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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Connected Enchanted Hunters of Mansfield Park & Lolita:

This is a followup to my two recent posts about heretofore undiscovered veiled allusions in Vladimir Nabokov’s disturbing 1955 masterpiece Lolita: first, the covert theme of the sexual abuse of Fanny Price in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park symbolized by Mrs. Norris accusing Fanny of scandalously “lolling upon a sofa”:  And second, the allusion to the ancient Buddhist legend of the Enchanted Hunter: Today, I’ll show how these two allusions are directly connected, as further evidence that Nabokov saw even more clearly and deeply into the shadows of MP.

In my first post, I revisited my longstanding claims that Fanny is subjected to sexual predation in two very different ways—by the overpowering terrifying presence of her uncle, Sir Thomas Bertram, and by the seductive perverted insinuations of her suitor, Henry Crawford---I argued that Nabokov blends Sir Thomas and Henry together into Humbert Humbert. In my second post, I noted the significance of Nabokov using the title of that obscure Buddhist legend, “Enchanted Hunter” in two crucial ways in Lolita: as the name of the motel where Humbert Humbert first has sex with Lolita, and then as the title of the play Clare Quilty writes.

It was only after reviewing those two posts the other day that I realized another important wrinkle of the Nabokov allusion to Mansfield Park --- the “amateur theatricals” which are crucial in both MP and Lolita!  When I Googled to see if this had ever occurred to any other Austen or Nabokov scholar, I found that it had. In a chapter entitled “Jane Austen in Russia: Hidden Presence and Belated Bloom” (2007) the late Barnard College prof Catharine Nepomnyashchy wrote the following brilliant analysis under the subheading “Austen and Nabokov” (with my added italicizing, abbreviations & bracketed comments):              “ ….when we look more closely at Nabokov’s lectures on MP, we find an intriguing resonance with his own writing. Thus, roughly in the middle of his essay, Nabokov engages in an extensive discussion of August Von Kotzebue’s play Lovers Vows, adapted by Elizabeth Inchbald, which occupies roughly the middle of Austen’s MP: ‘The whole play theme in MP is an extraordinary achievement. In Chapters 12-20, the play theme is developed on the lines of fairy-tale magic and fate.” (Nabokov, 1980, 30). Nabokov’s presentation of the failed production of LV as the structural centerpiece of MP resonates suggestively with the construction of his own novel, Lolita, which he was writing at the same time as he was rereading Austen and composing his class lectures. Whether it be a case of what Nabokov himself terms a ‘literary reminiscence’ of MP in Lolita, or, conversely, a case of Nabokov finding his own artistic practice in his exegesis of Austen, the parallel between the function of LV in MP (as read by Nabokov) and the function of the fictional play The Enchanted Hunters in Lolita is striking, if devious in a characteristically Nabokovian manner. It is not the play itself that occupies the geographical centre of Nabokov’s novel, but the Enchanted Hunters Hotel, where HH consummates his affair with Lolita; however, the play does serve as a commentary on the roles of the characters, and the coincidence of the names of the hotel and the play underscores the role of artistic fate (Aubrey McFate) in Nabokov’s novel.”  END QUOTE

From the text of Lolita, I quickly pulled out the following passages which describe Lolita’s brief but intense involvement in a school production of The Enchanted Hunters –note the obvious echoing of Fanny’s fight-flight reactions to the Lovers Vows rehearsals in both Humbert’s and Lolita’s ambivalence about her acting in the play (again, with my own added italics, abbreviations, & bracketed comments):

