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Beauty, Objectificati on, and Transcendence: Modernist Aesthetics in The Picture of Dorian Gray and Pale Fire by Deborah S. McLeod A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Department of English College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: Susan Mooney, Ph.D. Regina Hewitt, Ph.D. Laura Runge-Gordon, Ph.D. Date of Approval: May 31, 2007 Keywords: aestheticism, Decadence, Symbolism, gaze, Wilde, Nabokov Copyright 2007, Deborah S. McLeod
Acknowledgements This thesis would not have been possi ble without the support of a number of people. I would like to thank my committee me mbers, as well as the other faculty and staff of the universitys English Department for their advice and guidance. The library staff was very helpful in handling my research needs. My family and friends also deserve special recognition. My mother, Betty McLeod, ha s been a constant source of love and encouragement through this endeavor. I woul d also like to thank those friends and colleagues who have offered me both s upport and a forum for exchanging ideas, especially Daniele Pantano, Ann Basso, and Matthew Antonio.
i Table of Contents Abstract ii Introduction From Beauty to Objectification Beauty as a Pathway to Transcendence Conclusion 1 6 17 23 Chapter OneBeauty: Human Beings as Aesthetic Objects The Artists: Creators of Beauty The Spectators: Manipulators of Beauty The Objects: Bearing the Burden of Beauty Conclusion 25 27 41 46 51 Chapter TwoTranscendence: The Rewards of Experiencing Beauty The Artists: Idealists The Spectators: Escapists The Objects: Failed Seekers Conclusion 54 54 65 73 80 Conclusion Notes Introduction Chapter OneBeauty: Human Beings as Aesthetic Objects Chapter TwoTranscendence: The Rewards of Experiencing Beauty Works Cited 82 85 89 92 93
ii Beauty, Objectificati on, and Transcendence: Modernist Aesthetics in The Picture of Dorian Gray and Pale Fire Deborah S. McLeod ABSTRACT This study compares the relation be tween beauty, objectification, and transcendence in two novels: Oscar Wildes early-modernist The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) and Vladimir Nabokovs late-modernist Pale Fire (1962). Though written over half a century apart, the works feature similar critiques of the aesthetes devotion to beauty. While Wildes novel offers an inside rs view of aristocrat ic Decadence in latenineteenth-century London, Nabokovs reflects his early influence from the Russian Symbolists and recalls that tradition in the American s uburbs of the mid-twentiethcentury. Both novels demonstrat e the trust that ma ny modernists held in the ability of beauty to offer transcendence over the limits and suffering of mortal life. Yet they also call attention to the danger s of aesthetic obsession. My study applies the theories of Pl ato, Emanuel Swedenborg, Immanuel Kant, Arthur Schopenhauer, Vladimir Solovyov, La ura Mulvey, and Steven Drukman to the aesthetic sensibilities presented in the novels To understand how these ideologies inform the works, I have divided the main characters into three categories artist, spectator, and aesthetic object. Both Wilde and Nabokov present beauty as a positive force for its ability to provide at least temporary transcendence. Th e authors also, however, portray the tragic
iii consequences of aesthetic objectification. By comparing the two works, I conclude that both highlight the dangers of th e aesthetes obsession with beauty, but only Nabokovs Pale Fire offers a solution: the need for pity towa rd those who become the objects of the aesthetic gaze.
1 Introduction A comparison of Oscar Wildes The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) and Vladimir Nabokovs Pale Fire (1962) reveals a startling irony in the portrayals of two central characters: the similar fates of the extraordinarily beautiful Dorian Gray and the exceptionally ugly Hazel Shade. Despite thei r drastically different appearances, both Dorian and Hazel find their lives govern ed by their looks, become overwhelmed by despair, and end up killing themselves.1 Notably, both Wilde and Nabokov highlight their respective characters distinctiv e trait by introducing it to thei r readers as the subject of art; we learn about Dorians beauty through Basils portra it and about Hazels unattractiveness through her fathers poem. These artistic presentations establish the characters as aesthetic objects first, thereby calling attention to the pairs objectification within each texts dieges is. Recognizing this objectif ication proves essential to understanding the novels aesthetic paradigms b ecause both works present beauty as an otherwise positive force. It serves as a powerful means of transcendence for the other main charactersWildes Basil Hallward, Sibyl Vane, and Lord Henry Wotton, and Nabokovs John Shade and Charles Kinboteas th ey attempt to overcome the limits and pain of mortal existence. Because both beau ty and its lack lead to similar tragic consequences for Dorian and Hazel, a comparis on of the novels helps to clarify the role of beauty in each. I argue that the two works demonstrate that while beauty is a good and
2 necessary value, aesthetes must also guard agai nst the tendency to treat others as aesthetic objects. In this confluence between beauty, object ification, and transcendence, both novels draw on the aesthetic values of Decadence a nd Symbolism, art movements that reached their pinnacles around the turn of the twentieth century. Wildes Dorian Gray has long been accepted as a principal member of the Decadent canon; the Daily Chronicles review of the initial se rialized version (1890) describes the work as a tale spawned from the leprous literature of the French Dcadents (342-43), and, recently (2005), Antony Clayton calls it the most famous English decadent novel (41). Wilde published Dorian Gray in novel form at the height of Decadence (1891), and the work reflects his position as a leading figure of that tradition. Th e novel not only portrays a Decadent lifestyle (aristocrats drowning in ennui and indulging in sensuous plea sures), it also helps define Decadent aesthetics in Wildes unique term s, allowing him to criticize the harmful aspects while embracing the positive.2 While Wilde believed that the aesthetic sense alone [. .] can make people truly good, he also knew that an immersion in art, or in aesthetic sensibility, can also make people bad (Brown 56). Thus, in Dorian Gray Wilde does not denigrate the love of beauty, but he does illustrate a destructive side to aestheticism; as I show in Chapter One, Bas il, Sibyl, and Lord Henry all harm themselves and Dorian by treating him as an aesthetic object. The novel, however, also portrays a benefit to aesthetic experience that fin de sicle aesthetes valued: the ability to achieve transcendence. Wildes main characters each use beauty as a means of transcendence, either as a way to glimpse the metaphysical world or as a relief from the pain they find inherent in human existence. The results of th ese attempts vary with each character, but,
3 overall, the novel demonstrates that while aesth etic obsession can be destructive, beauty itself remains a powerful and transformative force. The late-modernist Pale Fire offers a critique of mid-twentieth-century American aesthetics by recalling Decaden ce. Nabokovs novel points to this earlier tradition in its brief allusions to three nineteenth-century aut hors, all of whom were major figures in the movements development: Edgar Allan Poe (3.632), Charles Baude laire (167, 291), and Paul Verlaine (170).3 More significantly for my exploration of the novels aesthetics, Pale Fire, like Dorian Gray, illustrates how the private pursuit of aesthetic bliss can produce cruelty (Rorty 199). Similar to the wa y Wildes characters us e Dorians beauty to their own endsBasils motive in art ( 15), Sibyls Prince Charming (56), or Lord Henrys visible symbol of new Hedoni sm (23)so too do Nabokovs John Shade and Charles Kinbote, because of their aesthetic sensibilities, treat those around them as aesthetic objects. As I discuss in Chapter One, in Shades poem, the poet positions his wifes beauty in direct contrast to his daughters ugliness. This aesthetic paradigm reflects the poets perception of Sybil Shad e as a transcendent muse in opposition to Hazel as a reminder of his own mortality. Li kewise, Kinbotes desire for transcendent beauty leads him to objectify John Shade. The lonely exile looks to his only friend to transform his Zemblan fantasy into realit y. By appropriating Shades poem, however, Kinbote callously disregards th e poets work, grief, and d eath. Richard Rorty accuses Kinbote of a remorseless pursuit of ecstasy [. . that] necessarily excludes attention to other people (217). I suggest th at Shades aesthetic quest, his desire to find existential meaning through beauty, is equally solipsistic and harmful.
4 Although Pale Fire critiques Decadence in a manner similar to Dorian Gray Nabokovs novel, in terms of its aesthetics, al so closely evokes th e tradition of Russian Symbolism.4 Brian Boyd points out that Nabokov wa s in sympathy with all three of the primary emphases of this genre: first, the individual as prior to society; second, the independent value of art, [. .] and third, the role of the arti st in indicating a higher reality beyond the sensual world ( Russian 93). Unlike the earlier Ru ssian Decadents, the second-generation Symbolists were acutely se nsitive to the frequent charge that they were neglecting their nations long-held dema nd that art should further the highest aims of society (West 118).5 The artists of this Silver Age of poetry, such as Vyacheslav Ivanov, Alexander Blok, and Andrei Bely, reconciled their desire for individual expression with an attention to social idea ls by claiming that ar tists served society through their private real ization of their own pl ace in the universe.6 Nabokov instills these dual values in Shade by having th e poet find and share his understanding of existential meaning through his poetry: if my private univers e scans right, / So does the verse of galaxies divine (4.974-75).7 Shades work represents his personal insight, while also pointing to mankinds pos ition in the universe. Nabokov also realized, however, that a solip sistic aesthetic vi sion could blind the artist to the needs and suffering of others As Rorty points out, Nabokov knew quite well that the pursuit of autonomy is at odds with feelings of solidar ity. [. .] [H]e has to face up to the unpleasant fact th at writers can obtain and pr oduce ecstasy while failing to notice suffering, while being incurious about the people whose liv es provide their material (213). Indeed, Nabokov has been charge d with being this type of writer. Gleb
5 Struve claims that Nabokovs coldness toward his characters separates him from Russian tradition: What makes Nabokov [. .] alien to th e Russian literary tradition is his lack of sympathy with, if not interest in, human beings as such. [. .] He has an artists predilection for the por trayal of morally and physically deformed creatures, but it would be no us e to look in his portrayal of them [ . .] for love and pity for these monsters. (162-63)8 Whatever Nabokov felt for his characters, I find Pale Fires deformed creatures, Hazel and Kinbote, particularly empathetic because their loneliness and desp air is so palpable. In John Shade, Nabokov resurrects the Russian tradition by having the poet express tenderness toward HazelShe was my darling: difficult, morose / But still my darling (2.357-58)yet distances himself from the tradition in Shades undercurrent of coldness: Alas, the dingy cygnet never turn ed / Into a wood duck (2.318-19). Thus, like Wildes Dorian Gray, Pale Fire portrays an artist whose aesthetic vision provides individual ecstasy, while it also works against the love he instinctually feels. Basil fails Dorian, and Shade fails Hazel, by using the pe rson they adore as an aesthetic object. To explore the novels aesthetics, I have di vided this thesis in to two sections: the first chapter examines what beauty means to the main characters and how their aesthetic sensibilities lead them to tr eat others as objects; the s econd focuses on transcendence. Here I consider the ways these characters use beauty either as a means of insight into the metaphysical world or as an escape from the mi sery of their material existence. As an introduction to these discussions, I shall use th is section to introduce some of the theories
6 about beauty and transcendence that led to the Decadent and Symbolist aesthetics reflected in Dorian Gray and Pale Fire. From Beauty to Objectification Decadence and Symbolism arose, in part, as a result of changes to aesthetic theory developed in the late eighteenth century. Prior to this time, beauty was generally held to be related to truth and goodness and to be a quality of the object being viewed.9 Immanuel Kants Critique of Judgment (1790) led to a reevalua tion of these tenets, declaring that the judgment of beauty is subjec tive and disinterested; that is, the judgment of beauty arises from the free play of the vi ewers imagination, mu st be independent of any quality in the object being perceived, a nd lacks any relation to a concept of the objects purpose.10 While Kants views were in one sense liberatingallowing beauty to be appreciated for its own merit and not subj ect to moral and conceptual adjudication (Donoghue 67)Kants disinterestedness also la id the grounds for aesthetic experience to be separated from any concern with, or empathy toward, other human beings. Kants theory of universality in aesthe tic judgment could provide a bridge to empathizing with others, but he fails to offe r such a link. Kant argues that while we each develop our own judgment about what is beautiful, we expect that others will agree with us because we all share the same cognitive faculties.11 Just because we have the same cognitive ability to judge beaut y, however, does not mean that we use that ability to relate to others. As Israel Knox points out, [b]eauty is felt and art is shared far more fully and authentically than Kant seems to discern. [. .] Art and beauty communicate; they do more: they unite (42).12 Knox makes a valid criticism of Kants theory, but he should have said only that art and beauty can unite. When the love of beauty leads to the
7 individual pursuit of pleasure at the cost of concern for others, art and beauty can also divide. Following Kant, Friedrich von Schiller insi sted that an appreciation for beauty could lead toward social improvement. In On the Aesthetic Education of Man (1795), Schiller argues that if man is ever to solv e that problem of politic s in practice he will have to approach it through the problem of the aesthetic, because it is only through Beauty that man makes his way to Freedom (574). According to Schiller, only through aesthetic education, with an idealized Greece as the model, can man r ealize his ideal self, the union of his spirit and nature and of the individual and society.13 As Karin Schutjer points out, however, Schiller fails to cons ider the limits to his analogy between the fundamental opposition of faculties or drives in a person and the structure of relations between persons (114). Indeed, the appreciation of beauty has not proved historically to instill social harmony.14 In contrast to his goals, Schiller helped instigate the antisocial art for arts sake mentality that spread throughout Europe in the nineteenth-century.15 In The Stage as a Moral Institution (1784) Schiller comments, Human nature cannot bear to be always on the rack of business [. .]. Man, oppressed by appetites, weary of l ong exertion, thirsts for refined pleasure, or rushes into dissipations that ha sten his fall and rui n, and disturb social order (qtd. in Knox 180n99). Such inspiration led many European artis ts to see aesthetic appreciation as a means of escaping lifes problems.16 Art became valued for its ability to give pleasure, for form over content, without relation to the more fundamental concerns of Victorian society. As Thophile Gautier claims in his preface to Mademoiselle de Maupin (1835): What is the good of music? of pa inting? [. .] There is nothing truly
8 beautiful but that which can never be of any use whatsoever (xxx). The art for arts sake sentiment could be heard throughout th e nineteenth century in Europe and the United States. For example, American author Edgar Allan Poe argues in The Poetic Principle (1850) that a poem is written solel y for the poems sake (1436), and British artist Aubrey Beardsley claims that his overtly er otic illustrations for the text of Wildes scandalous Salome (1893) are simply beautiful and qu ite irrelevant (qtd. in Colvin 49).17 As Dorian Gray and Pale Fire demonstrate, however, art and beauty are relevant to life; they can be both a means of transcendence and corruption. The art for arts sake pose soon beca me only one rejoinder in a century-long debate on the relation between indivi dual aesthetics and social ethics.18 While many European critics and artists heralded the indi viduals pursuit of aes thetic freedom, they also felt a need to promote social reform Disdaining the materialism, alienation, and corruption of the modern industrialized world, th ey turned to art, to the expression of the beautiful, as a means of improving society. Fo r some, the path toward reform led, as Schiller had urged, directly through the aes thetic education of the individual. For example, as Donoghue notes, John Ruskin pra cticed the sense of beauty as a civic value (139). Similarly, in 1864 Matthew Arnol d calls for social improvement through the study of the best that is known and t hought in the world (815). Such sentiments point to beautys ability to uplift the obs erver, while still maintaining a separation between the pre-Kantian notion of beauty as inherently re lated to goodness and truth. For others, the path to individual enlight enment, and therefore societal reform, included indulging in alcohol, drugs, sex, or any type of sensuous experience in order to heighten the senses. As Art hur Rimbaud declares in 1871, The Poet makes himself a
9 seer by a long, gigantic and rational derangement of all the senses (377), while always remembering that My duty is to Societ y (371). Walter Pater offers a similar prescription for uniting the individual with the communal. He argues in his preface to The Renaissance (1873)19 that the individual pursuits of art, philosophy, and religion can draw nearer together, promoting a spirit of general elevation and enlightenment in which all alike communicate (xxiv). In the books conclusion, Pater calls for, if not the same derangement that Rimbaud had sugge sted, a nevertheless fervent quest for heightened sensibility: [to] be present alwa ys at the focus where the greatest number of vital forces unite their purest energy, [. .] [t]o burn al ways with this hard, gem-like flame (188-89). These attitudes place an em phasis on the artists special ability, and duty, to use art not only for personal gain but also as a means of communicating ones insights to the public. Concerns with arts proper role, as private expression or communal redemption, continued into the fin de sicle period of Decadence and Symbolism. In general, scholars tend to apply the term Decadence to a group of pessimistic, world-weary rebels, who focused on the individual pursuits of sensuous indulgence, includi ng alcohol and drug use, perversion, crime, and violence. Included in this circle are author s and artists such as Rimbaud, Paul Verlaine, Arthur Sy mons, Beardsley, and W. B. Yeats.20 Russian Decadents, such as Fyodor Sologub, Zinaida Gi ppius, and Konstantn Balmnt, either developed a nihilistic sense of indifference and apathy (Pog gioli 84) or exalted pathos and the senses, [. .] the triumph of passi on. As opposed to Decadents, critics usually view Symbolists as idealists, both in a mate rial, Utopian sense, a nd in the belief that metaphysical insight can be attained through art. As Russian Symbolist Valrij Brjsov
10 describes, art itself is [. .] the reve lation through which mankind may some day reach the ultimate truth (qtd. in Poggioli 59). Howe ver, a number of the same artists, such as Rimbaud, Verlaine, Stphane Mallarm, and Be ardsley, appear in studies of both schools. Moreover, some Decadents, such as Ren Gh il, Anatole Baju, and Verlaine, considered themselves progressive (McGuinness 6), a nd some Symbolists, such as Mallarm, Gustave Kahn, and Paul Bourget, expressed a sense of detachment and resignation from political and social life (Forth 99). As Decadence and Symbolism progressed, the individualist and pessimistic mood that characterized some elements of the movements evolved into a more communal and optimistic one. For example, Christopher Fo rth credits Friedric h Nietzsches antidecadent rhetoric of regeneration (98) w ith producing a gradual shift between 1890 and 1912, primarily in France, from decadence and individualism to vitalism and collective regeneration (98).21 James West describes a similar evolution in Russian Symbolism during this same period. He notes that the ma jority of Russian Symbolists always held social and political ideals, but that the sec ond generation of writers had a more religious and philosophical bent than the first (2). Like their western European counterpa rts, the Russian Symbolists, of both generations, were rebelling ag ainst the social, economic, a nd political changes of their time. Russia, like the West, had undergone an industrial revolution, becoming more materialistic and less spiritual. In addition to the sense of depersonalization and alienation that they shared with the West, the Russian s lived under an oppressive political regime that affected almost every aspect of an indi viduals life. Symbolis m in Russia, then, as Oleg Maslenikov describes, was a protest agai nst the forces that seemed to debase and
11 degrade an individual in his own eyes (3). It was an attempt to reassert the value of the individual by stressing the power of the imagination. The second generation, in particular, trusted in the poe ts ability to gain metaphysi cal insight through physical phenomena; yet some, like Blok and Bely, woul d become disillusioned and question their own capacity for insight. Pale Fire shows the influence of these second-generation Russian Symbolists. Nabokov has poet John Shade seek metaphysical insight through art a nd beauty but never fully understand the knowledge he gains. Wilde similarly uses Dorian Gray to express his conception of the rela tion between art and human existence. As the novel demonstrates, Wildes aesthetic sensibility co mbined and extended the theories of such writers as Plato, Arthur Sc hopenhauer, Baudelaire, Ruskin, Pater, and Nietzsche. In Wildes view, art provides a model for life. As he argues in The Critic as Artist (1891), [L]ife is terribly deficient in form. Its catastrophes happen in the wrong way and to the wrong people (1132); therefor e, [i]t is through Art, and through Art only, that we can realise our perfection (1135) Julia Brown notes that life, for Wilde, means not only the inconstant physical circumstances of wh ich we are a part, but also society and institutions (53). All of these areas of life, Wilde believed, should be practiced as if they were art. By imitating ar t, life could, possibly, attain a Utopian ideal. Wildes title character in Dorian Gray expresses this desire explicitly. By changing places with the portrait, Dorian tries to live his life as a work of art. What Wilde demonstrates in Dorians tragic journey, how ever, is that the ideal expressed in art includes a union of the physical and spiritual. Basil perceive s this harmony of soul and body (14) in Dorians beauty initially. Dori an himself, however, separates the two by
12 pursuing a life of physical sensation while k eeping his soul locked safely away in the painting. As the novel demonstrates, though, his ma terialism, like his societys, can only lead to corruption if the spiritual soul is neglected. Wilde uses Dorians increasingly hideous portrait to reflect not only his prota gonists individual s oul, but his countrys increasingly hideous soul as well. Nabokovs Pale Fire also depicts a corrupt societ y through its reflection in one individuals ugly soul, alt hough this novels portrayal is much less explicit than Dorian Grays Nabokov wrote Pale Fire in an era somewhat refl ective of Wildes Decadent one. Whereas Wilde captures the urban materia lism of late nineteen th-century England, Nabokov illustrates the suburban consumerism of the mid-twentieth-century United States. The amusement park that invades Ki nbotes rustic retreat in the novels opening pages and the Music in supermarkets and swimming pools that Shade complains about in his poems fourth canto (4.928) illu strate an aesthetes pe rception of the false values inherent in modern suburbia. Moreove r, Nabokov reveals his corrupt individual in a manner similar to Wilde, through a work of art. In Dorian Gray, Basils painting increasingly reflects the ugliness of Dorians soul; in Pale Fire Shades poem increasingly exposes the ugliness of the poe ts own soul. Through these artistic mirrors, the individual and society can view their co rruption; thus, the works of art offer the chance for spiritual renewal. Both authors also knew, however, that th e aesthete, like Dorian, could be led astray by a perverted sense of beauty. As Da vid Andrews points out, the love of beauty could develop into aesthetic hedonism (27-28) a pursuit of gratification that included treating people too as aesthetic object s, tools for personal pleasure. Both Dorian Gray
13 and Pale Fire critique this form of aesthetic indulg ence. In Wildes novel, Basil, Sibyl, Lord Henry, and Dorian, all let their aesthetic desires govern the way they treat others. Similarly, in Nabokovs novel, Shade and Kinbote objectify those around them because of their own aesthetic sensibilities. To portray the problem of aesthetic obj ectification, both authors allude to an earlier literary figure who was similarly vic timized, Shakespeares O phelia from the play Hamlet (c1600) In Chapter One I discuss the ways in which Ophelias objectification relates to that depicted in Dorian Gray and Pale Fire. Ophelia, Dorian, and Hazel all become the objects of an aesthetic gaze, all fa ll into despair, and all meet an early death. Although Ophelia deserves pity, I argue that Shakespeares artistic descriptions of her suffering allow her spectators (in and outsi de the text) to view her as an aesthetic object, which serves their own needs at the cost of Ophelia s. Shakespeare aestheticizes Ophelia both in her madness, where she appe ars quoting poetry and offering flowers, and in her death, which Gertrude describes as a mermaidlike drowning in a stream, amid a bank of more flowers (4.7.177). Within Hamlet, Ophelia is routinely mistreated, as Cindy ODonnell-Allen and Peter Smagorinsky point out: Controlled by her father Polonius, un derestimated in he r intellect by her brother Laertes, manipulated by the mo re powerful Claudius and Gertrude to meet their own purposes, caught in the crossfire between Hamlet and his parents, beautified even in her d eath by Gertrude, Ophelia is arguably the most isolated character in the pl ay and the one whose welfare is most routinely abused or disregarded. (35)
14 Admired for her beauty, Ophelia is continually treated as an aesthetic object; even her father fails to attend to her suffering.22 While I argue that both Dorian and Hazel are similarly treated as aesthetic objects, I do find that they receive more nurturing than Ophelia does. In Dorian Gray Basil belatedly tries to redeem Dorian, but his efforts end unsuccessfully. In Pale Fire the Shade parents try to help Hazel by sugges ting healthier eating and exercise, and by sending her to France. For both Dorian a nd Hazel, though, these attempts fail to overcome the greater harm done by their objectification. In addition to the texts themselves, crit icism about Ophelia and Hazel also tends to objectify these two figures. Elaine Show alter surveys the history of criticism on Ophelia and concludes that all of these analyses have overflowed the text (91), telling us less about Ophelia than the ideologi cal character of [the critics] times.23 While I consider scholarship on Dorian to be thorough, I feel that critics have failed to recognize the complexities of Hazels character. David Galef (1985), Brian Boyd (1999), and Priscilla Meyer (1988, 2002) have given consider able attention to Ha zel, but all view her as an unfortunately hideous looking young woman driven to suicide by social alienation. As I show in Chapter One, Hazel is a victim, primarily of her fathers distorted aestheticism, but she has a more rebellious and assertive character than has been previously ascertained. Ophelias legacy as an ar tistic icon adds a final indi cator of how her role as aesthetic object has been abus ive. Magda Romanska calls Ophelia the single most often represented female figure of the Victorian period (485), and notes that works by such artists as Eugne Delacroix, John Everett Millais, a nd Odilon Redon routinely portray
15 Ophelias body aesthetically, framed by a stream, meadow, or flowers (485).24 These depictions focus more attention on Ophelias beauty than on her suffering. For example, Showalter points out that in Millaiss Ophelia (1852), the division of space between Ophelia and the natural details Millais had so painstakingly pursued reduces her to one more visual object; indeed, the work seems cruelly indifferent to the womans death (85).25 Rather than attract empathy for Ophelia s suffering, then, these paintings, by focusing on her beauty, serve primarily to benefit the, especially male, viewer by instilling a sense of immortality. Elisabet h Bronfen argues that In the aesthetic enactment [of death], we have a situation im possible in life, namely that we die with another and return to the living. Even as we are forced to ack nowledge the ubiquitous presence of death in life, our belief in our own immortality is confirmed (x).26 Because the image is of a woman, the superlative site of alterity (xi), the representations of a dead feminine body stand in for concepts other than death, femininity and bodymost notably the masculine artist and the community of the survivors. Further, [t]he beauty of Woman and the beauty of the image [of th e dead feminine body] both give the illusion of intactness and unity, cover the insupportable signs of lack, deficiency, [and] transiency and promise their spectators the impossibl ean obliteration of deaths ubiquitous castrative threat to the subject (64). As Bronfen poi nts out, though, these artworks emerge only at the expense of a beautiful womans death (73). Through the beautiful images of Ophelias death, then, the spectator s gain a feeling of immortality, while the young womans own death loses significance.27
16 Within Dorian Gray and Pale Fire, however, both the male Dorian and female Hazel serve as aesthetic object s. This gender-crossing is supported by queer theorists attention to what has been considered the male gaze (Mulvey 436). In a study of mainstream film, Laura Mulvey argues that women who are portrayed as the objects of erotic male spectatorship lose their significance as subjects themselves: In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/fem ale. The determining male gaze projects its fantasy onto the female fi gure, which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibiti onist role women are simu ltaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness Woman displayed as sexual object is the leitmotif of erotic spectacle [. .]; yet her visual presence tends to work against the deve lopment of a story-line. [. .] As Budd Boetticher has put it: What count s is what the heroine provokes, or rather what she represents. [. .] In herself the woman has not the slightest importance. (Mulvey 436) The erotic object provides scopophilic pleasure to the male viewer, but, as a subject herself, she has no importance. Several critics have expanded Mulveys an alysis to apply outside film and to consider the role of homosexuality in the spectator-object relationship.28 Steven Drukman argues for a gay gaze that, like Mulveys male one, resides in the ids scopophilic faculty as well as the egos m ode of identification (84-85),29 although he proposes that the subject of ego-identificat ion is [. .] in constant flux between the woman and the
17 man. Dorian Gray and Pale Fire demonstrate the gay gaze in action. For cultural and legal reasons, Wilde could not explicitly depict homosexual relationships; however, he does make the beautiful and effeminate Dori an the object of Basils and Lord Henrys aesthetic desires. Kinbotes spying on Shade is also not portrayed as explicitly sexual; the exile does fall in love with Shade, but he is more interested in manipulating his friends poem. In my first chapter, I will show how Do rian Gray and Hazel Shade, primarily, are treated as aesthetic objects, a nd how they are harmed in the process. Although the studies of Ophelias representation, Br onfens work on the images of dead women, and Mulveys analysis of the gaze all conclude that th e transformation of a human being into an aesthetic object benefits the spectator, I fi nd that in these novels the process harms both the diegetic spectator and obj ect. The novels viewersthose I categorize as either artists or spectatorssuffer from a loss of meaningful human relationships in their devotion to beauty. Nevertheless, beauty remains a valuab le source of transcendence, and it is the viewers tendency to objectify others because of their physical appearance that results in tragedy. Beauty as a Pathway to Transcendence For many Decadents and Symbolists, beau ty served not just as a source of pleasure or even as a path for individual gr owth (as Schiller sugge sted), but also as a means of transcendence. This desire took two forms: either an access to the noumenal world or a temporary relief from the phe nomenal world of desire. Many of these aesthetes held the view that, as Vladimir Solovyov writes, everything we see is but Reflections, / shadows of that which is / Invi sible to our sight (q td. in Mohrenschildt
18 1193). Believing that artists had a special ability to perceive the noumenal, many Decadents and Symbolists regarded art as the one pathway, leading through beautiful things to the eternal beauty (Symons 4). Fo r others, aesthetic c ontemplation provided a way to transcend a mortal existence that wa s full of pain and suffering. The desire for both of these forms of transcendence appear in Dorian Gray and Pale Fire. Wilde and Nabokov both instill in their ar tistsBasil, Sibyl, and John Shadea Platonic sense that the beauty of this world reflects the noumenal ideal. For Basil, the vision of Dorians beauty provides artistic inspiration. Instead of developing a Platonic love for Dorian, however, Basil forms a curious artistic idolatry (15), which leads to objectification and obscures the painters abil ity to understand fully Dorians complex nature. Sibyls imagination limits her to percei ving Dorians beauty as only a fairy-tale ideal rather than a true Platonic vision. She speaks in Platonic terms, but she can only imagine a Prince Charming (51), someone who will carry her away from her dismal existence. Shades perception of his wifes b eauty is Platonic, and she provides him with inspiration. By setting Sybils beauty in oppos ition to his daughters ugliness, however, the poet makes Hazel a symbol of mortality. While Nabokov presents Shades perception of his wifes beauty as Platonic, he also draws on a prominent motif in Russian Symbolist poetry, Vladimir Solovyovs conception of the Eternal Feminine. Solovyov believed that the w hole of creation is ruled by a single, all-embracing feminine principle (Poggioli 122) whom he called Sophia, and that each individual loves that essentially human, being who might best reflect Sophias image (Maslenikov 58). Na bokov creates an American context for the Sophia tradition by having Shade find inspiration in his wifes beauty. Just as Solovyovs
19 choice of the name Sophia appropriately s uggests the wisdom this feminine spirit brings, so Nabokovs use of the name Sybil calls attention to Mrs. Shades role as muse. Shades marriage provides the unificati on with the Eternal Feminine spirit that Symbolists desired; yet the poet betrays the divine nature of this union by having an affair and by using Sybils beauty as a counterpoint to Hazel s ugliness. In general, though, Nabokov provides Shade with an existential understanding much like his own, a sense of cosmic synchronization ( Speak Memory 218), which resembles Swedenborgs theory of Corresponde nces. For the Decadents and Symbolists, Correspondence meant, in Grard de Nervals words, All things live, all things are in motion, all things correspond; the magnetic ra ys emanating from myself or others traverse without obstacle the infinite chain of created th ings (qtd. in Symons 17).30 Nabokovs version is a sense that one is so mehow connected at any moment to other random events, a car [. .] passes along the road a child bangs the screen door [. .], an old man yawns ( Speak Memory 218). As Vladimir Alexandr ov explains, it is through this perception of cosmic sync hronization that the true artist can enter atemporal space, transcend time, and catch a glimmer of what may lie beyond death (551). In Pale Fire Nabokov gives Shade the sense that, if he ca n just figure out the connections, he can gain some understanding of the world that lies beyond the sensuous one. Shade is never certain about his beliefs, but only reasonably sure that we survive / And that my darling [Hazel] somewhere is aliv e (4.977-78 my emphasis). For many Decadents, metaphysical insight wa s less important than finding relief from the misery inherent in daily life. D ecadents frequently conceived of existence in terms of Schopenhauers ideology of pessimism,31 finding the world to be meaningless
20 and life to be a constant striving toward goals that can only be briefly obtained. Schopenhauer teaches that the essence of life is will : Willing and striving is [mans] whole being, which may be very well compared to an unquenchable thirst. Bu t the basis of all willing is need, deficiency, and thus pain. Consequently, the nature of [. .] man is subject to pain originally and through its ve ry being. If, on the other hand, it lacks objects of desire, because it is at onc e deprived of them by a too easy satisfaction, a terrible void and ennui comes over it, i.e., its being and existence itself becomes an unbearable burden to it. ( World §57) Schopenhauers pessimism finds its expressi on in Decadent writing in the frequent references to ennui In Edgar Allan Poes novel The Fall of the House of Usher (1839), the narrator describes the constrained effort of the ennuye man of the world (2403). Baudelaire declared it the supreme vice: I n this menagerie of mankinds vice / Theres one supremely hideous and impure! / [. .] / I mean Ennui ! (To the Reader 2). The concept also appears in Huysmanss Rebours whose protagonist suffers from an overpowering sense of ennui (84). In Dorian Gray both Dorian and Lord Henry suffer from this void: Dorian becomes sick with that ennui that terrible tdium vit that comes on those to whom life denies nothing (113), and Lord Henry claims, The only horrible thing in the world is ennui, Dorian. That is the one sin for which there is no forgiveness (155). For Decadents, then, life wa s seen as brief, flame-like (Pater 187), as meaningless, and as a constant pe ndulum [swinging] backwards and forwards between pain and ennui (Schopenhauer World §57).
21 Schopenhauer proposes two solutions to the suffering caused by human will, as Knox describes: absolute self-oblivion, [. .] the denial of the will (130); or the temporary relief found in aesthetic contempla tion, the self-transcen dence of will-less knowing. For Schopenhauer, the point of aesthet ic contemplation is to silence the will, to find a moments relief from the wills c onstant striving. This contemplation can be directed toward any object because every thi ng is beautiful: the will manifests itself in everything at some grade of its objectivity, so that everything is the expression of an Idea; it follows that everything is also beautiful ( World §41). Decadent writers reflect this desire for will-less knowing in several works. Huysmanss Des Esseintes looks to certain books to raise him higher than the rest, out of that trivial life he was weary of ( Rebours 290). Baudelaire writes of beauty, you begu ile / Time from his slothfulness, the world from spleen (Hymn to Beauty 27-28) Wilde similarly describes how a vision of beauty at sea relieves his torment in his poem Vita Nuova: When lo! a sudden glory! and I saw / The argent splendour of white li mbs ascend, / And in that joy forgot my tortured past (12-14). These examples demonstrate how moments of aesthetic contemplation provide relief from the sufferi ng produced by will. In Chapter Two, I show how Dorian Grays and Pale Fires non-artistsLord Henr y, Dorian, Kinbote, and Hazelsimilarly rely on beauty to relieve an existence that has become painful and, at times, almost unbearable, from the constant striving of their wills. The aesthetes in Dorian Gray and Pale Fire succeed in finding moments of transcendence through aesthetic experience; however, they al so objectify others in their quest. I suggest that Wildes novel highlights th e problem of objectif ication but does not offer a solution. Basil loses sight of Dorian s complex, often vile nature. Lord Henry
22 remains locked in a Schopenhauerian cycle of ecstasy and suffering. Dorian searches in the beautiful for any form of transcendence, finds brief mome nts of relief, but ends in despair. In contrast, Nabokovs novel provides an answer to the cruelty that too often results from the love of beau ty and the desire for transcendence: as John Shade urges, Pity (225). Although Dorian Gray offers plenty of personal ecstasyin Basils work, Lord Henrys spectatorship, Sibyls acting, and Dorians hedonismthe novel provides rare moments of pity. As Betsy Moeller-Sa lly points out, compassion for the suffering of others [is] an emotion quite foreig n to Dorian Gray (464), and, I would add, frequently to the other main characters as well. Lord Henry only feels pity that the ecstasy produced by the beautiful cannot last that Basil will become disillusioned with his idol (16) or that Dorians extraordinar y beauty will fade (34). Sibyl pities only her brothers cynicism toward her own passion (5 7). Basil comes closest to pitying another persons suffering, but his belated attempt at reforming Dorian only demonstrates how inattentive he has been. In Pale Fire, on the other hand, beauty is acco mpanied by curiosity, tenderness, and kindness, hallmarks of Nabokovs aes thetic bliss (On a Book 313).32 Shades curiosity in how White butte rflies turn lavender as they / Pass through [the trees] shade connects with the memory of his daught er; that tree is where gently seems to sway / The phantom of my little daughters swing (1.55-57). His poem is filled with tenderness toward his wifes grief: I love you most / When with a pensive nod you greet her ghost / And hold her first toy on your pa lm (2.289-91). Shade also treats Kinbote with patient kindness, despite his neighbors constant intrusions and self-centeredness.
23 Indeed Shades failure to pity Hazel, although not in tentionally cruel, provides one of the novels main moral lessons. Conclusion Dorian Gray and Pale Fire portray a confluence of beauty, objectification, and transcendence in strikingly similar ways. In addition to Dorians and Hazels analogous roles as aesthetic objects, the novels other ma in characters hold comparable positions: as artists, whose perception of beauty creates the aesthetic vision that others share; or as spectators, whose gaze serves to reinforce thei r own aesthetic needs. In the two chapters of this thesis, I use these three rolesartist spectator, and object to explore the novels links between beauty and transcendence, and the ways in which aesthetic objectification harms all of those involved. I argue that both works address the solipsism and hedonism inherent in Decadent and Symbo list aesthetics, and that only Pale Fire offers a clear solution. In the artists quests for metaphys ical insight through beauty, they develop aesthetical ideas of their beloveds. These idea s hinder the artists ability to discern fully the complex natures of those they adore. For th e spectators, the belief in beautys ability to transcend the constant suffering imposed by human will causes them to callously manipulate the beauty of others. Finally, the obj ects of the aesthetic gaze succumb to the burdens of their assigned roles. Interpellated as beautiful or ugly objects, Dorian and Hazel absorb these traits into their very na tures, and their own frantic attempts to find transcendence lead them to despair. Wildes position within the Decadent community made him conscious of both the benefits and shortcomings of aesthetic indulgence, but in Dorian Gray he fails to provide a model for the successful use of art as a guide to life. Nabokov s position as a mid-
24 twentieth-century, now American, author (forced into exile from both Russia and Germany), gave him a broader perspective on the social, political, and economic changes of the modern era. He could also draw on th e spiritual values of the Russian Symbolists, as well as a Russian literary tradition that prized the individuals humanity. Considered together, the novels portrayals of the adva ntages and dangers of aesthetic devotion become clearer. Beauty remains a worthy value, but the love of beauty must be tempered by compassion for and understanding of those subjected to the aesthetic gaze.
