Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Aunt Maud’s clippings

Commentator Charles Kinbote notes several items in poet John Shade’s Aunt Maud’s room:

Among these was a scrapbook in which over a period of years (1937–1949) Aunt Maud had been pasting clippings of an involuntarily ludicrous or grotesque nature. John Shade allowed me one day to memorandum the first and the last of the series; they happened to intercommunicate most pleasingly, I thought. Both stemmed from the same family magazine Life, so justly famed for its pudibundity in regard to the mysteries of the male sex; hence one can well imagine how startled or titillated those families were. The first comes from the issue of May 10, 1937, p. 67, and advertises the Talon Trouser Fastener (a rather grasping and painful name, by the way). It shows a young gent radiating virility among several ecstatic lady-friends, and the inscription reads: You’ll be amazed that the fly of your trousers could be so dramatically improved. The second comes from the issue of March 28, 1949, p. 126, and advertises Hanes Fig Leaf Brief. It shows a modern Eve worshipfully peeping from behind a potted tree of knowledge at a leering young Adam in rather ordinary but clean underwear, with the front of his advertised brief conspicuously and compactly shaded, and the inscription reads: Nothing beats a fig leaf.

I think there must exist a special subversive group of pseudo-cupids — plump hairless little devils whom Satan commissions to make disgusting mischief in sacrosanct places.

Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire (1962)
Used to be a reader went to the periodical stacks in a library to find those advertisements (as I did, last century). But now they may be had via Google Books.





Aunt Maud’s room also holds a clipping of the newspaper headline “Red Sox Beat Yanks 5–4 On Chapman’s Homer.” Yes, Chapman’s Homer.

Pale Fire, a novel in the form of a critical edition of a poem, is one of my favorite novels.

[Pudibundity: bashfulness; prudery.]

comments: 2

stefan said...

Thanks for defining "pudibundity," Michael. But I checked the OED before I finished reading (hooray for/darn the Internets). You probably know this already, but Pale Fire serves as one of the dictionary's two examples. I always enjoy looking up a word to find in the OED's examples the passage that prompted my search in the first place.

Michael Leddy said...

Yes, I was happy to see VN in the OED too. He was a great dictionary user, so it's esp. appropriate.