"I hope she will," said Pratt [the same name as Lucy’s uncle and Edward’s schoolmaster in S&S!]  buoyantly. "When we questioned her about her troubles, Dolly refused to discuss the home situation, but we have spoken to some of her friends and really--well, for example, we insist you un-veto her nonparticipation in the dramatic group. You just must allow her to take part in The Hunted Enchanters. She was such a perfect little nymph in the try-out, and sometime in spring the author will stay for a few days at Beardsley College and may attend a rehearsal or two in our new auditorium. I mean it is all part of the fun of being young and alive and beautiful….”
"What worries me," said Miss Pratt looking at her watch and starting to go over the whole subject again, "is that both teachers and schoolmates find Dolly antagonistic, dissatisfied, cagey--and everybody wonders why you are so firmly opposed to all the natural recreations of a normal child."
"Do you mean sex play?" I asked jauntily, in despair, a cornered old rat.
"Well, I certainly welcome this civilized terminology," said Pratt with a grin. "But this is not quite the point. Under the auspices of Beardsley School, dramatics, dances and other natural activities are not technically sex play, though girls do meet boys, if that is what you object to."
"All right," I said, my hassock exhaling a weary sign. "You win. She can take part in that play. Provided male parts are taken by female parts."
…Beardsley School, it may be explained, copied a famous girls school in England by having "traditional" nicknames for its various classrooms…Mushroom was smelly, with a sepia print of Reynolds' "Age of Innocence" [see my 2014 comments re Joshua Reynolds’s pedophilic “fancy pictures” in the subtext of Emma] above the chalkboard, and several rows of clumsy-looking pupil desks. At one of these, my Lolita was reading the chapter on "Dialogue" in Baker's Dramatic Technique, and all was very quiet, and there was another girl with a very naked, porcelain-white neck and wonderful platinum hair, who sat in front reading too, absolutely lost to the world and interminably winding a soft curl around one finger, and I sat beside Dolly just behind that neck and that hair, and unbuttoned my overcoat and for sixty-five cents plus the permission to participate in the school play, had Dolly put her inky, chalky, red-knuckled hand under the desk. Oh, stupid and reckless of me no doubt, but after the torture I had been subjected to, I simply had to take advantage of a combination that I knew would never occur again.
…By the time spring had touched up Thayer Street with yellow and green and pink, Lolita was irrevocably stage-struck. Pratt, whom I chanced to notice one Sunday lunching with some people at Walton Inn, caught my eye from afar and went through the motion of sympathetically and discreetly clapping her hands while Lo was not looking. I detest the theatre as being a primitive and putrid form, historically speaking; a form that smacks of stone-age rites and communal nonsense despite those individual injections of genius, such as, say, Elizabethan poetry which a closeted reader automatically pumps out of the stuff. Being much occupied at the time with my own literary labors, I did not bother to read the complete text of The Enchanted Hunters, the playlet in which Dolores Haze was assigned the part of a farmer's daughter who imagines herself to be a woodland witch, or Diana, or something, and who, having got hold of a book on hypnotism, plunges a number of lost hunters into various entertaining trances before falling in her turn under the spell of a vagabond poet (Mona Dahl). That much I gleaned from bits of crumpled and poorly typed script that Lo sowed all over the house. The coincidence of the title with the name of an unforgettable inn was pleasant in a sad little way: I wearily thought I had better not bring it to my own enchantress's notice, lest a brazen accusation of mawkishness hurt me even more than her failure to notice it for herself had done. I assumed the playlet was just another, practically anonymous, version of some banal legend. Nothing prevented one, of course, from supposing that in quest of an attractive name the founder of the hotel had been immediately and solely influenced by the chance fantasy of the second-rate muralist he had hired, and that subsequently the hotel's name had suggested the play's title. But in my credulous, simple, benevolent mind I happened to twist it the other way round, and without giving the whole matter much though really, supposed that mural, name and title had all been derived from a common source, from some local tradition, which I, an alien unversed in New England lore, would not be supposed to know….actually The Enchanted Hunters was a quite recent and technically original