25 Chapter One Beauty: Human Beings as Aesthetic Objects Beauty commands attention in Dorian Gray and Pale Fire through the tragic lives of two main characters: the extraordinarily beautiful Dorian Gray and the pathetically ugly Hazel Shade. Despite their striking differences, both Dorians corruption and Hazels alienation occur as a consequence of their exceptional looks. The similar plights of these two figures call atten tion to a connection between be auty and despair that seems paradoxical; both the beautiful and unbeautiful suffer. The novels provide a guide to understanding this association between beauty and suffering in their allusions to an earlier literary figure w ho undergoes a similar fate, Shakespeares Ophelia.1 Through Ophelias painful story, we can gain insight into how Dorians and Hazels physical appearances lead to their roles as aesthetic objects, to why Dorian becomes Basils motive in art (15), Lord Henrys emblem of new Hedonism (23), and Sibyls Prince Charming (51), and Hazel becomes a sy mbol of mortality to her father. Dorian and Hazel have much in common with Shakespeares ill-fated maiden. Like them, Hamlets beloved suffers the betrayal of those around her, succumbs to despair, and dies tragically. Fu rther, as in Dorians portrai t and Hazels presence in her fathers poem, Ophelia becomes a subject of art, although, in her case, the artistic representations occur outside the text. The image of Ophe lias body, lying in a stream covered with flowers, became one of the mo st popular motifs of Decadent and Symbolist
26 art. Rather than highlighti ng the young womans suffering, th ese portrayals eroticize her dead body, moving the focus of attention from the woman to the individual viewers own needs and fantasies.2 Ophelias mistreatment within the diegesis of Hamlet, as well as her revival as an artistic icon, highlights the way her beauty has been abused by those who claim to love her. Like Ophelia, the characters Dorian a nd Hazel descend from innocence to despair because others betray them, and the betrayal is directly connected to the victims appearance. Further, the artistic renditions of their deathsDorian s restored portrait and Hazels inclusion in her fathers poeme mphasize the way the two are viewed as aesthetic objects more than as human bei ngs. To clarify how each of the various characters objectifies these captivating figur es, I divide the nove ls casts into three categories: artists, spectators, and objects. I designate Wildes painter Basil Hallward and actress Sibyl Vane and Nabokovs poet John Shade as artists. Because of their special creative ability and attention to physical appe arance, these characters all form what Kant calls aesthetical ideas (§49) of the person they love, Dorian or Hazel. These ideas blind the artists to the full na ture of their beloved, causing ha rm to all involved. I classify two other main charactersWildes Lord Henry and Nabokovs Charles Kinboteas spectators, those who are ne ither beautiful themselves nor capable of creating beauty, but who enjoy looking at and manipulating th e beauty of others. Drawing on Mulveys analysis of film spectatorship, I show that these characters behave like voyeurs, establishing power over the objects of their g aze in a desire for aesthetic experience. The final category that I discuss is the objects, Wildes Dorian Gray and Nabokovs Hazel Shade. Objectified because of their extraordinary appearan ce, these individuals succumb
27 to despair and near madness, much like Ophelia and they in turn treat others with a heartless cruelty similar to what they have been subjected to. The Artists: Creators of Beauty In both novels, an artists pe rception of beauty plays a ke y role in determining his subjects self-image. In Wildes novel Dori an first becomes fully aware of his own beauty through Basils painting. As the narrat or tells us, The sense of his own beauty came on him like a revelation. He had never fe lt it before (25), and Dorian himself accuses Basil of making him vain (121). In Pale Fire Shades poem reveals the poets critical view of his daughters appearancet he dingy cygnet [that] ne ver turned / Into a wood duck (2.318-19)and, I suggest, also re veals the role Shade played in the formation of Hazels self-image. In each of th e novels, however, the artists perception is distorted because it is based on what Kant ca lls an aesthetical idea (§49) of the subject. Kant explains that [t]he imagination [. .] is a powerful agent for creating, as it were, a second nature out of the material supplied to it by actual natur e (§49). This second nature is not an imitation of the subject but rather an idea created in the artists imagination. In both novels, the artists aesthetic al ideas overshadow their understanding of their subjects natures. That Basil forms an aesthetical idea of Do rian is evident in the painters initial reaction to his new friend. As Basil admits, from the moment I met you, [. .] You became to me the visible incar nation of that unseen ideal whose memory haunts us artists like an exquisite dream (89). From the ve ry beginning of their relationship, then, the painter falls not in love with Dorian Gray but with his own image of Dorian (Oates 425). Basil expresses his vision in the portrait, what he calls the real Dorian (28), and
28 he lets this artistic representation become a substitute for the real man: When you were away from me you were still present in my art (89). Because Basil trusts his aesthetical idea of Dorian, the painter fails to discern his friends full character. He insists that the young man has a simple and beautiful nature (17), despite admitting early on that Dorian can be horribly thoughtless and even seems to take a real delight in giving me pa in (15). Basil later defends Dorian to Lord HenryHe would never bring misery upon any one. His nature is too fine for that (63)but the artist becomes confused and troubled by Dorians callous response to Sibyls death: You were the most unspoiled creature in the whole world. Now, I dont know what has come over you. You talk as if you had no heart, no pity in you (85). Refusing to blame his idol, however, Basil de cides, It is all Harrys influence (85). Even after hearing the terrible rumors about Do rian, Basil still insist s that his friend is guiltless: I dont believe these ru mours at all. [. .] with your pure, bright, innocent face, and your marvelous untroubled youthI cant believe anything against you (117). Basils aesthetical idea of Dorian prevents the painter from fully comprehending his friends fallibility. When Dorian finally reve als the disfigured pain ting, forcing the artist to acknowledge his fatal error, Basil responds in horror: what a thing I must have worshipped! (122). His strong reactionhe feels physically i ll, his tongue parched, his forehead dank with clammy sweat (121)i llustrates how drastically he has misjudged Dorian. Once Basils aesthetical idea is shattered, he tries desperately to get his idol to reform, but only succeeds in insp iring Dorians murderous wrath. Like Basil, Wildes other artist, actress Sibyl Vane, also creates an aesthetical idea of Dorian because of his beauty, and, lik e Basil, she pays for her misconception of
29 Dorians true nature with her death.3 Sibyl has always relied on aesthetic experience for transcendence over her tedious life, admitting, It was only in the theatre that I lived (69). When she meets Dorian, she believes not only that she has discovered real love but also that she has learned what reality really is (69). However, he r artistic sensibility causes her to continue confusing reality with art. Her brother points out that she doesnt even know his [Dorians] name (52), and Do rian recognizes that Sibyl regarded me merely as a person in a play (46).4 As Michael Gillespie suggests, Sibyl sees love as an unambiguous and monolithic condition, over powering all else and focusing her imagination on a single feature, Dorians be auty, and thus the termination of [the] engagement [. .] is the inevitable conse quence of how the actress perceives the world (85). I agree that it is her artistic imagination that is integral to her perception of Dorian. Although she seems willing to love him, she lets her love for aesthetic experience trap her in a solipsistic world of adoration and denial. Sibyl speaks of Dorian in Platonic terms I love him because he is like what Love himself should be (52)but she has fo rmed her ideal from fairy tales. She imagines Dorian as Prince Charming (51), a fantasy hero not only beautiful but capable of rescuing her from her dismal existence. W ildes use of a fairy-tale motif appropriately characterizes the fanciful nature of Sibyl and Dorians relationship The name Prince Charming recalls, among others, the hero of Snow White, the handsome prince who saves the beautiful maiden from her stepmothers curse.5 As Bronfen points out, the prince first sees and then desires Snow White only afte r she is (presumed) dead, aesthetically entombed in a glass coffin a nd resembling an art ob ject displayed in a labelled frame (100). Bronfen argues that the pr inces desire is not a form of mourning
30 for a lost beloved (100); rather, his des ire for an unknown beautif ul feminine corpse exemplifies to perfection how the object of desi re is never real but rather the symptom of the lovers fantasy (102). Wilde re-genders th e fairy tale to have Sibyl fall in love with the symptom of her fantasy, not the real man. Through their affair, Wilde demonstrates how the artists creative imagination can distort human relationships to the point that th ey become merely aesth etic fantasies rather than instances of substantia l human interconnection. Both Sibyl and Dorian fall in love with fantasy images. Because he is beautiful, Dorian fulfills Sibyls desire for a hero to rescue her. Because Sibyl acts so convincingl y, she fulfills his desire for something to stir [his] imagination (70). Sibyls artistic ability has enabled her to convince Dorian that she is, alternatingly, each of the dramatic heroines she plays. When she dies, Lord Henry appropriately characteriz es her as Ophelia: Mourn for Ophelia, if you like (82), and his words emphasize how the real woman ha s been lost behind the image: But dont waste your tears over Sibyl Vane. She was le ss real than [Ophelia was] (82). Neither Sibyl nor Dorian considers the real nature of the human being behind the aesthetic fantasy. Sibyl and Dorians affair thus becomes, in Richard Ellmanns words, an aesthetic laboratory (315). Their fantasies gi ve them enormous pleasure, but aesthetic judgment alone cannot substitute for a deeper recognition of human nature. Through their relationship, Wilde critiques, as Felicia Bonaparte argues, mere aestheticism as a tenable ground for life (246 my emphasis), but not ae stheticism as a whole. Both Sibyl and Dorian find a temporary transcendence from the pain of daily life in their aesthetic fantasy. It is when these characters fail to s ee the real human being be hind the beauty that
31 they harm themselves and each other. Sibyls mistake leads to her su icide; Dorians leads to his first act of cruelty and to the first gruesome change in his portrait. Like Wildes artists, Ba sil and Sibyl, Nabokovs poet John Shade, creates an aesthetical idea out of the O phelia-like maid who loves him, his daughter Hazel. Also like Wildes artists, Shade expresses love for his Ophelia, but his aesthetic view of her blinds him to her humanity, and the result is tragic for both pa rties. Nabokov, however, reverses the aesthetic quality of Wildes critique : Dorian is objectified because of his extraordinary beauty, Hazel beca use of her extreme ugliness. As in Dorian Gray the artist holds a key position in Pale Fire, shaping the way both readers and characters within the text vi ew the artists subject. Wilde uses Basils painting to introduce Dorian to his readers; Na bokov uses another work of art, a poem, to present Hazel. Unlike the way Basil proudly bear s a smile of pleasure as he surveys his painting (8), however, Nabokovs artist slow ly, even uncomfortably, eases into the painful subject of his daughters death. The poe t first refers to Hazel contingently: White butterflies turn lave nder as they / Pass through its [his favorite trees] shade where gently seems to sway / The phantom of my little daughters sw ing (1.55-57). By focusing on the butterflies, the passage draws attention aw ay from the daughter, leaving just a hint that Hazel has died. A closer look at the expert crafting of the lines reveals more meaning. The mention of White butterflies sets up a contrast between the bland Hazel and her beautiful mother, the dark Vanessa (2.2 70), (a contrast that I discuss more fully in Chapter Two). Whiteness can also signal deat h, and the term phantom enhances that association. Still, the poet onl y refers to the phantom of the swing, not the little girl, although the adverb gently suggests a sad, te nder memory. Finally the shade of the
32 tree recalls the poets own name; thus, the complete passage creates a poetic representation of the memory of a lost daught er as it passes through the fathers mind. These lines tentatively broach the real subject, the da ughters perceived suicide, but Shade continues to avoid the difficult i ssue for several verses. He first relates the deaths of his parents and aunt, as well as his own near-fatal seizures. He comes nearer to acknowledging Hazels death when expressing love for his wife: I love you most / When with a pensive nod you greet her ghost (2.28990). In the next verse Shade finally (Boyd calls it abruptly [ Nabokovs 134]) mentions his daughter di rectly, though still not by name: She might have been you, me, or some qu aint blend: / Nature chose me so as to wrench and rend / Your heart and mind ( 2.293-95). Plunging ahead now, the poet details his ugly daughters painful childhood, her so cial alienation, and finally her drowning. These two cantos provide a stark contrast to Wildes first two chapters, in which Basil and Lord Henry rave at length over Dorians beauty. Wildes characters cannot praise their Adonis highly enough: Basil declares Dori an is absolutely necessary to me (14) and Lord Henry exclaims to the young beaut y, how tragic it would be if you were wasted (23). Yet Nabokovs poet seems to be gathering the courage merely to mention his daughter, dodging her presence through poetic a ssociations with nature, his wife, and, finally, himself. Indeed, Ki nbote comments that, in their conversations, Shade never cared to refer to hi s dead child (187). Shade presents himself in the poem as a loving, grief-stricken fatherShe was my darling: difficult, morose / But still my darling (2.357-58)but his verse reveals a more complex, and disturbing, portrait of a fa thers feelings toward his daughter. The puerile rhyme of At first wed smile and say: / All little girls are plump or Jim McVey
33 / (The family oculist) will cu re that slight / Squint in no time (2.295-98) sounds cruel, more like ridicule than compassion. Shades commentThe prizes won / In French and history, no doubt, were fun (2.305-06)disp arages the importance of the girls accomplishments. Even Alas, the dingy cygnet never turned / Into a wood duck (2.31819) seems a harsh way for a father to refer to his dead daughter. The fairy-tale allusion to Hans Christian Andersens The Ugly Duckli ng (1844) reminds us of Wildes reference to Prince Charming and fittingly recalls the pe rversion of the princes love for the fantasy figure of Snow White. Shade sees Hazel, too, as a fantasy figure, not a symptom of his desires but of his fears. The reason for Shades earlier hesitation is now clear; in his poetic recreation of his daughters life and death, Shad e begins to realize that he is largely responsible for his daughters tragic fate. A loving father could find his daughter at least somewhat beautiful despite her flaws. Some theorists even sugge st that love leads the viewer to see the beloved as beautiful. Georg Hegel believed, as Smith and Helfand explain, that an observers contemplation, animated by love, pr ojects beauty inherent in the mind onto the sensuous world of nature (Smith 24). William Congreve puts the concept more succinctly: Beauty is the lovers gift ( 68). Like Kants aesthetic theory, these statements present beauty as subjective but Hegel and Congrev e tie the judgment specifically to the observers fe elings of love for his or he r subject. If Shade loves his daughter, then why doesnt he perceive her as beautiful, at least in some minor way? Like Wildes artists, Shade makes his judgment of beauty based on a preconceived notion of what a person shoul d look like according to their purpose, reflecting Kants theory of dependent beau ty. Kant distinguishes between two types of
34 beauty: free, which is judged according to mere form and without a concept of any end for which the manifold should serve the given object (§16), and dependent, which applies to people, and is based on a concept of the objects purpose: human beauty [. .] presupposes a concept of the purpose which de termines what the thing is to be, and consequently a concept of its perfection (§16) Wildes artists, Basil and Sibyl, consider Dorian beautiful because his looks perfectly suit the purpose he serves for them, the harmony of soul and body for Basil (14) and Prince Charming for Sibyl (51). Similarly, Nabokovs poet has judged Hazel unbeautiful because of the purpose she serves for him; she reminds him of his own mortality. Shade forms his aesthetical idea of Hazel based on her resemblance to himself. He describes her as psoriatic, awkward, and plump (2.355, 300, 296), using terms that mirror his own body as a child, which was Asthmatic, lame and fat (1.129). He even points out that Hazel looks like him: She might have been you, me, or some quaint blend: / Nature chose me (2.293-94). Similar to the way Wildes artists hold a distorted view of Dorian, Shades depiction of Hazel points to what his wife, Sybil, terms his prejudice (2.320), and Sybil chastises hi m for it: Why overstress / The physical? (2.321-22). John Shade, though, does stress the p hysical. He attributes all of Hazels problemsher loneliness, her difficult a nd morose manner (2.357-78), and the fact that She hardly ever smiled (2.350)to her lack of beauty. In addition to Hazels physical appearan ce, the poet associates his daughters neurotic behavior with his own. When the Shades notice various household items flying about as if thrown by a ghost, they realize that their daughter is the agent of the disturbance (166). Hazel was beside hersel f with distress at the time over Sybils
35 euthanasia of Aunt Mauds dog (165), and the episode is an angry outburst in response to grief. Shade, however, fails to consider his daughters sorrow and in terprets the bizarre antics as a new genetic va riant of his own childhood dramatic fits (166). The relation of Hazels app earance and behavior to Shades own is significant because the poet associates his own shortcomi ngs with death. As a child, Shade felt like a cloutish freak (1.134); frail and overweight, he never bounced a ball or swung a bat (1.130), and only played with other chaps in sleeping dreams (1.135). He suffers blackouts where he feels Tugged at by play ful death (1.140), an ironic phrase indicating that he perceived d eath as more of a playmate th an other children. Thus Shade associates his feeble body and childhood fits (166) with death, a subject he becomes familiar with at an early age. Orphaned while still an infant, Shade grows up under the care of dear bizarre Aunt Maud, / A poet and painter with a taste / For realistic objects interlaced / With grotesque growths and images of doom (1.86-89).6 These macabre images keep doom, or death, ever-present in the home. Shade s final poem reveals Mauds influence; not only does he portray Hazel as grotesque, but the poems opening lines present an image of doom: the waxwing slain / By the fa lse azure in the windowpane (1.1-2). Shades use of azure in these lines suggests a positive, hopeful concept of eternity, made false and fatal by its reflecti on in the phenomenal world. The term appears frequently in Symbolist poetry (Jullian 230) For example, Oleg Maslenikov notes the rapturous azure of the sky (75) in Russian Symbolist Andrei Belys Gold in Azure (1904). In Pale Fire, Nabokov turns the rapture into horror. Following the birds death in the poems opening lines, Shade then links th e color azure to Hazels death. The bar
36 where Hazel is rejected by her blind date has an azure entr ance (2.397), indicating another moment, like the waxwings, when hope has been thwarted. Thus, Shades desire for immortality is thwarted by Hazels resemb lance to himself and to his associations between his own body and death. Several aspects of the text support my an alysis that Hazels appearance reminds her father of his mortality: Hazels name; her resemblance to the Russian rusalka; her similarity to a death mask known as Linconnue de la Seine ; her fathers own guilty conscience; and her associ ation with the term grimpen (2.368). Mary McCarthy identifies the name Hazel Shade as an allusion to a line in Sir Walter Scotts The Lady of the Lake (1883): in lone Glenartneys hazel shade (qtd. in McCarthy 94).7 Nabokovs Hazel drowns in a lake, which seems to associ ate her with Scotts t itle character. Scotts lady, Ellen Douglas, however, bears little rese mblance to Hazel. Ellen is beautiful and manages to get the husband she wants through her own actions. Hazel is ugly and fails to find a companion. I suggest that Nabokov is all uding not to Ellen but to the actual hazel shade in Scotts poem, a place of danger fo r the Huntsman: Blithe were it then to wander here! [. .] hosts may in these w ilds abound, Such as are better missed than found (1.16). Scotts Huntsman fears the hazel shade of the forest, just as John Shade fears his daughter, a fact Kinbote confirms: [ the Shades] were afraid of Hazel (166). Hazels resemblance to a character popular in Russian literature and the wider fin de sicle culture, the rusalka,8 enhances my interpretation. Similar to Ophelia, the rusalka is a beautiful young woman who drowns he rself following a lovers rejection. The Russian version, however, takes the story a st ep further. From her watery grave, the maiden seeks revenge on her betrayer by seducing him to join her in death. Unlike
37 Ophelia, who is always obedient and well behaved, Hazel, like the rusalka, acts vengefully toward the people who have harmed her, her parents. Galef comments that Hazel grows stunted from nurturing parents (423), but I disagree with his characterization of the Shades as nurturing. Both of Hazels parents perceive her as unattractive, and, while growing up, Hazel woul d have overheard or sensed their critical comments. I argue that, rather than nurtur ing her, the Shades contribute to their daughters dismal self-image, and the young wo man ends up hating both of them. During the poltergeist episode (165) Hazel throws household objects dangerously near each of her parents, and particularly targets her fathers writing, throwi ng his revered table, upon which he kept a Bible-like We bster (166), out onto the snow.9 Shade also records in his poem that Shed cri ticize / Ferociously our projects (2.351-52) and, at least in Kinbotes rendition of events, the barn incident ends with Hazel shouting at her mother, Why must you spoil everything (192). While Hazels social alienation would have been ample cause for her sorrow and anger, the young womans parents only add to her grief by frequently criticizing her. Th e poltergeist episode is clearly a violent act of revenge, similar to Dorian Grays attack on Basil.10 Another piece of evidence that points to Shades perception of his daughter as a symbol of death appears in Hazels resemblance to linconnue de la Seine.11 The phrase refers to a popular item in nineteenth-century European culture and art: a death mask made from the image of an unknown woman fou nd drowned in the Paris river. D. Barton Johnson notes that in Nabokovs earlier poem LInconnue de la Seine (1934), the narrator ponders the secret of a tragic mysterious female image, and Johnson comments that It does not seem inconcei vable that the woman is Death (232).12 I
38 contend that Shades poem is also about a na rrator pondering a tragic, mysterious female image, who also represents death. In Pale Fire however, Nabokov inverts the image of linconnue from a beautiful face to an unbeautiful one. Based on Bronfens analysis of the artistic portrayal of feminine corpses, a beautiful dead woman would serve to affirm the male spectators immortality (65); in contrast, Hazels ugly body, in her life and death, only makes Shade more aware of his mortality.13 Further, Hazels relation to the ill -fated woman of Na bokovs earlier poem, Linconnue de la Seine, imp licates Shade as his daughters betrayer. In the earlier poem, the narrator associates himself with the dead womans seducer: Was he [. .] the same sort of accursed man of pleasure / and bankrupt dreamer as I (qtd. in Johnson 227). By making Shade the narrator of his poem, Nabokov implies that Shade is also an accursed man, guilty of fostering Hazels self-hatred through his criticism. Shade begins to realize his part in Hazels tragic life as he de velops his poem. He includes a minor incident concerning his daughters query into the meaning of grimpen. While studying, Hazel calls out for help: Mother, whats grimpen ? (2.368). Hazel is referring to lines in the Eas t Coker section of T. S. Eliots Four Quartets (1940), in which the narrator is standing on a dangerous precipice: On the edge of a grimpen, where is no secure foothold, / A nd menaced by monsters, fancy lights (2.4142). Hazel pronounces the term Grim Pen ( 2.368), which leads Galef to conclude that Hazel views the four walls of her room as a grim pen (422). Shade, however, working in the room next door, is the one at the pr ecipice, menaced by his monstrous daughter and the fancy lights she sees in the barn. His choice to re tell this incident suggests his awareness of the moments significance. Eliot s next few linesDo not let me hear / Of
39 the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly, / Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession (2.43-45)further apply to Na bokovs old poet, whose fears have led him to see Hazel as a reminder of the monster that will possess him, death. Additionally, as Boyd points out, the term grimpen origina lly comes from Sir Arthur Conan Doyles The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902): Grimpen Mire is th e hamlet where Holmess adversary sinks into the mire and drowns ( Nabokovs 193). Doyles forbidding hamlet is both a site of danger and investigation, sim ilar to Shades poetic exploration of his relationship with his daught er and of death itself. Other aspects of Shades text also point toward the poets incr easing awareness of his own role in the formation of Hazels se lf-image. Shade hints that he fears meeting Hazel in an afterlife: For as we know from dreams it is so hard / To speak to our dear dead! They disregard / Our apprehen sion, queaziness and shame (3.589-91). The feelings of apprehension, queaziness and shame could indicate that Shade knows he has mistreated Hazel, an idea supported by hi s earlier draft: Should the dead murderer try to embrace / His outraged victim whom he now must face? (231). If Shade has contributed to his daughters suicid e, then he is her murderer. Finally, Shade realizes that his greatest in sight comes from the thing he finds most beautiful, the act of co mposition. Shade discusses beauty di rectly in the beginning of his poems final canto: Now I shall spy on beauty as none has / Spied on it yet (4.835-36). He follows these lines with a comparison of Two methods of composing (4.841), which indicates that writing poetry is the beauty he has [s]pied on.14 The beauty of composition is vital to Shade because it is th e only way he can understand / Existence, or at least a minute part, that is, In te rms of combinational delight (4.970-73). The
40 combinational delight of the verse leads him to see existence also as fantastically planned, / Richly rhymed (4.969-70). As Page Stegner notes, for Shade, life only has meaning when it is translated into intric ate combinations and patterns (123-24). The pattern in his poem, however, proves false. Shade asserts that if my private universe scans right, / So does the verse of galaxies di vine, and I am reasonably sure that I / Shall wake at six tomorrow (4.978-80). Acci dentally murdered, Shade does not wake the next morning, and his private universe, his poem, fails to scan because it remains unfinished. Writing the poem has not given hi m metaphysical insight, but it has made him understand his injurious feelings for his daughter, an understanding that, tragically, comes only after her death. All of these artists, then, Wildes Bas il and Sibyl and Nabokovs Shade, transform the objects of their gaze into aesthetical idea s. Basil views Dorians beauty as the visible representation of a Platonic id eal, the harmony of soul and body (14), which transforms his art. Sibyl sees Dorian as a fairy-tale prince who can rescue her from a dismal existence, but his unexpected rejection destr oys her. Shade percei ves his daughter as a reminder of death, which reinforces his own fears and need for existential meaning, but he realizes his cruelty too late. Because they are blinded by their ae sthetical ideas, these artists fail to perceive the complex nature s of their loved ones. As Kinbote points out, reality is neither the subject nor the object of tr ue art; rather, the artist creates its own special reality having nothing to do w ith the average reality perceived by the communal eye (130). The new creation has not hing to do with reality, a lesson both Wildes and Nabokovs artists fail to learn.
