NABOKV-L post 0024883, Thu, 12 Dec 2013 12:12:20 -0800

Re: THOUGHTS re: mandibles, mandevils, man devils
Dear Matt,

Not ready to join you on your twig (though as usual I can find no argument against it), but as it happens I recently found my old high school book on Shakespeare's songs (from my time in high school, I mean). I thought I knew most if not all of the hundred songs by heart, but did not recognize the one you quoted.

Well, it' not in the book, but Tom Kines, the collator, says that the New York Library alone has some 200 songs that were sung in the plays. As more of a poprigunya (grasshopper) than an ant, I salute your efforts. By the way, Chekhov wrote a lovely story of that title, Poprigunya, one of the first stories I ever read in Russian. There is a line in it that brought down the house so to speak in my Russian class at UCLA Extension (taught by Michael Flier now of Harvard - probably emeritus). I don't recall the Russian, but the student translated it "Have a little grouse?"


From: "Roth, Matthew" <mroth@MESSIAH.EDU>
Sent: Tuesday, December 10, 2013 7:44 AM
Subject: [NABOKV-L] THOUGHTS re: mandibles, mandevils, man devils

Re: [NABOKV-L] [QUERY] Pushkin in LRL
Carolyn brought up the passage in Shade’s poem (243-44) that reads: “Lafontaine was wrong: / Dead is the mandible, alive the song.” I will go way out on a limb (if anyone comes with me it will crack) and say that I have always felt there was something undiscovered here. I haven’t worked it out, but two connections come to mind. “Mandible” chimes with “Mandevil,” the surname of the Zemblan cousins Mirador (good) and Radomir (bad). So there may be some connection to Kinbote’s tale. But I have never been able to shake a supplementary echo from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (IV.2), which ends with a song by the clown, Feste (who has been engaged in trying to convince a sane man, Malvolio, that he is mad):
I am gone, sir,
And anon, sir,
I'll be with you again,
In a trice,
Like to the old Vice,
Your need to sustain;
Who, with dagger of lath,
In his rage and his wrath,
Cries, ah, ha! to the devil:
Like a mad lad,
Pare thy nails, dad;
Adieu, goodman devil.
Vice was the devil’s fool in the old morality plays, wherein he tried to pare the devil’s long nails with his wooden sword. If we look back at the passage in “PF,” we see that the next line after the “mandible” line reads: “And so I pare my nails . . . .”  In my fever dream, then, Shade is the mad lad (“in my demented youth”), the man-devil, paring his nails. And if “man devil” = “mandible,” we can then can read the passage as “Shade is dead, but his poem will live on by way of Kinbote.” As I said, highly speculative, but one of those private associations that nonetheless vibrates a little in my upper spine.
Matt Roth

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