composition which had been produced for the first time only three or four months ago by a highbrow group in New York….I understand that finally, in utter disgust at his cocksureness, barefooted Dolores was to lead check-trousered Mona to the paternal farm behind the Perilous Forest to prove to the braggart she was not a poet's fancy, but a rustic, down-to-brown-earth lass--and a last-minute kiss was to enforce the play's profound message, namely, that mirage and reality merge in love. I considered it wiser not to criticize the thing in front of Lo: she was so healthily engrossed in "problems of expression," and so charmingly did she put her narrow Florentine hands together, batting her eyelashes and pleading with me not to come to rehearsals as some ridiculous parents did because she wanted to dazzle me with a perfect First Night—and because I was, anyway, always butting in and saying the wrong thing, and cramping her style in the presence of other people.
There was one very special rehearsal . . . my heart, my heart . . .there was one day in May marked by a lot of gay flurry--it all rolled past, beyond my ken, immune to my memory, and when I saw Lo next, in the late afternoon, balancing on her bike, pressing the palm of her hand to the damp bark of a young birch tree on the edge of our lawn, I was so struck by the radiant tenderness of her smile that for an instant I believed all our troubles gone. "Can you remember," she said, "what was the name of that hotel, you know [nose pucketed], come on, you know--with those white columns and the marble swan in the lobby? Oh, you know [noisy exhalation of breath]--the hotel where you raped me. Okay, skip it. I mean, was it [almost in a whisper] The Enchanted Hunters? Oh, it was? [musingly] Was it?"—and with a yelp of amorous vernal laughter she slapped the glossy bole and tore uphill, to the end of the street, and then rode back, feet at rest on stopped pedals, posture relaxed, one hand dreaming in her print-flowered lap.
Because it supposedly tied up with her interest in dance and dramatics, I had permitted Lo to take piano lessons with a Miss Emperor ….
I found Dolores Haze at the kitchen table, consuming a wedge of pie, with her eyes fixed on her script. They rose to meet mine with a kind of celestial vapidity. She remained singularly unruffled when confronted with my discovery, and said d'un petit air faussement contrit that she knew she was a very wicked kid, but simply had not been able to resist the ENCHANTMENT, and had used up those music hours--O Reader, My Reader!--in a nearby public park rehearsing the magic forest scene with Mona. I said "fine"--and stalked to the telephone. Mona's mother answered: "Oh yes, she's in" and retreated with a mother's neutral laugh of polite pleasure to shout off stage "Roy calling!" and the very next moment Mona rustled up, and forthwith, in a low monotonous not untender voice started berating Roy for something he had said or done and I interrupted her, and presently Mona was saying in her humbles, sexiest contralto, "yes, sir," "surely, sir" "I am alone to blame, sir, in this unfortunate business," (what elocution! what poise!) "honest, I feel very bad about it"--and so on and so forth as those little harlots say.
…. "Look," she said as she rode the bike beside me, one foot scraping the darkly glistening sidewalk, "look, I've decided something. I want to leave school I hate that school I hate the play, I really do! Never go back. Find another. Leave at once. Go for a long trip again. But this time we'll go wherever I want, won't we?…I am drenched," she declared at the top of her voice. "Are you glad? To hell with the play! See what I mean?"
…"A penny for your thoughts," I said and she stretched out her palm at once, but at that moment I had to apply the breaks rather abruptly at a red light. As we pulled up, another car came to a gliding stop alongside, and a very striking looking, athletically lean young woman (where had I seen her?) with a high complexion and shoulder-length brilliant bronze hair, greeted Lo with a ringing "Hi!"--and then, addressing me, effusively, edusively (placed!), stressing certain words, said: "What a shame to was to tear Dolly away from the play--you should have heard the author raving about her after that rehearsal--"
"Green light, you dope," said Lo under her breath, and simultaneously, waving in bright adieu a bangled arm, Joan of Arc (in a performance we saw at the local theatre) violently outdistanced us to swerve into Campus Avenue.
"Who was it exactly? Vermont or Rumpelmeyer?"
"No--Edusa Gold--the gal who coaches us."
"I was not referring to her. Who exactly concocted that play?"
"Oh! Yes, of course. Some old woman, Clare Something, I guess. There was quite a crowd of them there."  END OF STRING OF “THEATRICALS” QUOTES FROM LOLITA