41 The substitution of aesthetical ideas for re ality proves harmful for the artists. Basil and Sibyl lose both their artistic ability a nd their lives because of their adoration, and Shade not only adds to his own neurotic obses sion with death but also loses what should be a loving and fulfilling relationship with hi s daughter. The artists also hurt those they aestheticize: Dorian pursues a life of reck less self-indulgence, and Hazel suffers from alienation and despair The novels other main characters Dorian Grays Lord Henry and Pale Fires Kinbotehave a different interaction with beau ty, but one that is equally destructive. Neither beautiful themselves nor able to create beauty, Lord Henry and Kinbote derive pleasure from being spectator s, from looking at and manipulat ing the beauty of others. Like the artists, these spectators of beau ty rely on aesthetic experience to provide transcendence, but this goal, as it does fo r the artists, remains ultimately elusive. The Spectators: Manipulators of Beauty Wildes Lord Henry and Nabokovs Kinbote do not simply derive pleasure from seeing beauty; they seek to transform and c ontrol the objects of their gaze. Mulveys analysis of film spectatorship is helpfu l in understanding these characters behavior. Mulvey argues that the determining male gaze projects its fantasy onto the female figure, which is styled accordingly, and th at the woman then hol ds the look, and plays to and signifies male desire (436). The male spectator derives scopophilic pleasure (erotic pleasure from looking) from gazing at the woman, but he may also become a voyeur, ascertaining guilt, [. .] asser ting control and subjugating the guilty person through punishment or forgiveness (438). Both Wilde and Nabokov illustrate this
42 concept of voyeuristic spectat orship in the characters Lord Henry and Kinbote, with Dorian and John Shade as the respective Ophelia-like object s of their gaze. Wilde identifies Lord Henry as a spectator, but Dorian Grays author intends the term differently from Mulvey. Wildes meaning is that one can, in Lord Henrys words, escape the suffering of life (87) by maintaining an emotional distance from people and events. Lord Henry plays this sp ectator role by remain ing aloof from his family and friends, and by turning every expe rience into an aesthetic one. Yet, while watching the drama, he is also a spectator in Mulveys sense of the word. He derives pleasure from using others as aesthetic obj ects and subjecting them to his controlling gaze (Mulvey 434). For Wildes spectator, the pr imary object of the gaze is the beautiful Dorian Gray. Lord Henry gets his first view of Dorian from the portrait, which, like Mulveys female screen star, is disp layed as a spectacle. Upon s eeing the painting, Lord Henry describes Dorian as an object suited for aesth etic contemplation: He is some brainless, beautiful creature, who should be always here in winter when we ha ve no flowers to look at (9). When he meets Dorian himself, th e elder man finds that this young beauty is easily manipulated, and he begi ns to enjoy watching and cont rolling Dorians passions. Similar to the way Mulveys spectator can b ecome sadistic, forcing a change in another person (438) and seeing the relationship as a battle of will and stre ngth, victory/defeat, Lord Henry decides to dominat e Dorian (34), to make that wonderful spirit his own. Throughout the novel, Lord Henry tries to mani pulate Dorians actions and feelings. He tells Dorian to quit his charity work and se nds him the yellow book (97) to arouse his passions. When Dorian misbehaves, such as treating Sibyl cruelly, Lord Henry responds
43 like Mulveys sadist, ascertai ning guilt but then offering ab solution. Wildes sadist tells Dorian, I am afraid that women appreci ate cruelty, downright cruelty, more than anything else. [. .] Im su re you were splendid (81). Lord Henrys spectatorship brings him mo ments of pleasure, but fails to provide lasting happiness. As Joyce Carol Oates points out, [t]o become a spectator [in Wildes use of the term . ] not only fails to save one from sufferingit makes suffering inevitable (424). Lord Henry loses his wife, a nd he casts off friends, such as Basil, when they begin to bore him. His existence become s progressively empty and sterile (Lawler Keys 441), and he admits his suffering to Dori an: I have sorrows, [. .] that even you know nothing of (165). Near the end of the nove l, Lord Henry reveals his sad awareness that [a]ll ways end at the same point, [. .] [d]isillusion (157). Through the character of the spectator, Wilde demonstrates how watc hing and manipulating beauty produces only a momentary benefit, and, further, that specta torship can lead to sa dism, to cruelly using others for ones selfish benefit. Nabo kov illustrates a similar concept through his spectator, Charles Kinbote. Pale Fires Kinbote becomes a spectator of th e object of his affection, John Shade. The poet is not physic ally beautiful, but Kinbote co nsiders Shades misshapen body a mask of the mans poetic ability (26, 25), and Kinbote finds Shades poetry beautiful: Shade could not write otherwise th an beautifully (296). Th e lonely exile falls in love with his idol, desc ribing himself as a wary love r (287), and wondering, Would [a white-scarfed beau] ever come for me? as he waits for old John Shade (184). Kinbote then behaves similar to the voyeur that Mulvey describes, whose scopophilia becomes perverse and obsessive, a Peeping Tom (Mulvey 434). Kinbote admits to an
44 orgy of spying on Shade (87), but not simply, as with Mulveys Peeping Tom, for sexual pleasure. Kinbote wants to manipulate the poet into writing ab out the exiles own (imagined) life, so he spends most of th eir time together feeding Shade stories about Zembla. Like Wildes Lord Henry, Kinbote tr ies to manipulate the object of his gaze by condemning and then forgiving, even indulging, the poets vices. He compares Shade to a fleshy Hogarthian tippler (26), but then offers him a glass of wine, which has the added effect of allowing Kinbote to finally touch the venerated poem.15 Unlike Lord Henrys power over Dorian, however, Kinbote is unsuccessful in controlling Shade. The poem turns out not to be about Zembla at all, although Kinbot e convinces himself otherwise: as many as thirteen verses [. .] bear the specific imprint of my theme (8182). Spectatorship, Nabokov suggests, can be deluding, producing a false sense of power. This feeling of power derives from the male spectators ego-identification with another male. However, as Drukman suggests, for the homosexual spectator, the subject of ego-identification is [. .] in constant flux between the woman and the man (84-85). In addition to objectifying Shade, Kinbote iden tifies with the poet and also the object of the poets attention, Hazel. By having his lonely exile identify with Shade, Nabokov stresses the spectators cruelt y; both Kinbote and Shade betray the objects of their gaze. By having Kinbote empathize with Hazel, Nabokov emphasizes the suffering that the object of the gaze undergoes; both Kinbot e and Hazel are desperately unhappy. Kinbote identifies with Shade as an arti st. Although he humbly claims, I do not consider myself a true artist (289), he adds that he does have the true artists ability to see the web of the world, a reference clearl y inspired by Shades poetic insight into a web of sense (3.810). Kinbote under stands at least his part in the phenomenal web; he
45 knows he needs Shades poem to make his fant asy come true. He thus manipulates not only the poem but also Shades family into hi s Zemblan creation. As Galef points out, the exile consistently warps everything around him into reflections of himself, his own type of art (428).16 Through Kinbotes character, Nabokov point s out how all art is part of a larger web, an imitation or reflec tion of another artists vision. As the holder of a gay gaze, Kinbote identi fies with both Shade and the objects of Shades attention, creating Zemblan repli cas of the people in Shades life and empathizing with their suffering. He recasts Hazel as the Ophelia-like Fleur de Fyler (Maddox 24), another rejected maiden, and de monstrates a recognition of Fleurs pain, describing her as a figure of ineffable grie f (214). He transforms Sybil into Disa,17 a woman he is forced to marry. Because he is jealous of Shades love for Sybil, Kinbote takes revenge by imagining himself spur ning his lovelorn wife, but he again acknowledges the womans despair: he was, had always been, casual and heartless [to her] (209). Kinbote also directly associates himself with the lonely and alienated Hazel: he states that Hazel Shade resembled me in certain respects (193); compares her hope for love to his own, asking Would [a white-s carfed beau] ever come for me? (184); and respects what he considers her intentional act of suicide (312).18 In his identification with the objects of the gaze, Kinbote equates beauty with suffering; none of these characters benefit from their roles as aesthetic objects. Through their spectators, then, Wilde and Nabokov demonstrate another way in which beauty can be abused. Lord Henry and Kinbote manipulate the beauty of others in an attempt to fulfill their own needs. Lord Henry enjoys not only looking at Dorian but also influencing the beautiful young mans be havior. Kinbote derives pleasure just from
46 seeing ShadeI experienced a grand sense of wonder whenev er I looked at him (27) and from appropriating Shades life and ar t into his own. He harms Shade, though, by ignoring the poets grief and by managing to work his own stor y into the published poem through his commentary. Further, as a gay spec tator, Kinbote identifies with both Shade and the object of the poets gaze, Hazel, rein forcing Nabokovs portrayal of each side of the spectator-obj ect relationship. I find Nabokovs spectator a more tragic fi gure than Lord Henry, and suggest that, through Kinbote, Nabokov provides a harsher cri tique of excessive aestheticism. Wilde mentions Lord Henrys suffering, but he portrays the aesthete as cold-hearted, undeserving of sympathy. In contrast, Nabokov paints a heart-wren ching portrayal of Kinbote as a lonely, ridiculed homosexual taunted by a homophobic society. While these characters provide a critique of aestheticism, it is those w ho function as objects of the gaze, Dorian and Hazel, that most draw our attention and sympathy. The Objects: Bearing the Burden of Beauty Like the beauty of the heartb roken Ophelia that captivated fin de sicle culture, the despair of Dorian Gray and Hazel Shade hi ghlights the cost to t hose cast as aesthetic objects. Wilde explores these tragic consequen ces in his portrayal of the extraordinarily beautiful Dorian, whose own de votion to beauty, formed by the betrayal of those he loves, results in the corruption of his soul and ultimate death. Nabokov offers a mirror image of Dorians plight in the story of Hazel Shade, a young, fragile woman whose physical ugliness leads to both her fathers betrayal and her own fatal self-image. By juxtaposing the two characters, we see that beauty itself is not to blame; both the
47 beautiful and unbeautiful suffer. It is the obj ectification of others that makes beauty become a burden and that causes grief. I have argued that, in Wildes novel, both Basil and Lord Henry betray Dorian by treating him as an aesthetic object rather than as a human being. This betrayal sets up a chain of events; Dorian begins to think of hi mself as an object and then treats others in the same manner. Because Dorian gets his wi sh to change places with the portrait, a literal aesthetic object, he comes to think of his soul as a separate entity from his body. Much of the time, Dorian delights at th e way the painting degrades while his body remains beautiful, even asking himself, What did it matter? [. .] Why should he watch the hideous corruption of his soul? (95). At times, though, this visible emblem of conscience (74) torments him. He makes brief vows of repentance, but each time only turns to another aesthetic or sensuous experi ence to assuage his guilt, as Lord Henry has taught him, to cure the soul by means of the senses (22). These experiences, though, include other people, and, when they fail to serve his aesthetic needs, he treats them heartlessly. He rejects Sibyl when she loses he r ability to act. He murders Basil when the artist tries to reform him. We never learn th e details of his other relationships, but Basil accuses him of filling others with a madne ss for pleasure (118) and being a fatal influence (117), and his acquain tances begin to shun him. Wi ldes portrayal of Dorians cruelty provides a critique of Decadent he donism, of the ways in which that eras aesthetes changed their focus from a desire for aesthetic experience toward a selfindulgent and abusive love of any form of pleasure. Dorians demise cannot solely be blam ed on Basil and Lord Henry, but their influence leads him into a Decadent obsession with beauty that proves corrupting. Some
48 critics view Dorian initi ally as a blank slate: he is neutral at the beginning of the novel, [. . ] at the threshold of life (Bonaparte 238 ); not yet in possessi on of an identityhe is empty of and available for one (Jaffe 304); an absolute i nnocent (Oates 426). I agree that Dorian is initially nave and impr essionable, but I concur with Sarah Kofmans assessment that Basils and Lord Henrys in fluence only makes [Dorian] become aware of what he himself unwittingly already is, [and] of what he really can become (28). Dorian knows before he meets his two mentors that he is be autiful: he knew what he had got from [his mother]. He had got from her his beauty, and his passion for the beauty of others (112). He also senses that he has acquired some characteristics from his ancestors. As Liz Constable et al. note, Dori an surveys his family portraits in a manner similar to the hero of Huysmanss Rebours ,19 trying to discern their influence. I suggest that Dorian has inherited a capacity for both good and evil, and that he responds too easily to others influence. Dorian can be good; he has been led by Lord Henrys aunt to help her in the East End (16). Yet the aunt does not show c oncern for Dorians beauty; Lord Henry comments that she never told me he was good-looking (16). It is those who objectify Dorian because of his beauty that corrupt hi m. As a child, Dorians grandfather mistreats him because the lad bears a strange likeness to his mother (95). When he is older, Basil, Sibyl, Lord Henry, and most of Dori ans other acquaintances treat him as an aesthetic object. This objectificati on influences him to become evil. Dorians own sense of beauty becomes perverse. Like the Decadents, he finds beauty in evil, feeling mom ents when he looked on evil simply as a mode through which he could realize his conception of the beau tiful (115). He finds Sibyl in the seedier
49 section of London where an exquisite poison f ills the air (42). He begins to find beauty only in fresh shapes and colours (102), in which the past would have little or no place. Beauty becomes a refuge from reality, which is ugly: how horribly real ugliness made things! (97). Dorians response to objec tification, then, is to lose touch with the unpleasant aspects of reality and to cause harm to those around him. Pale Fires Hazel Shade reacts in a similar way, beginning her retreat from the ugly side of life at an early age. Shade descri bes her as a shy little guest left out of childrens Christmas games (2.308). As a college student, she withdraw s further: Mostly alone shed be (2.341). Eventually, she si ts alone in her room, with eyes / Expressionless and murmuring dreadful words in monotone (2.352-53, 356). Because the real world is so painful, Hazel creates a world of her own (Galef 423). She develops what Shade considers strange fears, stra nge fantasies (2.344), and she pursues an interest in the paranormal, such as investig ating the light in the barn. Also like Wildes Dorian, Hazel brings pain to those ar ound her. She attacks her parents both emotionallyShed criticize / Ferociously our pr ojects (2.351-52)and physically (in the poltergeist episode). Hazels problems stem directly from her lack of beauty,20 a quality expected of her as a woman. This expectation was characte ristic of some Decadents. For example, in Adams Curse (1903), Yeats suggests, To be born woman is to know / [. .] / That we must labour to be beautif ul (2.18-20), and Donoghue adds that Women in [. . the narrators high] social class were not exp ected to do much more. That sensibility remained well into the twentieth century. In 1975 Susan Sontag argues, To be called beautiful is thought to name something essent ial to womens charac ter and concerns. (In
50 contrast to menwhose essence is to be strong, or effec tive, or competent) (118). Nabokov depicts this view at th e mid-twentieth century in Pale Fire Although Sybil Shade argues, Good looks / Are not that indispensable (2.324-25), John Shade, and most of Hazels other acquainta nces, indicate otherwise. Although the poets perception of his daughter is certainly distorted because of his own fears and his sense that she resembles hi m, nothing in the text indicates that Hazel looks other than how Shade describes. Kinbote is hardly a reliable na rrator, but he calls Shades portrayal quite clear and complete (164), and the blind dates hasty retreat confirms Hazels extreme unsi ghtliness: He took one look at her, and suddenly Pete Dean / Clutching his brow exclaimed that he had clean / Forgotten an appointment (2.406, 391-33). The Shades are not the only ones who reject Hazel because she is ugly, but their criticism of her, particularly John Shades prejudice (2.320), ensures the young womans neurosis. Because women are ofte n expected to be the beautiful objects of the male gaze, Hazel is shunned as an ugly object. Lacking love and nurture, Hazel has little chance of developing into a no rmal, emotionally healthy, adult. As both Dorian Gray and Pale Fire illustrate, the preoccupation with beauty that leads to objectification has a devastating e ffect on the victims. Dorian and Hazel each withdraw into a perverse world void of co mpassion; they suffer from the cruelty of others, and they in turn treat others with a similar cold-heartedness. Whether the victim is beautiful or unbeautiful, the desires of those who worship beautyBasils artistic needs, Shades existential quest, Lord Henrys aes thetic detachment, and Kinbotes fantasy fulfillmentall place an unbearable burden on the objects of their attention. Like
51 Ophelias madness, Dorians and Hazels plig hts provide a harsh cr itique of aesthetic obsession. Conclusion A comparison of Dorian Gray and Pale Fire clarifies the role of beauty in each. Similar to the way Shakespeares Ophelia succumbs to madness and despair from the betrayal of those around her, Wildes Do rian Gray and Nabokovs Hazel Shade suffer from being treated as aesthetic objects. In Shakespeares text, Hamlet blames beauty itself for causing this betrayal: [t]he power of beauty will [. .] transform honesty from what it is to a bawd (3.1.112-13). Hamlets word s reflect an aesthetic sensibility held in the seventeenth century that beauty was a pr operty of the object. Beauty was something Ophelia possessed, and it could be blamed for its effects. In the post-Kantian era of the late-nineteenthand mid-twentieth centuries, scholars and artists ge nerally have thought of beauty as subjective. Wilde and Nabokov t hus create situations in which those who bear the gaze, the novels artists and spectat ors, are responsible for the betrayal. Further, the two authors adoption of Kant s notion of dependent beauty illustrates the way that the observers judgment becomes distorted. Kant argues that the judgment of human beauty is dependent on a prior concept of the object s purpose. The characters in these novels approach Dorian and Hazel with preconceived ideas of the purpose that each of them should serve. Basil and Sibyl wo rship Dorian because he provides either a motive in art (15) or a fairy-tale hero. Shade expects his daughter to be a beautiful muse like her mother, and thus transforms her ugliness into a sign of mortality. Lord Henry finds in Dorian an emblem for his new Hedonism (23), and Kinbote sees in Shade a way to make his fantasy come true. These dependent judgments of beauty make
52 it difficult for the viewers to see behind their objects purposes to their objects humanity, to extend their gaze beyond beauty. As Rorty points out in his discussion of Pale Fire, Nabokov knew that the individuals pursuit of aesthetic bliss (qtd. in Rorty 198) could lead to cruelty through ina ttention to others needs. Rorty suggests that Kinbotes behavior illustrates this concern, but I find that all of Wildes and Nabokovs main characters let their private pursuit of beauty blind them to others suffering. Pale Fire differs from Dorian Gray in that it calls more attention to the effects of aesthetic objectification on th e victim by focusing on the ugly rather than the beautiful, and by making Hazels suffering more appare nt. Both Dorian and Hazel are young and impressionable, and both resort to violence ; Dorian becomes a cold-hearted killer, and Hazel attacks her parents. Yet I feel that H azel is the more sympathetic character because her despair evokes her parents grief, and t hus the readers own compassion. In contrast, while Dorian arouses Basils concern, hi s final act of destroying the portrait only confirms his vanity; he wants to erase the ugly past and continue being beautiful. The difference points to the author s diverging aesthetics. Wilde revised Arnold and Pater by contending that the critic shoul d see the object as in itself it really is not (Critic 1128), an approach that allows viewers to transform their subject s to serve their own ends. As Andrews notes, Nabokov critiques this Wildean view in Kinbotes callous appropriation of Shades poem, having the exil e transform pieces of the text into aspects of his own life (46). In contrast to Wilde, Nabokov resurrects the Kantian view that observers should come as close to an unde rstanding of objects as they can. Ones perception of reality may be inexact, but sel f-indulgent relativism can lead to a failure to perceive specificity, uniqueness, and, in the end, pity (Andrews 41). By highlighting
53 Hazels suffering and death, Nabokov honors her humanity and reminds us of that the judgment of beauty is tied to the viewers individual, and fallible, aesthetic sensibility. As my second chapter shows, beauty itself in these novels remains a worthy value. Following in the tradition of the Decadents and Symbolists, Dorian Gray and Pale Fire demonstrate that beauty can provide at least a temporary transcendence from the limits of mortal life and the pain of daily existence. By expl oring the theme of transcendence in the two novels I hope to define more cl early the balance between the advantages and disadvantages to aesthetic experience that Dorian Gray and Pale Fire articulate.
