainted by wistful thinking. It is the only time in the course of the writing of
these difficult comments, that I have tarried, in my distress and
disappointment, on the brink of

I wonder if this 1962 use of "wistful thinking" by V.Nabokov is an original
creation of his, probably mocking the freudian employ of "wishful
I found only the following (non-authoritative) in the
internet:  "The phrase 'wishful thinking' shows up in written English
in the 1930s. It is probably one of the stable of phrases introduced or
resemanticized by the new field of psychoanalysis. Someone who engages in
wishful thinking allows a belief about upcoming events to be shaped by what the
person hopes will happen rather than by what a common-sense analysis suggests
will be the outcome. 'Wistful,' which at one point referred to a state of
careful attention, is now used in English to describe a certain kind of feeling,
a certain set of the eyes. A “wistful look” indicates an
eager-but-at-times-melancholy countenance.The formation and evolution of
“wistful” may have been influenced by the word “wishful.” The two words have
enough independence in modern English, however, to make their confusion a
certifiable error. [  ] “Wistful thinking” is a common expression, with
over 20K hits on Google, many of them non-duplicates. Some of the web pages use
“wistful thinking” correctly, of course, referring to an eager, yet sad, state
of mind, but the vast majority of these hits seem to be substitutes for “wishful
thinking.” When “wistful” lends some its semantics to the understanding of the
phrase, it is an eggcorn."  CF.
In my former posting about cats and the oak Chat., I bungled the chronology
(a bit) Of course, Pale Fire, having been written long before ADA,
cannot refer to ADA. The link was made by my atemporal ears (all those ch-ch-ch)
- and I still believe that PF's epigraph simply intends to
warn readers to "mind the cat."
In RLSK there's also an uncalled for cat that suddenly appears
(like a bunch of violets)and rejects milk. According to V. it has "celadon
In the past I tried in vain to recollect what British author wrote about a
speaking cat (like the one in Pushkin's poem). I discovered it quite recently.
It was Saki. The short-story is "Tobermory" 
Google Search the archive Contact the Editors Visit "Nabokov Online Journal" Visit Zembla View Nabokv-L Policies Manage subscription options Visit AdaOnline View NSJ Ada Annotations Temporary L-Soft Search the archive
All private editorial communications are
read by both co-editors.

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors:,
Visit Zembla:
View Nabokv-L policies:
Visit "Nabokov Online Journal:"

Manage subscription options: