NABOKV-L post 0017162, Tue, 7 Oct 2008 15:20:57 -0300

[NABOKOV-LIST] Vanishing "V" signs
Reading about "vanishing point" in S.E.Sweeney's essay [ as an aspect of VN's alphabetic imagery and recursive narrative structure in "The V-Shaped Paradigm: Nabokov and Pynchon," Cycnos 12.2 (1995): 173-80] I enjoyed her various examples concerning VN's employ of "V- related" images ( the ordered flight of cranes, the tail of a swift), sibilant acute sounds, printed words and names (Sevastian). A character may be referred to by a plain "V." (TRLSK) or as "Victor" (Pnin, Spring in Fialta), "Van Veen" (the first and last letters in both double as VN).

While I visited Oxford in July 2007 ( for the Transitional Nabokov encounter), after I indicated that I needed "a table for two" in a small pub, I was almost thrown out of the establishment. My gesture was similar to Churchill's V-sign, but my crossed fingers were displayed along with the "V" in what was interpreted as an offensive signal. I remember Nabokov once described this "offensive" sign drawn on a poster that was lying behind one of his very innocent characters. I tried to find it, in vain. And yet, during my search I came across a code-signal employed by the Karlists, in Pale Fire, one which bungling Gradus got wrong because his fingers shaped a V-sign...Perhaps VN's various convergences into velvety "V" do not always mean a "positive indication"...

Pale Fire Karlist's correct code: "The fingers of his [Oswin Bretwit] left hand involuntarily started to twitch as if he were pulling a kikapoo puppet over it [...]A Karlist agent, revealing himself to a superior, was expected to make a sign corresponding to the X (for Xavier) in the one-hand alphabet of deaf mutes: the hand held in horizontal position with the index curved rather flaccidly and the rest of the fingers bunched (many have criticized it for looking too droopy; it has now been replaced by a more virile combination)"

Gradus mistake: "Sheepishly contemplating his five stubby strangers, Gradus went through the motions of an incompetent and half-paralyzed shadowgrapher and finally made an uncertain V-for-Victory sign. Bretwit's smile began to fade."

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