54 Chapter Two Transcendence: The Rewards of Experiencing Beauty Like the Decadents and Symbolists, the characters in Dorian Gray and Pale Fire find beauty to be a powerful and transforma tive force. For the artistsBasil Hallward, Sibyl Vane, and John Shadethis power means that earthly beauty can provide insight into the noumenal world. They seek artistic inspiration and find th eir art transformed by their experiences with beauty. For the spectatorsLord Henry and Charles Kinbote beauty serves as a way to transcend the pa in of daily existence. By watching and manipulating beauty, they achieve temporary re lief from lifes sorrows. For those treated as objectsDorian Gray and Hazel Shadethe expectations of beauty drive them to a frustrating search for any form of transce ndence. They become overwhelmed by despair and find their only escape in death. While both novels illustrate beautys power to provide transcendence, Pale Fire also portrays the tragedy that occurs when beauty is found lacking. The Artists: Idealists In both Dorian Gray and Pale Fire the artistsBasil, Sibyl, and Shadesee earthly beauty as a reflection of a metaphysical ideal. The transcendence they feel in this momentary vision inspires them, and they use their art as a means of communicating their insights to the outside world. Each artists tr anscendent experience differs significantly. Basil achieves a potential glimpse of the Plat onic ideal, and he expr esses this vision in Dorians portrait. Because he has created an aesthetical idea of Dorian, however, he loses touch with his friends humanity. Sibyl beli eves she has had a transcendent vision, but her imagination proves incapable of real insi ght; she can only perceive Dorian as a fairy-
55 tale prince, and, instead of receiving artistic inspiration, she loses her ability to act. Shade recognizes the ideal in his wifes beauty and becomes inspired by her. He also sees the beauty of composition as a way to gain ev en greater insight, as well as a means of communicating his metaphysical understanding. Yet the beauty he perceives in Sybil and in composition only reinforces the associa tion he makes between Hazels ugliness and death. Both Wilde and Nabokov evoke the Platonic idea l in the portrayals of their artists transcendent visions. In Platos Phaedrus Socrates describes an immortal world where human souls, by following in the path of the gods, can get a glimpse of what truly is without colour, without form, intangible, visi ble to reason alone (123) He theorizes that those souls who have seen most will enter in to a seed from which will come a man who is destined to be a lover of wisdom or lover of beauty (125 ). When these men see beauty in the material world, they are reminded of true beauty (127) and experience a strong reaction: they [. .] are du mbfounded; they are no longer masters of themselves (128). The vision of beauty then leads to love: Besides the awe [the lovers soul] feels before the possessor of beauty, it has also found the so le healer of its great suffering. This is the feeling, [. .] which men call love (131). Following Pl atos model, Wilde and Nabokov portray that emotional moment each artist experiences when encountering the beautiful. Yet these visions of beauty do not always lead to love. Basils idolatry, Sibyls imagination, and Shades prejudice all di stort the artists ability to find true transcendence. In characterizing Basils first meeting with Dorian, Wilde invokes this moment of Platonic vision. Basil reacts physically and emo tionally to his first sight of the beautiful
56 Dorian Gray: I felt that I was growing pale A curious sensation of terror came over me. [. .] I knew that I had come face to face w ith some one whose mere personality was so fascinating that, if I allowed it to do so, it w ould absorb my whole nature, my whole soul, my very art itself (11). The artist then begins to worshi p Dorian, and, like the Platonic lover, gets relief from pain by being with hi s beloved: I was only happy when I was with you (89). Because the artist has created an ae sthetical idea of Dorian, however, he fails to experience true Platonic love, instead ach ieving only a curious ar tistic idolatry (15). He worships his aestheti cal idea rather than lovi ng a fellow human being. Wilde reveals less about Sibyls firs t response to Dorian, but the young actress seems equally moved. She grows shy, her eyes opened wide in exquisite wonder (46), and she later exclaims repeatedly to her family how happy she is (51). She then describes her feelings in Platoni c terms: I love him because he is like what Love himself should be (52). Sibyls imagination, how ever, proves unworthy of obtaining real transcendent insight. Instead of perceiving Pl atonic beauty, she s ees only a fairy-tale image. The mistake is tragic. Sibyl loses her artistic ability, leaving her with no medium in which to express her emotions (Varty 116), and she kills herself in despair. Pale Fires artist, John Shade, does receive a transcendent vision, not through the flawed Hazel but through the beautiful Syb il. As it did for Wildes artists, Shades transcendent moment overwhelms him emoti onally: How could you, in the gloam of Lilac Lane, / Have let uncouth, hysterical J ohn Shade / Blubber your face, and ear, and shoulder blade? (2.272-75). Of the novels th ree artists, Shade comes closest to experiencing Platonic love. He makes his adoration evident in the poems blazon to Sybils beauty and in its tender praise of her most trivial ge stures. Like Wildes artists,
57 though, Shade ultimately proves incapable of th is idealized love. He betrays Sybil by having an affair with one of his students,1 and his perception of beauty in his wife only enhances the ugliness he sees in his daughter. For Basil and Shade, this transcendent visi on of beauty proves valuable in that it inspires their work. Kofman relates Basils experience to the one Plato describes in the Symposium (27). In this work Socrates teaches those de siring happiness to begin by seeking beauty in one human being, which then leads the seeker to pe rceive beauty in all forms. Wilde grants Basil th is inspiration. As Lord Henr y comments, the painter finds that the mere shapes and patterns of things se em as if they were th emselves patterns of some other and more perfect form whose shad ow they made real (34). Basil similarly describes the feeling as a subtle influence that passed from him to me, enabling the artist to see in the plain woodland the wonder [he] had always looked for, and always missed (14). This inspiration is signif icant, but temporary. The artist produces masterpieces under Dorians influence, but, as Lord Henry comments, when Dorian and Basil ceased to be great friends, [the latter] ceased to be a great artist (163). Basil takes comfort in his other paintings of Dorian: When you were aw ay from me you were still present in my art (89). Yet the artists loss of ability shows that he needs the real Dorian to provide inspiration. His transformation of Do rian into an aesthetical idea alienates the two from each other, and the artists work suffers for it. Sibyl Vane believes that Dorians beauty inspires her: He is going to be [at the theater] and [. .] Oh! how I shall play [Julie t]! [. .] I am afraid I may frighten the company, frighten or enthrall them (56). What she finds, however, is that she can no longer act. Rather than being inspired by a true transcende nt vision, Sibyl comes to see
58 the drama of the theater as nothing but sha dows (69). She thinks Dorian has revealed something higher to her, something of which all art is but a reflec tion (70), but Sibyl can only imagine a fairy-tale beauty, not the Platonic ideal. Like Tennysons Lady of Shalott to whom she alludes, Sibyl can only perceive the wo rld as a distortion.2 When Tennysons Lady tries to break through her dist orted vision to see the beautiful Lancelot directly, the process destroys her; Bronfen calls it the absolute cancellation of her existence (167). Sibyl suffers a similar fate When her Prince Charming rejects her, Sibyl is left with neither the theater nor the fairy tale to protect her, and she literally cancels her existence by killing herself. Pale Fires artist, John Shade, does obtain inspir ation from a vision of beauty, his wife Sybil. Shade acknowledges his wifes in fluence in his poem: And all the time, and all the time, my love, / You too are there, beneath the word, above / The syllable (4.94951). In addition to Platonic inspiration, his f eelings echo those of the Russian Symbolists, who saw the beauty of women as a manifest ation of what Vladimir Solovyov calls the Eternal Feminine soul, or Sophi a. This divine feminine presence appeared as a prominent motif in Russian Symbolist poetry, with the poets depicting the earthly love between a man and woman as a reflection of a union with this spirit. Alexander Blok thought of his wife as a form of Sophia, and in a series of poems to her, called Poems on the Lady Beautiful (1905), he desc ribes her influence: Enraptured by a mystery great, Triumphantly I stand And know full well that not by chance Are prophecies at hand. (qtd. in Maslenikov 158)
59 This feminine presence enables the poet to receive prophecies, moments of transcendental insight, that Nabokov recaptures in the inspiration Shade receives from his wife. Shades verse, however, indicates that he has another muse in addition to Sybil. Shade precedes the words You too are there w ith these: that odd muse of mine, / My versipel, is with me everywhere, / In carre l and in car, and in my chair (4.946-48). A versipel is a creature capable of ch anging from one form to another (Nabokov Novels 893 n483.29), which points to Hazel. Unlike S ybil, whom Shade believes remains constant and loving throughout his life, Hazel s nature constantly changes. The poet associates her with the white butterflies that turn lavender as they / Pass through the shade of a tree (1.55-56). She evolves from the young girl who plays Mah-jongg with her parents (2.360) and asks for help with hom ework, into one who is difficult, morose (2.357). And she eventually dies, changing from matter to spirit. A lthough Shade realizes that he has a second muse, I suggest that he is unable to identify it as Hazel because of her lack of beauty. However, the text itself reveals that the sources of inspiration are more inclusive; both beauty and ugliness inspire the artist.3 Although Nabokov portrays Shades perception of his wifes beauty as both a Platonic vision and a reflection of Solovyovs eternal feminine, Pale Fires author also gives his poet a metaphysical sensibility similar to his own. Nabokov believes in what he terms cosmic synchronizati on, the concept that one is somehow connected at any moment to other seemingly random events: a car [. .] passes along the road, a child bangs the screen door [. .], an old man yawns ( Speak Memory 218). Somehow these
60 events are linked, and the best one can do is tr y to understand ones position in regard to the universe and to express th is insight in poetry (218). Nabokov grants this sense of synchronization to Pale Fires poet, John Shade. As J. B. Sisson notes, Shades description of a childhood blackout depicts a moment of synchronization when the mind not only sees everything in the universe but expands physically through all space and time (158). Th is passage appears at the end of Canto One: I felt distributed through space and time: One foot upon a mountaintop, one hand Under the pebbles of a panting strand, One ear in Italy, one eye in Spain, In caves, my blood, and in the stars, my brain. There were dull throbs in my Triassic; green Optical spots in Upper Pleistocene, An icy shiver down my Age of Stone, And all tomorrows in my funnybone. (1.148-56) Sisson points out that Nabokov's primary device of cosmic synchronization [. .] is the catalogue of remote activity (158). Nabokov ill ustrates this device in Shades poem, such as when the poet mentions his birthday in relation to other, seemingly random, events: Today Im sixty-one. Waxwings are berry-pecking. A cicada sings (2.181-82). The two passages reveal an evolution in Sh ades existential unde rstanding. While his childhood episode felt exhilarating, it was al so embarrassing: The wonder lingers and the shame remains (1.166). As an adult, Sh ade feels more comfortable trusting that
61 someone is coordinating Events and objects w ith remote events / And vanished objects (3.827-28). He believes that by understanding this topsy-turv ical coincidence (3.809), he can find his place in the cosmic scheme and communicate that knowledge through his poetry. Shade is never certain about what he learns; he only has faith that a correspondence, or a synchronization, exists be tween his verse and the uni-verse: if my private universe scans right, / So does the verse of galaxies divine (4.974-75). Shade also captures this sense of corr espondence in his use of butterfly imagery. The poet connects the colorful Vanessa Atal anta butterfly to Sybil: Come and be worshipped, come and be caressed, / My da rk Vanessa (2.269-70). He associates the Vanessa Atalantas beauty with his wifes, and as Kinbote notes, th e poet also links the butterflys name to the character Vanessa in Jonathan Swifts Cadenus and Vanessa (1726). In Swifts poem, Vanessa passionately lo ves the poet, just as Shade believes his wife loves him. Shade connects the blander Toothwort White butterfly twice in his poem to Hazel. In the first canto, he comments that White butterflies turn lavender as they / Pass through its [the trees] shade where gently seems to sway / The phantom of my little daughters swing (1.55-57), and, in the second, interrupts a description of Hazel to add that The Toothwort White haunted our woods in May (2.316). As Boyd points out, the Toothwort resembles Hazel; the insect is a dingy white, with a visible scaling, and shy like the difficult, morose Hazel, who has psoriasis ( Nabokovs 136). In addition to resembling her physically, the butterfly behaves like her. It haunted the Shades woods (2.316) just as Hazels po ltergeist antics haunt thei r home like a domestic ghost (2.230). Shade recognizes that, together, th e dark and light butterflies demonstrate a
62 correlated pattern to existence (3.813). Ho wever, Shades existence is determined by his author, and Nabokov has created a larger pa ttern with the butterf lies than he allows his character to discern. Shades allusion to Swifts poem reflects the similarities between the two love relationships, but Nabokovs poet should have read more of Swif ts verse. In the following lines, Swift warns his poet that he has deceived himself about Vanessa: Thou hast, as thou shalt quickly see, Deceived thyself, [. .] ; For how can heavenly wisdom prove An instrument to earthly love? [ . . . . . . . . . . . . . .] Nor shall Vanessa be the theme To manage thy abortive scheme: She'll prove the greatest of thy foes. (292-300) These lines would make Shade reconsider th e heavenly wisdom he feels from his own Vanessa, Sybil, inspiring his abortive scheme , his unfinished poem. The greatest of Shades foes is death, which is what the Vanessa Atalanta actua lly foretells. Nabokov has the butterfly appear as a harbinger of death three times.4 Its name is scrambled in the warning that Hazel receives in the barn from Aunt Maud, as Boyd explicates by capitalizing the applicable letters: pada ATA LANe pad noT ogo old wArT ALAN Ther tAle feur fAr rAnT LANT tAl told ( Nabokovs 133).5 It flitters by just before Shade is killed (4.993-95),6 and it appears near the assassin Gradus (202). Like Sybil, this butterfly is a metaphysical messenger, although Shade does not perceive its message.