But those are not the only echoes of MP in The Enchanted Hunters---it is well recognized that Nabokov chose that title in part so as to highlight Humbert Humbert as a sexual hunter and predator, with very young women as his prey. And so I say it’s no coincidence that frequent mention is made in MP of Henry Crawford’s love of hunting in the following passages, with Henry’s prey as…Fanny and William!:

“Henry Crawford had quite made up his mind by the next morning to give another fortnight to Mansfield, and having sent for his HUNTERS, and written a few lines of explanation to the Admiral, he looked round at his sister as he sealed and threw the letter from him, and seeing the coast clear of the rest of the family, said, with a smile, "And how do you think I mean to amuse myself, Mary, on the days that I do not HUNT? I am grown too old to go out more than three times a week; but I have a plan for the intermediate days, and what do you think it is?"  "To walk and ride with me, to be sure."
"Not exactly, though I shall be happy to do both, but that would be exercise only to my body, and I must take care of my mind. Besides, that would be all recreation and indulgence, without the wholesome alloy of labour, and I do not like to eat the bread of idleness. No, my plan is to make Fanny Price in love with me."
….The wish was rather eager than lasting. He was roused from the reverie of retrospection and regret produced by it, by some inquiry from Edmund as to his plans for the next day's HUNTING; and he found it was as well to be a man of fortune at once with horses and grooms at his command. In one respect it was better, as it gave him the means of conferring a kindness where he wished to oblige. With spirits, courage, and curiosity up to anything, William expressed an inclination to HUNT; and Crawford could mount him without the slightest inconvenience to himself, and with only some scruples to obviate in Sir Thomas, who knew better than his nephew the value of such a loan, and some alarms to reason away in Fanny. She feared for William; by no means convinced by all that he could relate of his own horsemanship in various countries, of the scrambling parties in which he had been engaged, the rough horses and mules he had ridden, or his many narrow escapes from dreadful falls, that he was at all equal to the management of a high-fed HUNTER in an English fox-chase; nor till he returned safe and well, without accident or discredit, could she be reconciled to the risk, or feel any of that obligation to Mr. Crawford for lending the horse which he had fully intended it should produce. When it was proved, however, to have done William no harm, she could allow it to be a kindness, and even reward the owner with a smile when the animal was one minute tendered to his use again; and the next, with the greatest cordiality, and in a manner not to be resisted, made over to his use entirely so long as he remained in Northamptonshire.
…."Bertram," said Crawford, some time afterwards, taking the opportunity of a little languor in the game, "I have never told you what happened to me yesterday in my ride home." They had been HUNTING together, and were in the midst of a good run, and at some distance from Mansfield, when his horse being found to have flung a shoe, Henry Crawford had been obliged to give up, and make the best of his way back. "I told you I lost my way after passing that old farmhouse with the yew-trees, because I can never bear to ask; but I have not told you that, with my usual luck—for I never do wrong without gaining by it—I found myself in due time in the very place which I had a curiosity to see. I was suddenly, upon turning the corner of a steepish downy field, in the midst of a retired little village between gently rising hills; a small stream before me to be forded, a church standing on a sort of knoll to my right—which church was strikingly large and handsome for the place, and not a gentleman or half a gentleman's house to be seen excepting one—to be presumed the Parsonage—within a stone's throw of the said knoll and church. I found myself, in short, in Thornton Lacey."…Henry Crawford was in the first glow of another scheme about Thornton Lacey; and not being able to catch Edmund's ear, was detailing it to his fair neighbour with a look of considerable earnestness. His scheme was to rent the house himself the following winter, that he might have a home of his own in that neighbourhood; and it was not merely for the use of it in the hunting-season (as he was then telling her), though that consideration had certainly some weight, feeling as he did that, in spite of all Dr. Grant's very great kindness, it was impossible for him and his horses to be accommodated where they now were without material inconvenience; but his attachment to that neighbourhood did not depend upon one amusement or one season of the year…”

And so ends my summary of Nabokov’s thinly veiled and closely connected allusions to Lover’s Vows and Henry Crawford’s hunters in Lolita!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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