63 As I have noted, Shade has also failed to detect the inspiration he receives from his versipel, the unbeautiful H azel. I suggest that, in addition to having Hazel inspire her fathers poetry, Nabokov presents the young woman and her correspondence, the Toothwort, as visible emblems of Shades soul. Boyd connects Hazels resemblance to the Toothwort and her trip to the barn to Brownings poem Pippa Passes (1843).7 He notes that Brownings poem contains a refere nce to the Greek myth of Psyche, and that Websters Second dictionary (Nabokovs fa vorite) glosses Psyche as A lovely maiden, the personification of the soul, usuall y represented with the wings of a butterfly, emblematic of immortality (qtd. in B oyd 142). Although Boyd uses the connection to Psyche to argue Hazels post-death inspirati on, I suggest that Hazels appearance, while she is alive, has metaphysical meaning. The unattractive, psoria tic (2.355) young Hazel and the bland, scaly Toothwort are corresponden ces of Shades soul, which is also ugly: he has cheated on his wife a nd been cruel to his daughter. Additionally, Shade only apprec iates the beauty of the Toothwort when it turns lavender in the shade. The colo r lavender represents memory,8 and it is only through the poets recollection of his daughter in his poem, her passage fr om the paleness of death to the lavender of his memory, that he fully appreciates her. Through the two butterfly allusions, Nabokov develops a more intricate co rrelated pattern (3.813) than he allows his poet to discern. Nabokov connects the Vane ssa Atalanta to deat h and the Toothwort to the immortal soul, a concep t directly opposite to Shades. Shade perceives his wife as a tie to the immortal world and hi s daughter as a reminder of death. Nabokovs depiction of the ugly Hazel a nd the ugly Toothw ort as corresponding representatives of the soul is similar to Wild es use of the degrading portrait. The hideous
64 figure in the painting has served as a symbol of Dorians evil soul. Similarly, Hazels hideous appearance has been a sign of Shades evil soul. While both Dorian Grays and Pale Fires artists trust in beautys ability to provide transcendence, Wilde and Nabokov demonstrate that ugliness too can be a source of transcendental insight. Dorians portrait and Hazels correspondence with the Toot hwort butterfly also hold metaphysical meaning; as Dorian comments, The soul is a terrible reality (164 my emphasis). Through the portrayals of all of the ar tists in these novels, Wilde and Nabokov demonstrate beautys potential to offer tr anscendental insight. Basil perceives the Platonic ideal in Dorians beauty, and that pe rception benefits his art. Because he forms an aesthetical idea of Dorian, however, Basil s inspiration is limited. His art declines as Dorian drifts from his life. His idea of Dorian also causes him to fatally misjudge the evil side of his idols nature. Sibyl has escaped her unhappy life through the beauty of drama, but she rejects that life when she meets Dorian. Rather than recognizing the Platonic ideal, Sibyl imagines only a fairy-tale prince. Her art suffers, and her princes unexpected rejection leads her to suicide. Shad e receives inspiration from the beauty of his wife and his own poetry, but his obsession with beauty causes him to see the ugly Hazel as a constant reminder of his ow n mortality. While depicting beautys transcendental potential, how ever, Wilde and Nabokov caution that the insight can be distorted or misunderstood. Beauty holds tr anscendental meaning, but not everyone is capable of fully recognizing that meaning. The spectatorsLord Henry and Kinbot ehave different expectations of beauty. Finding life to be full of misery, they turn to aesth etic experience to transcend their grief. The results are powerful but te mporary. Lord Henry and Kinbote find their
65 greatest moments of happiness in aesthetic contemplation, but their despair quickly returns. Further, because they fail to empathize with the objec ts of their ga ze, they treat others callously, not noti cing the harm they cause. The Spectators: Escapists The characters I designate as sp ectatorsLord Henry and Kinbotesee aesthetic experience as a way to improve th e quality of their daily lives. For them, transcendence does not mean gaining insight into a noumenal world but rather escaping the pain of their lived reality. Like the D ecadents in general, Lord Henry and Kinbote seek escape from a Schopenhauerian cycle of constant striving and suffering through aesthetic contemplation. Schope nhauer teaches that everything is beautiful, but he argues that one thing is more beautiful than a nother, because it makes this pure objective contemplation easier ( World §41), and man is more beautiful than all other objects. Wilde and Nabokov both portray their spectators as having the ability to perceive and benefit from many forms of beauty, but they focus their characters attention primarily on human beings. For Lord Henry, this person is Dorian Gray. For Kinbote, the main focus is John Shade; however, the unhappy exile also identifies with the Ophelia-like Hazel as an object of a spectators g aze. Further, in his Zemblan fantasy, Kinbote personifies Schopenhauers description of the madman, a fi gure who withdraws into a fantasy world, what Schopenhauer terms the lethe of une ndurable suffering (On Madness 318), to forget his overwhelming despair. While I relate Lord Henrys aesthetics to Schopenhauers, many critics seem to regard this character as merely an inade quate spokesman for Paters aesthetic theory.9 Andrews comments that Lord Henry takes Pa ters influence farther than Pater is
66 comfortable with (29), and Ellmann notes that Lord Henry is forever quoting, or misquoting, [. .] from Paters Studies in the History of the Renaissance (317). Certainly, Paters influence appears thr oughout the text, as Bonaparte notes: whole phrases from [Paters Studies ] make their way into Dorian Gray (228). She points out that Dorians lesson from Lord Henrytha t the aim of New Hedonism was to be experience itself, and not the fruits of expe rience, sweet or bitte r as they might be ( Dorian Gray 101)comes directly from Paters Not the fruit of experience, but experience itself, is the end (188). However, Wilde does not give Lord Henry the same goals that Pater has. Pater advocates fully experiencing every moment in order to delay death: we are all under sentence of death but with a sort of reprieve [. . .] our one chance lies in expanding that interval, in ge tting as many pulsations as possible into the given time (190). For Lord Henry, the point of experience is [t]o realize ones nature perfectlythat is what each of us is here fo r (19). In this statement of Lord Henrys creed, Wilde is not echoing Paters desire for transformative experience, but rather Schopenhauers belief that our daily experiences serve to reveal our true natures. Schopenhauer teaches that man is a phenomenon of will and thus can only live according to a nature that is predetermine d; however, we gain self-knowledge only a posteriori, through experience ( World §23): [E]very one believes himself a priori to be perfectly free [. . ] and thinks that at every moment he can commen ce another manner of life [. .]. But a posteriori, through experience, he finds to hi s astonishment that he is not free, but subject to necessity; that in spite of all his resolutions and reflections he does not change his co nduct, and that from the beginning of
67 his life to the end of it, he must ca rry out the very ch aracter which he himself condemns, and as it were play the part he has undertaken to the end. (§23) Wilde incorporates Schopenhauers ideology in to Lord Henrys training of Dorian. Lord Henry begins his lessons by calli ng Dorians attention to desi res he has already felt: you have had passions that have made you afrai d, thoughts that have filled you with terror (20). Dorian too realizes this influence has only reveal[ed] him to himself (22). Lord Henry instructs Dorian to expe rience life so that the younger man may come to realize his full nature, to know himself, not merel y, as Pater argues, to delay death. Wilde also follows Schopenhauer in pr esenting Lord Henrys influence over Dorian as immoral. Schopenhauer argues that man can be led astray by [. .] the craft, falseness, and wickedness of others ( World §55). Even though our nature is predetermined by our will, we do not fully know our nature until we reflect on it, and therefore can act out of confor mity with our will: I can never repent of what I have willed, though I can repent of what I have done; because, led by false conceptions, I did something that was not in conformity with my will (§55). Reflecting this theory, Wilde has Lord Henry appropriately declare, All in fluence is immoral. [. .] Because to influence a person is to give him ones own soul. He does not think his natural thoughts, or burn with his natural pa ssions (19). Although Lord He nry knows his influence is improper, he nevertheless delights in it becaus e Dorians beauty is his primary tool for aesthetic contemplation, and because the relationship gives him power. Lord Henry feels [t]here was something fascinating in this son of Love and Deat h (34); he watches
68 Dorian with a subtle sense of pleasure (47) ; and he remarks, with his beautiful face, and his beautiful soul, he was a thing to wonder at (49). Although Lord Henry encourages Dorian to gain experience, the mentor himself only wants to watch. Rather than gaining in sight into his own character, Lord Henry hopes to transcend his recurring, painful ennui through the aesthetic experience of watching Dorian. Wildes characterization he re again reflects Schopenhauers ideology. Schopenhauer describes two asp ects to life: the concrete, which involves suffering; and the abstract, the realm of th e spectator, in which contemplation silences the will: [B]esides his life in the concrete, ma n always lives another life in the abstract. In the former he is given as a prey to all the storms of actual life, [. .] he must struggle, suffer, and die like the brute. But his life in the abstract, [ ] is the still reflection of th e former [. .]. Here in the sphere of quiet deliberation, what comple tely possessed him and moved him intensely before, appears to him co ld, colourless, and for the moment external to him; he is merely the spectator, the observer. ( World §16) Lord Henry tries to remain in this peaceful realm of the spectator, believing that [t]o become the spectator of ones own life, [. .] is to escape the suffering of life (87). He remains impassive about Dorians fate: [ i]t was no matter how it all ended, or was destined to end (49). He expresses no concern for Basils disappearance: If Basil chooses to hide himself, it is no business of mind. If he is dead, I dont want to think about him (161). Indeed, Lord Henry turns most of his acquainta nces into aesthetic objects. He chooses his friends for their good looks (13), sees women as decorative (42), and even finds something [. .] quite beautiful about [Sibyls ] death (81). David
69 Walton argues that Lord Henry is successf ul in transcending su ffering: Lord Henry Wotton is the only major character to escape su ffering because he alone truly regards life as if it were an object or art: as if he were a spectator of it (27). However, as I pointed out in Chapter One, Lord Henry continues to suffer; he finds that [a]ll ways end at the same point, [. .] [d]isillusion (157). Wildes depiction of Lord Henrys ultimate disillusionment reflects Sc hopenhauers view that aesthet ic contemplation is not a permanent departure from the world of desire [. .] it is more like a chain of single exalted experiences (Knox 130). The contem plation of beauty provides transcendence over pain, but it is only a temporary escape un til the striving of the will reasserts itself. For Pale Fires spectator, Charles Kinbot e, aesthetic contemplation also serves to temporarily relieve suffering. Kinbotes homos exuality has made him an exile in a homophobic society. Because his existence is so painful, he escapes into the beautiful fantasy world of Zembla, what Galef terms an aesthetic retreat from reality (427). In creating Kinbotes need for Zembla, Na bokov, like Wilde, draws on Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer describes this type of fantasy escape as madness. Whereas some people, as illustrated by Dorian Grays Lord Henry, find relief in observing life, Schopenhauers madman finds life so excrucia ting that he suppresses his pain and replaces it with pleasurable fantasies: When certain events or circumstances become for the intellect completely suppressed, because the will cannot endur e the sight of them, and then, for the sake of the necessary connection, th e gaps that thus arise are filled up at pleasure; thus madness appears. For the intellect has given up its nature to please the will: the man now imagin es what does not exist. Yet the
70 madness which has thus arisen is no w the lethe of unendurable suffering. [. .] one may thus regard the orig in of madness as a violent casting out of the mind of anything, which, howev er, is only possible by taking into the head something else (On Madness 318) Nabokovs use of this Schopenhauerian model reflects that of an early Decadent author, Joris-Karl Huysmans. As Elisa Glick notes, the protagonist in Huysmanss Rebours, Des Esseintes, also suppresses his pain by creating a fantasy: a self-created world [built] by aestheticizing experience itse lf that will transport him beyond ordinary reality and to a place where the past is banished (142-43). Des Esseintes describes the desire as an impulse towards the fantastic, the land of dreams (Huysmans 290-91), a depiction that, I suggest, prefigures Kinbotes Zembla. Kinbote imagines Zembla as an idyllic land where even Taxation had become a thing of beauty (75), where he holds power as king, and where his looks, though ridiculed in New Wye, are the norm: A ll brown-bearded, apple-cheeked, blue-eyed Zemblans look alike (76). It is also a land filled with at tractive, Dorian-like boys, who provide the king with his own scopoph ilic pleasure. Similar to Schopenhauers madman, Kinbote temporarily forgets the pa in of his existenc e by escaping into a beautiful fantasy world. At some level, however, Kinbote realizes that Zembla is not real; he must turn to Shade to make the fantasy come true: On ce transmuted by you into poetry, the stuff will be true (214). Unlike Lord Henry, who finds delight in Dorians beauty but who keeps an emotional distance from the younger man, Kinbot e falls in love with Shade, and finds, as Steven Bruhm describes, a safe closet in which to express [his] censored sexuality
71 (81). The two do not have a sexual relationshi p, but Shade is the one person in New Wye who befriends Kinbote and allows the exile to feel safe. Because Kinbote is in love with Shade, the poets physical unattractiveness does not deter Kinbote from using him as an obj ect for aesthetic cont emplation, and, this contemplation provides relief from pain: M y admiration for him was for me a sort of alpine cure. I experienced a grand sense of wonder whenever I looked at him (27). Kinbote even turns Shades death into a dram atic tragedy, as Dorian does with Sibyls. Dorian states that Sibyls suicide has all th e terrible beauty of a Greek tragedy, a tragedy in which I took a great part but by which I have not b een wounded (80). Similarly, Kinbote terms Shades death a tragedy in whic h I had been not a chance witness but the protagonist (299), and one in which the exile has not been wounded. Neither the beauty of Zembla nor his us e of Shade as a source of aesthetic contemplation, however, is enough to provide Kinbote complete relief from pain. The despairing exile increasingly longs for suicide. He proclaims that the Ophelia-like Hazel deserves great respect, ha ving preferred the beauty of death to the ugliness of life (312), and he identifies with her lonelin ess, glossing Shades lines about Hazela white-scarfed beau / Would never come for her (2.333-34)with Would he ever come for me? (184). Just as Dorian Grays Lord Henry claims, I have sorrows, Dorian, of my own, that even you know nothing of (277) so Kinbote tells his readers, I have suffered very much, and more than any of you can imagine (300). Schopenhauer argues that, despite moments of aesthetic -induced respite, the will continues to assert itself, even instigating a desire for suicide: suicide is a phenomenon of strong as sertion of the will ( World §69). When the circumstances of ones life cause great suffering, the will to live
72 [. .] cannot put forth its energies (§69); the suicide desires a t ranscendental change that would destroy the individual life, the ma nifestation of will. Kinbotes will, thwarted by the circumstances of his ex istence, urges him toward su icide. Although Kinbote does not finally kill himself, neither does he de monstrate Schopenhauers understanding that, because the will itself would not be destroyed, suicide is vai n and foolish (§69). Rather, Kinbote merely postpones the urge, continui ng to try to relieve his suffering through aesthetic contemplation. Both Lord Henry and Kinbote end disillusi oned but continue trying to aestheticize life. Wilde leaves Lord Henry resigned to his unhappy existence You [Dorian] and I are what we are, and will be what we w ill be (278)and seeking another moment of relief from an experience with beauty: Com e round tomorrow. [. .] The Park is quite lovely now. Nabokov makes Kinbotes e nd more ambiguous. Although the author contends that Kinbote committed su icide after finishing the book ( Strong Opinions 74), Kinbote assures us that he sha ll continue to exist, and may find other aesthetic means of escape, as a writer in exile, produci ng a motion picture or stage play, or even returning to Zembla (301). Through the portrayals of their spectato rs, Wilde and Nabokov demonstrate that experiences with beauty can provide tem porary transcendence over suffering, but that aesthetic contemplation alone cannot fully eliminate the pain inherent in existence. Both Lord Henry and Kinbote remain locked in a Sc hopenhauerian cycle of despair relieved by moments of aesthetic pleasure, and Kinbote in creasingly desires suicide. Further, they show how spectatorship harms those who beco me objects of the gaze. For those whose existence is formed solely by their role s as aesthetic objectsDorian and Hazel
73 transcendence in any form remains ultimately el usive. They fail to find either existential meaning or more than momentary relief from suffering, and, like Ophe lia, their pain leads to despair. The Objects: Failed Seekers While the artists in these two novels find metaphysical transcendence through beauty, and the spectators achieve a te mporary transcendence over suffering through beauty, the aesthetic objects themselves, Dorian Gray and Hazel Shade, remain lost in a myriad of frustrating attempts to achieve eith er noumenal insight or respite from despair. Because they are treated as aesthetic objects, Dorian and Hazel behave accordingly. Their recognition of their roles reflects Louis Althussers concept of interpellation (1503); the so cial forces of their friends and family define their subjectivity. In Wildes novel Dorian uses his be auty to attract admirers and to behave as the visible symbol of new Hedonism (23). In Pale Fire Hazel lives as an ugly object; she develops an ugly temperament (morose a nd rebellious) and, because she cannot be a beautiful spectacle, she isolates herself in an attempt to withdraw from the painful onslaught of the spectators gaze. Both Dorian and Hazel have tried to find happiness. Following the influence of the novels artists, they make attempts at transcendental knowledge. For Dorian, noumenal insight means coming to understand the desires of his will. This insight begins with his recognition of himself as an object of beauty. When Dorian sees the portrait, the narrator tells us, [he] recogni zed himself for the first time (25). Interpellated as an aesthetic object by Lord Henrys seductive words and Basils glor ious painting, Dorian then begins to behave like a beautiful object. Walton suggests that [Dorian tries] to live
74 as an object of art or genius as Schopenha uer saw it (27). Schope nhauers geniuses are those who, as Dale Jacquette explains, become so focused on beauty th at they merge into a unity with the object: the aes thetic genius stands so enra ptured in an encounter with beauty or the sublime that there occurs so mething like a mystical union of the subject with the object in a dissolving of the subject-object distincti on (8). Dorian is certainly enraptured by his own beauty when he firs t sees the painting: he drew back, and his cheeks flushed for a moment with pleasure. A look of joy came into his eyes, [. .] He stood there motionless and in w onder (25). Rather than losi ng the distinction between subject and object, however, Dorian wants to ac tually change places with the painting: If it were I who was to be always young, and the pi cture that was to grow old (26), and he gets his wish. As the portrait changes, Do rian remains physically beautiful while the portrait degrades. He does not understand his full nature, though, his capacity for both good and evil, and the portraits incr easing hideousness torments him. Because Dorian understands himself so littl e, he lets Lord Henry lead him along a path alien to his own will. Schopenhauer s uggests that a man who lacks self-knowledge finds in himself the germs of all the va rious human pursuits a nd powers; thus like children at the fair, [we] snatch at everything that attracts us and skip about like a will o the wisp, and attain to nothing ( World §55). Such abortive attempts, however, will do violence to [ones] character, and what he thus painfully attains will give him no pleasure (§55). Dorians drug use, his obsessi on with gems, tapestries, music, and other items of beauty all become ineffectual ways of finding what trul y makes him happy, what satisfies his individual will. He finds that each new pursuit eventually bores him and he tries another, becoming tired of himself (116).
75 After Sibyls death, Dorian l ooks at the hideous portrait and decides that it is his true nature to be evil: There were passions in him that would fi nd their terrible outlet, dreams that would make the shadow of their evil real (93). This insight confirms his earlier perception that his nature has been fo rmed by both real and literary forebears. By using the portrait as a visual record of Do rians deeds, a document of his own guilty past (Brown 80), Wilde illustrates Schopenhauers contention that it is only through reflection on our deeds that we gain self-know ledge. Dorians last look at the disfigured painting shows him that his final attempt at reform, that of sparing Hetty, was only selfserving: Through vanity he had spared her. In hypocrisy he had worn the mask of goodness. [. .] He recognized that now (169). Dorian cannot bear this literal picture of his acts, and thus he destroys the painting in an effort to kill the past (169). Dorians true nature, though, contains as pects of both good and evil, as evidenced by his earlier charity work and the torment that his conscience causes. The portrait records only the deeds committed under Lord Henrys immoral influence. Rather than gaining selfknowledge, Dorian tries to erase his evil deeds, and th e act ends his life. Dorian destroys the manifestation of his will, and the portrait re gains its original beauty, the thing-in-itself that has a harmony of body and soul. Like Dorian, Pale Fires Hazel Shade also seeks metaphysical transcendence. Her attempt is not directed at disc overing her own nature but rather at trying to communicate with a mysterious light in a barn, as if it were a paranor mal entity. Hazel makes three trips, diligently recording the odd sounds and movements of the light. She believes the light responds to her questi ons, but when it seems to come toward her, she becomes overwhelmingly conscious that she was alone in the compa ny of an inexplicable and
76 perhaps very evil being (190), and she runs ho me. This attempt at transcendental insight fails; she never understands th e warning from Aunt Maud. Just as these attempts at metaphysical transcendence fail for both Dorian and Hazel, so too do their endeavors to transcend, more than momentarily, the pain of daily life. Dorian instinctively knows that intense contemplation can ease suffering. When Lord Henrys words first begin to unsettle him, Dorian stares at a bee with that strange interest in trivial things that we try to deve lop when things of high import make us afraid (24). Watching the bee calms him; he soon smiles at Lord Henry. Throughout the novel, Dorian repeats this fluctuation between f ear and pleasure. His sensuous indulgences become a circular path from satisfying his will to calming it. As Schopenhauer teaches, satisfaction of desire is not a positive joy but a temporar y appeasement of a need (Knox 129). Dorian spends years coll ecting elaborately decorated an d fantastic objects, each time becoming absolutely absorb ed for the moment in whatever he took up (107), but these aesthetic diversions only provide a tem porary appeasement. They enable Dorian to forget, temporarily, his growing fear: everythi ng that he collected in his lovely house, were to be to him means of forgetfulness, modes by which he could escape, for a season, from the fear that seemed to him at times to be almost too great to be borne (109). In addition to his collections, he e xperiences other moments of temporary transcendence over pain. When he leaves the theater, distressed by Sibyls performance, he stops to contemplate some flowers and finds their beauty seemed to bring him an anodyne for his pain (71). When the pain b ecomes more intense, after he learns of Sibyls suicide, Dorian must aestheticize their whole relationship as the terrible beauty of a Greek tragedy, a tragedy in which I took a great part (80), and so it becomes for him
77 another marvellous experience (82). Schopenhauer contends that the satisfaction derived from one experience will only lead to ennui Similarly, Dorian moves from his marvellous experience (82) to feeling d readfully bored (85). After Basils murder, Dorian first turns to Gautiers poetry to calm himself. That aesthetic relief, too, is only brief: after a time the book fell from his ha nd. He grew nervous, and a horrible fit of terror came over him (128). He then turns from desiring escape through beauty to seeking reality through ugliness, from silenci ng the will to indulging it: From cell to cell of his brain crept the [. .] wild desire to li ve, most terrible of all mans appetites [. .]. Ugliness that had once been hateful to him because it made things real, became dear to him now for that very reason (143). This c onstant wavering between the elation of each fulfilled desire and the pain of its realization drains him; he comes to feel that his own personality has become a burden (156) and desires only to escape, to go away, to forget. Thinking he can completely forget his past by destroying the evidence, he stabs the portrait, but the deeds reco rded there are part of his fu ll nature, and he only succeeds in killing his physical body. Like Dorian, Pale Fires Hazel tries to transcend the pain of her life through haphazard attempts at aesthetic pleasure. She knows she is expected to be beautiful; she has heard her parents criticis m and been rejected socially. To relieve her despair, she twists words (2.347), suppresses her loneline ss at school by reading or knitting (2.340), tries on her mothers furs (2.360), and vi sits France (2.336). These attempts offer momentary relief, but, most of the time, She hardly ever smiled (2.350). Galef notes, for example, Hazels trip to France only occasions more unhappiness (422). Hazels decision to leave her friends after her bli nd date rejects her indicates her depression.
78 Rather than staying at the bar with Jane and her fianc, Hazel decide s to ride the bus to Lochanhead and then walk alone in the darkness. Nabokovs text remains ambiguous as to whether Hazel drowns intentionally or accidentally. Just as Hamlets Queen Gertrude describes Ophelias drowning from hearsay, so Shade describes his daughters last moments even though he too did not witness the event. The clues in Pale Fire can be added up to point to either conclusion. Shades description indicates that the death ma y have been an accide nt, but also that he believes it was suicide: People have thought she tr ied to cross the lake At Lochan Neck where zesty skaters crossed From Exe to Wye on days of special frost. Others supposed she might have lost her way By turning left from Bridgeroad; and some say She took her poor young life. I know. You know. [. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .] A blurry shape stepped off the reedy bank Into a crackling, gulping swamp, and sank. (2.488-500) The phrases I know. You know following S he took her poor young life, and the use of stepped rather than, for example, slipped off the bank, indicate that Shade believes Hazel intentionally killed herself. Kinbote also thinks Hazels death was a purposeful act: [she] preferred the beauty of death to the ugliness of life (312). Many critics accept the death as in tentional (e.g., Galef 421, Boyd Nabokovs 29, Meyer Find 5). However, Shades and Kinbotes perspec tives are distorted. Shade only begins to
79 understand his daughter fully as he works his way through the poem. Kinbote longs for suicide himself and projects his own desires onto Hazel. Several clues point to a di fferent conclusion. Shades opening lines, I was the shadow of the waxwing slain / By the false azu re in the windowpane (1.1-2), describe a bird accidentally killed by the azure color of the sky reflected in a window. The poet uses azure again to describe the bars entrance where Hazel is rejected by her blind date, which associates the birds accidental deat h with Hazels. Another death in the novel adds to the ambiguity: Iris Acht s falsely-reported suicide. Ki nbote records that Iris died officially by her own hand; unofficially, [she was] strangled (305); i.e., she was reported to have committed suicide but was actually murdered. Boyd notes that Hazels name links her to Iris: Haze l is rare as a color word in be ing so preponderantly applied to a single object, [. .] the co lored part of the eye, the iris ( Nabokovs 160). He also points out that Hazel is an actress lik e Iris: among the few scenes we witness of Hazel are her roles as Mother Time in a school pantomime, as a participant in a tr iptych or a three-act play on the domestic stage, [and] as Daught er in the playlet of The Haunted Barn (160). Nabokov gives no indication that Hazel ha s been murdered, as Iris was, but Hazel may not have killed herself. The ambiguity of her death, however, only strengthens her relation to Ophelia. Neither Nabokov nor Shakes peare allows his heroine to assert her own desires. Instead, both wo men function primarily to assist in the male characters development. Both Dorian and Hazel, then, are tragical ly affected by their roles as aesthetic objects. They know the parts they are supposed to play: Dorian tries to live his life as a work of art, as the visible symbol of new Hedonism (23), but he only loses his nature
80 through his experiments (Di Mauro-Jackson 143); Hazel understa nds that she cannot fulfill the role expected of women, to be beau tiful, and therefore withdraws into isolation. Dorians and Hazels frustrating attempts at tr anscendence, both in achieving insight into the noumenal world and at esca ping pain, fail to end their despair, and death becomes their only final relief. Conclusion As the Decadents and Symbolists did, the characters in both Dorian Gray and Pale Fire try to gain transcendence through their experiences with beauty. Both novels indicate that aesthetic experi ences can satisfy this goal tem porarily; yet they also show that transcendence can be limited by the viewers distorted perception. The characters need for transcendent beauty suggests a Schopenhauerian pessimism toward modern life. The characters seek answers to their place in the universe or relief from a constant cycle of sufferi ng and respite through experiences with the beautiful. Both the luxury of Wildes D ecadent London and the Arcadian suburbia of Nabokovs New Wye are portrayed as alienating and hostile environments from which the only escape is through either beauty or death. Yet Nabokov offers another alternative in Shades response to Kinbotes query: KINBOTE. And so the password is? SHADE. Pity. (225) By showing compassion towards those w ho are suffering, indivi duals can, if not redeem society, at least provide some bridge to others. Art still provides the ideal, as Wilde had suggested. Dorians restored pa inting models the harmony of body and soul. Nabokovs unfinished poem provides a revelation of the web of existence, but one that
81 only becomes complete when Hazels ugliness is valued as much as her mothers beauty. Beauty can provide transcendence, but onl y when aesthetes recognize their limited, distorted perspectives.
82 Conclusion Though written over half a centu ry apart, Oscar Wildes The Picture of Dorian Gray and Vladimir Nabokovs Pale Fire feature similar critique s of the aesthetes devotion to beauty. Both novels demonstrate th e trust that many modernists held in the ability of beauty to offer transcendence over the limits and suffering of mortal life. Yet they also call attention to th e dangers of aesthetic obsession. They show how a solipsistic and hedonistic pursuit of beauty can lead to treating people, too, as merely aesthetic objects. The authors employ different approaches Wilde constructs a chronological narrative interspersed with aspects of Goth ic horror to explore obsession and corruption. Nabokov creates a deceptive amalgam of poetry and scholastic parody to express loss and despair. Yet they unite in their reflection of fin de sicle Decadence and Symbolism, their portrayal of beauty as a subj ective judgment, and their format ion of similar roles for their main characters, that of artist spectator, or aesthetic object Together the novels provide a sensuous and haunting confluence of aesthe tic ecstasy and aesthetic cruelty that encourages respect for the power of beau ty while cautioning against its abuse. Wildes insider look at aristocratic Decadence illustrates how Londons wealthy aesthetes escape their industrialized, vulgar, fin de sicle society by cloaking themselves in beauty. Dandies Basil Hallward, Lord Henr y Wotton, and Dorian Gray fill their homes with elaborately decorated furnishings, clothe themselves in lush silks and finely tailored
83 suits, and devote their time to fine artpainti ngs, drama, music, and literature. Yet they find that corruption does not come from the seedier East End, portray ed by actress Sibyl Vane, but from their own apathy toward their fellow human beings. Nabokov relocates Decadence to the midtwentieth century, American suburb. The manicured landscapes of the innocent land (78) of New Wy e mask an equally insular and cold-hearted populace. John Shad es middle-class marriage and successful career hide an insensitive and frightened modern male, who betrays those he loves while searching desperately for existential meaning in his work. Charles Kinbote, the ridiculed homosexual and transplanted dandy, imagines hi mself superior to his less-sophisticated adversaries. Yet even his fantastical Zembla includes the constant approach of the enemy, the post-industrialized clockwork man ( 152), whose hopeless stupidity threatens to destroy the carefully crafted haven of the elitist aesthete. The real enemy in both novels turns ou t to be, not the philistines, but the aesthetes own myopic obsession with beauty. As the artists pursue metaphysical insight through beauty, they transform those around th em into aesthetical ideasBasils motive in art (15), Sibyls Prince Charming (51), or Shades dichotomy of inspirational muse versus symbol of mortality. The spectato rsLord Henry and Charles Kinbotebecome voyeuristic sadists, manipulating the object s of their gaze to relieve the painful ennui or isolation of their existence. The aesthetic desires of both artists and spectators harm themselves and those they objectify. Although the artists ga in some inspiration, their distorted perceptions blind them to a larger reality; Basil and Sibyl fail to recognize Dorians capacity for deceit, and Shade fails to discern the full correlated pattern (3.813) of his existence. The spectators re main caught in a Schopenhauerian cycle of
84 ecstasy and suffering, and they cruelly ma nipulate the objects of their gaze. Those interpellated as beautiful or ugly objects Dorian Gray and Hazel Shadefind their assigned roles lead only to despair. Dorian uses his physical beauty to pursue pleasure, while trying to avoid the remonstrances of hi s visible soul. Hazel realizes she cannot be the beautiful spectacle expected of women, and so withdraws or rebels against the critical gaze. Both make their own attempts at transcendence through beauty, but their efforts prove frustrating and, ultimately, only lead to more grief. The novels portrayals of aesthetic desire reflect a number of philosophical and theoretical viewpoints. Kants theory of depende nt beauty sheds light on the ways that the characters judge beauty based on a preconcep tion of the objects purpose. Mulveys and Drukmans theories explain how the spectators find pleasur e and ego-identification from the objects of their gaze, while devalui ng the objects subj ectivity. Ophelias victimization provides a pattern for understanding Dorians a nd Hazels similar fates. The desire for transcendence demonstrates the be lief that earthly beauty reflects a Platonic ideal or presence of the Eternal Feminine sp irit. This desire also reveals a sense of Schopenhauerian pessimism and the perception that the painful striving of the will can be suppressed through aesthe tic contemplation. Finally, the characters devotion to beauty illustrates the individuals attempt to combat the corruption and degr adation of the modern world by recognizing a higher ideal in art. Basils painting suggests a harmony of body and soul that Wildes characters never achieve. Shades poem reveals a complexity to Hazels nature that her father only belatedly understands. Viewed together, Dorian Gray and Pale Fire show that arts ideal can be realized only if the pursuit of beauty is accompanied by compassion.
85 Notes Introduction 1 Dorian dies by his own hand, but accidentally. He destroys the portr ait in an attempt to erase the past, but the act kills his body instead Hazels own actions also end her life; she steps or falls into a pond. I argue in Chapter Two that Nabokovs novel remains ambiguous in terms of whether this death was accidental or intentional. 2 Most critics interpret Dorian Gray as a fine-tuned critique of Decadent aestheticism. Christopher Nassaar contends that the novels message is that [a]n art that delves into the dark caverns of the soul and fully explores and celebrates the evil within can remain beautiful, but a way of life that seeks to translate inner evil into action will finally cease to be beautif ul and become an inescapable nightmare (71-72). Donald Lawler reads the work partly as an aesthetic a llegory: The aesthetic lesson [. .] for the artist or would-be artist is that life can be art only in ar t, never in life (449). Richard Ellmann describes Dorian Gray as a tragedy of aestheticism: the aesthetic novel par excellence, not in espousing the doctrine, but in exhibiting its dangers. [. .] The life of mere se nsation is uncovered as anarchic and self-destructive (315). Christopher Lane suggests that the corruptive possibilities of the painting are demonstrated and destroyed because they ruin a precarious distinction be tween life and art, subject and object, and imaginary and symbolic representation (47). Felicia Bonaparte argues that Dorian Gray is an attempt not to reject aestheticism per se, but to redefine it as a principle that can function only within carefully circumscribed moral boundaries (231). David Andrew s contends that the novel criticizes not aestheticism, but aesthetic hedonism, which aestheticizes all experience to give the aesthete gr eater opportunity for pleasure (27). Anne Daniel considers the work partly a critique of aestheticism (46), in Lord Henrys inaction (49) and in Basils reworking of the Pygmalion and Galatea myth. She suggests that Basil commits the (homosexual) physical act he desires by making the portrait into the real Dorian and the human Dorian into an ivory automaton (50). Notably, a Decadent novel that Dorian Gray draws heavily on, Joris-Karl Huysmans Rebours (1884), also critiqued Decadent aesthetics As Arthur Symons suggests, [Huysmans] showed us that sterilising influence of a narrow and se lfish conception of art, as he repres ented a particular paradise of art for arts sake turning inevitably into its corresponding hell. [. .] Worshipping colour, sound, perfume, for their own sakes, and not for their ministrations to a more divine beauty, he [protagonist Duc Jean des Esseintes] stupefied himself on the threshold of ecstasy (qtd. in Clayton 42). 3 Aspects of each of these authors works can be directly related to Pale Fire : Poes expression of love for the lost, young child in Annabel Lee (1850) resembles Shades poetic grief over his dead daughter; Baudelaires trust in Correspondences is similar to Shades; and Verlaines dislike of la pointe assasine, which Nabokov describes as introducing an epigrammatic or moral point at the end of a poem, and thereby murdering the poem ( Strong Opinions 129), offers one reason that Nabokov leaves Shades poem unfinished. Kinbote suggests that the final line of the poem would have repeated the first, I was the shadow of the waxing slain (292), which would supply an epigrammatic ending that too narrowly focuses on Shades death; the poem as a whole offers a mu ch larger consid eration of death and afterlife. 4 I agree with Andrews that Nabokovs aestheticis m resists stringent classification. As Andrews writes, Nabokovian aestheticism [. .] combines classical, romantic, modernist, and postmodernist elements (64). However, I feel that relating Pale Fire to Russian Symbolism helps clarify the novels treatment of beauty, transcendence, and aesthetic objectification. For a discussion of Nabokov as a formalist rather than Symbolist, see Michael Glynn.
86 5 James West notes that it is customary to divide the Russian symbolists into an earlier, decadent group, [. .] and a second generation, whose leading representatives were Ivanov, Bely, and Blok (2). 6 West states that the second-generation Symbolis ts felt the need to temper the doctrine of individualism with a summons to some form of collectivity. This need [. .] appears in at least three guises: as an attempt to find a force that would bind each i ndividual to a common, absolute world order; as a longing for a universal means of communication among men; and as a desire for a common bond between the artist and the people (131). 7 Shade even offers a sermon on Why Poetry Is Meaningful to Us (4.683-85), which could be Nabokovs mild rebuke to Symbolist critics. Shades poem may be one individuals vision, but it is Meaningful to society. 8 Struve adds that many Russian migr critics kept referring to his [Nabokovs] unRussianness, to his lack of ties with Russian literatu re and its traditions (154). Struve finds an exception to Nabokovs coldness in The Luzhin Defense, suggesting that here, Sirin [Nabokov]perhaps against his own willseems to escape this circle of lack of love for man: in the fate of the mentally and spiritually defenseless monster and moral abortion there is something genuinely and pathetically human (163). 9 See Anthony Synnott for an overview of aesthetic theory in western cultu re, including the views of Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Saint Augustine, Sain t Aquinas, Dante, Castiglione, and Bacon. Synnott concludes that in the pre-Kantian period, [t]he consensus within European cultural history has been impressive. Beauty is objective, related to goodness and to God, and moral and physical beauty are related (625). 10 Regarding subjectivity, Kant states, In order to distinguish whether anything is beautiful or not, we refer the representation, not by the understanding to the object for cognition, but by the imagination (perhaps in conjunction with the understanding) to the subject and its feeling of pleasure or pain. The judgment of taste is therefore not a judgment of cogn ition, and is consequently not logical but aesthetical, by which we understand that whose determining ground can be no other than subjective (§1). He also argues that the judgment of beauty must be disinterested: Everyone must admit that a judgment about beauty, in which the least interest mingles, is very partial and is not a pure judgment of taste (§2). 11 Kant states, In all judgments by which we desc ribe anything as beautiful, we allow no one to be of another opinion, without, however, grounding our judgments on concepts, but only on our feeling, which we therefore place as its basis, not as a private, but as a co mmon feeling (§22). 12 Karin Schutjer also notes that Kants aw areness of the communal sense seems somewhat hypothetical, and suggests that Kant expresse s a certain wariness toward real others (83). 13 The idealization of Greek society had begun ear lier and continued through Wildes own time. It appears in Johann Winckelmanns History of Ancient Art (1764), as well as in Walter Paters The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry (1893). Wilde praises the Hellenic ideal in The Critic as Artist (1891) and in Dorian Gray : Basil states that Dorians beauty reflects the perfection of the spirit that is Greek (14), and Lord Henry feels th at Dorian has beauty such as old Greek marbles kept for us (33-34). Indeed, Wildes choice of the name Dorian suggests that the young mans beauty represents the Hellenic ideal. 14 As Baudelaire points out in The Painter of Modern Life (1863), even in those centuries which seem to us the most monstrous and the maddest, the immortal thirst for beauty has always found its satisfaction (3). 15 Knox notes that [the phrase] lart pour lart (in Benjamin Constants Journal ) was coined with reference to the views of Kant and Schiller (76). 16 Knox points to Schille rs concepts of play-theory and the doctrine of aesthetic semblance as contributing to the view that art can provide an evasion of the problems of life, [. .] an escape from reality (76). 17 West points out that although the Russian Symbolists were inspired by the example of symbolism and modernism in Europe to champion the independence of the artistic imagination (2), only a few individuals advocated art for arts sake. 18 Brown calls the categorical opposition of th e ethical and aesthetic a characteristic of nineteenth-century thought in general (37).
87 19 Pater published revisions to The Renaissance in 1877, 1888, and 1893. 20 Although the most prominent names in the Decadent canon co me from France and England, Decadence flourished thr oughout the Eu ropean continent an d British Isles. Geor ge School fields A Baedeker of Decadence: Charting a Literary Fashion, 1884-1927, includes chapters on Decadent writing from Italy, Sweden, Poland, Irelan d, Portugal, Spain, and Iceland, among others. Similarly, Patrick McGuinness notes that Symbolism was international in its constitution (2), and mentions Greek, Belgian, Swiss, Polish, and Ameri can authors and artists. 21 Forth lists writers Daniel Halvy, Fernand Gregh, Robert Dreyfus, Marcel Proust, and Lon Blum as early devotees to Nietzs ches anti-Decadent message (103), and describes a noticeable Nietzsche vogue in Paris in 1 892 (111) that continue d to develop through the following decades. 22 In addition to Shakespeares aesthetic treatment of Ophelias madness and death, he leaves her death ambiguous, removing what could be Ophelias most significant choice: her decision to commit suicide. Shakespeare follows Gertrudes artistic desc ription of the drowning, which suggests Ophelia fell accidentally, with the gravediggers discussion, which asse rts that the young woma n intentionally killed herself. Since Shakespeare provides no witness to the drowning, the young womans actions remain uncertain. Kaara Peterson argues that, because the te xt does not allow us to determine whether Ophelia drowned accidentally or committed suicide, paintings of Ophelia rearticulate the site where referentiality potentially collapses, [and] paradoxically [. .] also in sure the ultimately referen tiality of [Prince] Hamlet (7). Romanska counters that Ophelia does intentionally take her own life. Drawing on the work of Heidegger and Derrida, Romanska argues that it is Hamlets ability to speak about his mortality that makes him human (488), and thus Ophelias presence at Hamlets to be or not to be speech is crucial. The theatrical tradition of having Ophelia exit before the speech, Romanska suggests, contradicts the text and deprives Ophelia of the little agency that Shakespeare bestowed upon her (501). Romanska argues that Shakespeare intends for Ophelia to remain onstage, and thus [b]y listening to Hamlet, [Ophelia] does participate in mans, or rather, the human existential tragedy and commits a very conscious act of ending her own life (493). While Romanska makes a strong argument regarding the texts stage directions, Ophelias voice still remains unheard. Hamlets infl uence increases the possibility that Ophelia intentionally kills herself, but does not confirm it. The nature of suicide in Dorian Gray and Pale Fire is also complex. Wilde clearly makes Dorians death accidental. Dorian want s to destroy the painting, and thereb y his past, but he does not speak about killing himself. In Pale Fire Nabokov, like Shakespeare, leaves his maidens death ambiguous. Hazel may or may not have intentionally drowned, and th us, like Ophelia, Hazel is denied explicit agency. 23 Showalter finds three critical approaches to Ophe lia: 1) an attempt to tell Ophelias story, which is hindered by the limited role she has in the pl ay (she appears in only five of the plays twenty scenes) and because [h]er tragedy is subordinated in the play; unlike Hamlet, sh e does not struggle with moral choices or alternatives (78); 2) as a feminine figure which escapes representation in patriarchal language and symbolism; [. .] Deprived of thought, sexuality, language, Ophelias story becomes [. .] that of] feminine difference (79); and 3) as the re pressed story of Hamlet, or Hamlets anima (79). Showalter offers a fourth approach: the history of [Ophelias] representation (79). Ophelia was regarded by the Romantics as an icon of female insanity, who became an objet dart, as if to take literally Claudiuss lament, poor Ophelia / Divided from herself and her fair judgment, / Without the which we are pictures (83-84). The Victorians portrayed Ophelia as a consistent psychological study in sexual intimidation, [. .] a normal girl becoming hopelessly imbecile as the result of overwhelming mental agony (89). The Symbolists saw Ophelia as a blank page to be written over or on by the male imagination (89). In the 1960s, Ophelia is viewed as schizophrenic, which still negates her agency. As R. D. Laing writes, In her madness there is no one there. [. .] She has already died. There is now only a vacuum where there was once a person (qtd. in Showalter 91). Since the 1970s, feminist discourse has granted Ophelia more strength of character, presen ting her madness as protest and rebellion (91). 24 See, for example, Delacroix The Death of Ophelia (1844), Millais Ophelia (1852), and Redons Ophelia (c1900). For a discussion of these and other paintings of Ophelia, see Romanska and Peterson. As the century progressed, aesthetic tastes degraded (in my view) from what Philippe Jullian describes as the sad sensuality of Rossettis models to the cadaverous type in vogue at the end of the century (39). Romanska notes that the consumptive paleness and morbid fragility captured in the image
88 of the dead yet aesthetically pleasing Ophelia [became] a staple of turn-of-the-cen tury erotic imagination (485). 25 In contrast to these renditions of Ophelia, Ivan Albrights painting, Picture of Dorian Gray (1943-44), does graphically capture the horrid decay of Basils portrait. The paintings gruesome figure captures Dorians corruption, and thus calls attention to the young mans spiritual degradation. I am not aware of any paintings of Nabokovs Hazel Shade. 26 Robert Ziegler offers an additional benefit to aes thetic representations of death, the resurrection of the lost object. Ziegler suggests that, Mourning th e death of everything, the Decadents wagered that the pain of loss could be eased by the objects resurrectio n as an image (12). Ziegle rs analysis supports Sarah Kofmans argument that the reason Do rian feels so strongly about remaining beautiful is that he comes to see his own beauty as a way to recreate his lost mother: Is it not because of [. .] the loss of his mothers beauty and of her smile, that Dorian tries to save he r for all eternity, incorporating in himself forever the beauty of his mother that was passed on by her? (45). 27 Bronfens analysis also adds meaning to Wildes statement in the preface to Dorian Gray, It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors (3). 28 For an overview of gaze theory, see Evans and Gamman. 29 Mulvey argues that the male protagonist exis ts to provide a screen surrogate for the male spectator: As the spectator identifies with the main male protagonist, he projects his look onto that of his like, his screen surrogate, so that the power of the male protagonist as he controls events coincides with the active power of the erotic l ook, both giving a satisfying sense of omnipotence (437). 30 Evelyn Bristol notes the importance of Swedenbor gs doctrine to Symbolists: [Baudelaires] avowed debt to Swedenborg, whose doctrine prescrib ed correspondences between the heavenly and earthly spheres, gave rise to the overwhelming importance that Symbolists attached to the metaphor, and consequently to the symbol (269). Prominent examples of the theme of Correspondences in Symbolist writing include Baudelaires Correspondences (1857) ( Flowers 12) and Rimbauds Vowels (c1870) ( Rimbaud 141). 31 Schopenhauers ideology was extremely influentia l to Decadents and modernists in general. In The Decay of Lying (1889), W ilde states that Schopenhauerian pessimism characterizes modern thought (1083). Bris tol also notes that the decaden t was prone to elevate his own ennui to cosmic proportions, and then to describe the universe in terms that coincided with Schopenhauers (270). 32 Nabokov connects aesthetic bliss with other states of being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the norm (On a Book 313).
89 Chapter One Beauty: Human Beings as Aesthetic Objects 1 In Wildes novel, Lord Henry refers to Ophelia tw ice: in reference to Sibyl Vanes suicide, Mourn for Ophelia, if you like (82), and in his later suggestion that the rejected Hetty Merton may be floating at the present moment in some star-lit mill-p ond, [. .] like Ophelia (161). Both Sibyl and Hetty intentionally commit suicide. In Nabokovs work, Kinbote includes the drowning of clumsy Ophelia (220) in his list of suicide methods. Although Hamlets Ophelia may have died accidentally, as I discussed in my introduction, Kinbote is referring to intentional suicide. Kinbote seems to contradict himself by using the adjective clumsy, which could indicate that Ophelia fell, but, because he is building up to his own preferred method of suicide, I interpret his words to mean that he thinks drowning itself is clumsy. 2 As Bronfen has shown, the artistic image of a be autiful feminine corpse stands in for concepts other than death, such as the viewers desire for immortality, and what is literally representedfemininity and deathoften entirely escapes observation (xi). 3 I consider Sibyl the other artist besides Basil. Christopher Nassaar also labels Lord Henry an artist in his conversation (39), and I agree that language is a significant theme in Dorian Gray. In one sense, language provides a connection to Pale Fires John Shade, who clearly employs it as an art form by writing poetry. However, I view Lord Henry as an art connoisseur, one who appreciates the nuances and subtleties of language. 4 Some critics interpret Sibyls view of Dorian diffe rently than I do. Ellmann feels that Sibyl is the opposite of Dorian. She gives up the pretense of art so as to live entirely artlessly in this world, only to commit suicide. Dorian tries to give up the causality of life and to live in the deathless (and lifeless) world of art, only to commit suicide too (316). Bonaparte relates the actresss feelings to Platos lesson in the Symposium : Love has taught her to distinguish between the truth of those ideals and their copies in the world (246). However, I think the text indicates that Sibyl is neither capable of giving up the pretense of art nor of distinguishing between the Platonic ideal and reality. When she revises her view of the other actors from godlike to hideous, and old (69-70), she is still relating to them in only aesthetic terms, as she does Dorian. When he rejects her, Sibyl continues to perceive him as a character in a play, responding, You are acting (70). 5 Current readers will associate the name Prince Charming with Snow White Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty but turn-of-the century versions of these stories did not call the prince Charming. Earlier fairy tales featured the name Charming, such as Madame dAulnoys The Blue Bird (1698), which includes a handsome hero named King Charming. Andrew Langs contemporary adaptation of The Story of Pretty Goldilocks (1889) also has a char acter named Charming who becomes a prince. Rather than pointing to a specific fairy tale, the name P rince Charming seems to have gradually become associated with any handsome hero who rescues a beautiful maiden. These fa iry-tale heroes, however, routinely fall in love with a woman simply because she is beautiful, a superficial form of love that Wilde re-genders into Sibyls love for Dorian. 6 Aunt Maud also deserves to be noticed as another artist in the novel who uses people as aesthetic objects. She likes realistic objects in terlaced / With grotesque growths an d lived to hear the next babe cry (1.88-90). Additionally, as an artist himself, Sh ade could not help but be influenced by his aunts macabre art, which contributes to his own use of poetry as a means of exploring death. Galef also considers Hazel an artist, suggesting that she tries first through Wor d Golf and later throug h eidolism to create a private spirit world (423). I consider her delight in transposing words as evidence of her intellectual curiosity and the barn incident as an indication of her interest in the metaphysical (both resemblances to her father). The poltergeist episode is an act of rebellion. 7 Boyd uses the allusion to Scotts poem to support his argument that Hazel provides metaphysical inspiration to both her father and Kinbote ( Nabokovs 152-53).
90 8 For a discussion of the rusalka the death mask known as linconnue de la Seine, and their relation to Ophelia in Nabokovs works other than Pale Fire see Johnson. 9 Although Galef notes that Hazel makes havoc (423 ) in the poltergeist episode, he interprets her behavior as an attempt to bend natural law, to forsake the real world for a private spirit one. Boyd sees the episode as a manifestation of Aunt Maud ( Nabokovs 231). Meyer describes Hazel as in touch with poltergeists ( Find 129). I argue that Hazels increasing ange r erupts when her parents put Aunt Mauds dog to sleep, and that she takes revenge on them. 10 I have not found any evidence that Wilde was familiar with the rusalka ; however, the legend was popular outside of Russia during the fin de sicle. Dvorak wrote an opera entitled Rusalka (1901) and Wilde was familiar with some of his work (The Critic as Artist 1109). Further, Johnson notes that the vengeful nature of rusalki accords not only with Russian lore, but also with a fin-de-sicle fashion of depicting women as creatures of evil (238), such as Wilde does in his play Salom (1894). Johnson further points out that [w]ater spr ites [related to the Ophelia image] formed a special su b-genre of such paintings (238). Thus Dorians murder of Basil is in keeping w ith a tradition of the beautiful victim returning to kill her betrayer. 11 Johnson discerns an evolution in Nabokovs work from the rusalka and inconnue images to an Ophelia one. While he devotes more attention to Nabokovs other novels, Johnson briefly mentions Hazel Shade as [p]erhaps the saddest of th ese water-linked characters (243). 12 Johnson points out that Nabokovs Linconnue de la Seine recalls Russian Symbolist Alexander Bloks poem Incognita (1906), which feat ures a similar narrator po ndering the secret of a mysterious and tragic woman. Notably, Bloks narrator is drunk, just as Pale Fires John Shade frequently is. 13 While I assert that Shade views Hazel as an im age of mortality, I agree with previous scholars that Nabokov uses Hazel as a metaphysical figure (tha t Shade does not recognize), as I discuss in Chapter Two. Marilyn Edelstein comments th at Though [Shades] imperfect cr eation of fleshHazeldies, his beautiful linguistic creation [of her] will live on be yond even his own mortal existence (217). McCarthy notes that, in addition to a lluding to Scotts poem, the name Hazel refe rs to a divining rod, used to find water, as well as to witch Hazel: in her girlhood the poor child, witch Hazel was a poltergeist (94). Meyer interprets Hazel as a fairy, who returns to the world she came from by en tering the three Os [the other world], the natural ha bitat of the spirits (Dolorous Haze 97). Boyd argues that Hazel returns after death as the Vanessa butterfly in order to inspire both Shades and Kinbotes imaginations ( Nabokovs 146). Galef notes that Hazel remains in her parents me mory as a domestic ghost, [. .] a spirit (426). 14 In contrast to my reading, that the act of composition is what Shade finds beautiful, some critics seem to accept the character Kinbote s explanation for these lines: the promise made in these four lines will not be really kept (263). Boyd writes that the canto repeatedly seems to promise some mighty theme [. .], only to lapse back into the mundanity of the moment ( Nabokovs 31), and Phyllis Roth insists, Certainly, this description fails of a successful spying on beauty (221). 15 The Hogarth comment refers to William Hogarths paintings Beer Street and Gin Lane (1751). Together the paintings contrast hard-working beer drinkers with the lazy and slovenly who prefer gin. Several other items in the novel point to Shades al coholism: Shade keeps a fl ask of brandy concealed about his warmly coated person (22); he is forbidden to touch alcohol (23); he hides his liquor bottle (89); he appears with a liquor-flushed face only an hour into his birthday party (161); he quotes Alexander Popes line The sot a hero, lunatic a king (from An Essay on Man ), juxtaposing Shade as the heroic sot and Kinbote as the lunatic king (203); Kinbote describes Shade looking like an old tipsy witch (287); and Kinbote comments that Shade could never resist a golden drop of this or that (288). 16 In addition to Shade and his family, Kinbote incorporates his New Wye associates into his Zemblan fantasy. See Lucy Maddox for examples of Zemblan characters who echo Kinbotes colleagues, events that mimic Hamlet, and other transformations. 17 Adding a Decadent twist, Kinbote gives his wife the title Duchess of Payn (112), and gets her name from Dis, the kingdom of the dead (Boyd Nabokovs 164-65). For an extended analysis of the connection between Sybil and Disa see Janie McCauley-Meyers.
91 18 Phyllis Roth also notes the similarities be tween Kinbote and Hazel, but she interprets the relationship as an Oedipal situation, in which Kin bote feels rivalry with Hazel (223). Galef sees the similarities as correspondences betw een the characters, and calls the su icide-daughter a hazel shade of Kinbote (429). 19 Constable et al., however, note that the ancestra l line in Huysmanss novel features a gap that suggests there is no positive (or positivist) evidence to support the idea that Des Esseintess decadence can be explained in terms of biological degeneracy (19) They argue that the narr ative as a whole offers numerous competing explanations for Des Esseintes s decadence, and, further, find a similarly complicated relationship between decaden ce and interpreta tion in Wildes Picture of Dorian Gray . They contend that Wildes novel offers multiple interpretations for Dorians degeneration, as Wilde writes in his preface, It is the spectator, and not lif e, that art really mirrors (qtd. in Constable 20); both the characters responses to Dorians portrait and the readers to W ildes novel reflect their own interpretive strategies (21). 20 My reading is consistent with previous schol arship: it is Hazels own lack of beauty, her own ugliness, that drives her to suicide (Boyd Nabokovs 64); Hazels face, as her social rejection makes her only too well aware, is completely revolting (Stegner 120); Hazel is utterly devoid of [. .] beauty (Galef 421), which results in alienation and betra yal [. .] through a loss of connection (430).
92 Chapter TwoTranscendence: The Rewards of Experiencing Beauty 1 I interpret Nabokovs text as indicating that Shade loves his wife, but that he also fell in love with one of his students. When Shade imagines meeti ng the dead in the afterlif e, he writes of a widower with two wives, both loved (2.571). He describes one of these wives grieving on the brink of a remembered pond over a changele ss child (2.575, 574), which points to Sybil mourning over Hazels drowning. He mentions the other a few lines later, and Kinbote glosses this line with the hint that there has been some other woman in Shades life (228). Kinbote invites this other woman, a student, to dinner along with the Shades. After ten minutes, the Shades ab ruptly leave, revealing th eir discomfort. A couplet that Sybil translates from Andr ew Marvells The Nymph Complain ing for the Death of her Fawn (1681)Thy love was far more better than / The love of false and cruel man (242)also implies she knows about the affair. 2 Sibyls statement, I have grown sick of shadows (70), paraphrases a line from Alfred, Lord Tennysons The Lady of Shalott (1833): I am half sick of shadows (2.71). Lawler identifies the allusion to Tennysons poem in a footnote to Wildes text ( Picture 70 n8). Like the image of the dead or dying Ophelia, the dying Lad y of Shalott became a popul ar icon in nineteenth-cen tury art, such as in John William Waterhouses painting The Lady of Shalott (1888) (Engelking 363). 3 Some critics consider this acceptance of diversity a postmodernist value. For example, Stephen Bonnycastle argues that [w]hat is striking about postmodernism is that it [. .] does not seek unity or a shared ground for human culture. Instead it celebrates [. .] diversity, contradiction, and variety (232). Many modernist works, however, also reflect this concept. Indeed, Wildes Dorian Gray presents gay identity as beautiful at a time when homosexuality was still a crime. 4 The Atalantas position as a harbinger of deat h illustrates its reputation as The Butterfly of Doom. In Strong Opinions Nabokov comments that the Vanessa earned this nickname because it was especially abundant in 1881, the y ear Tsar Alexander II was assassina ted (170). The butterflys markings, which on the underside of its two hind wings seem to read 1881 (170), recall this pivotal year. 5 Boyd notes that both Nabokov and his wife confirmed that the lights should be interpreted as a message from Aunt Maud to Hazel to warn Shade not to go to the Gold sworths, where th e poet is killed. 6 Some critics disagree about the meaning of the Atalantas last appearance. Boyd interprets the Atalanta that appears just before Sh ades murder as an incarnation of Hazels spirit, having finally adopted her mothers beauty in death ( Nabokovs 136-37). Meyer argues that Aunt Mauds spirit inhabits the Vanessa ( Find 184). Similar to my reading, Alvin Kernan cons iders the Atalantas final appearance to be a correspondence: A reader inescapably responds to this butte rfly, [. .] particularly because of its appearance at the moment of death and the verbal asso ciations with shade and the poets laurels, as a manifestation of some transcendental force in th e universe moving in corr espondence with human life (121). 7 Boyd notes that Shades reference to the Toothw ort in Canto Two is followed by the fairy-tale allusion in the lines about the dingy cygnet never turning into a wood duck. That verse is followed by one that mentions the barn episode, which Kinbote turns into another fairy tale, The Haunted Barn ( Pale Fire 190-92). The barn is located near Dulwich Forest and is the location where a little boy comments, Here Papa Pisses (186), which alludes to Brownings poem. Boyd uses these connections to support his theory that Hazel transforms into th e Atalanta after death, when she inspires Shades poem. 8 The Oxford English Dictionary notes that to lay (up) in lave nder means to lay aside carefully for future use (Lavender, def. 2a), as in Academy (1888): the lavender of memory. 9 Walton suggests that a significant source for Wildes ideas may have been the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer. That Wilde knew Schopenhauers works is clear from the references he makes to them. [. .] but that Wilde knew Schopenhauers aes thetics is, arguably, reflected in his own aesthetic theory (23).
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McLeod, Deborah S.
Beauty, objectification, and transcendence :
b modernist aesthetics in The Picture of Dorian Gray and Pale Fire
h [electronic resource] /
by Deborah S. McLeod.
[Tampa, Fla.] :
University of South Florida,
ABSTRACT: This study compares the relation between beauty, objectification, and transcendence in two novels: Oscar Wilde's early-modernist The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) and Vladimir Nabokov's late-modernist Pale Fire (1962). Though written over half a century apart, the works feature similar critiques of the aesthete's devotion to beauty. While Wilde's novel offers an insider's view of aristocratic Decadence in late-nineteenth-century London, Nabokov's reflects his early influence from the Russian Symbolists and recalls that tradition in the American suburbs of the mid-twentieth-century. Both novels demonstrate the trust that many modernists held in the ability of beauty to offer transcendence over the limits and suffering of mortal life. Yet they also call attention to the dangers of aesthetic obsession. My study applies the theories of Plato, Emanuel Swedenborg, Immanuel Kant, Arthur Schopenhauer, Vladimir Solovyov, Laura Mulvey, and Steven Drukman to the aesthetic sensibilities presented in the novels. To understand how these ideologies inform the works, I have divided the main characters into three categories---artist, spectator, and aesthetic object. Both Wilde and Nabokov present beauty as a positive force for its ability to provide at least temporary transcendence. The authors also, however, portray the tragic consequences of aesthetic objectification. By comparing the two works, I conclude that both highlight the dangers of the aesthete's obsession with beauty, but only Nabokov's Pale Fire offers a solution: the need for pity toward those who become the objects of the aesthetic gaze.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2007.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
System requirements: World Wide Web browser and PDF reader.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Title from PDF of title page.
Document formatted into pages; contains 102 pages.
Advisor: Susan Mooney, Ph.D.
Nabokov, Vladimir Vladimirovich,
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.