NABOKV-L post 0016513, Sun, 15 Jun 2008 21:45:32 -0700

Re: CORRECTION: Hochard on "Natasha"
Well I read the story twice, carefully. I admit that I did not notice the silver flask; I think your connection to the silver pencil is very thin to non-existent. As I said in my previous note, we've come to a point where our subjective takes on the story simply will not jibe, and that's all she wrote. It's not a matter of objective proof in the text. Whether or not Natasha knows he's lying, or whether or not part of his purpose is to cheer an old man up or not, may mitigate but does not entirely make moot my point. "'It was back when I was wandering around the Congo,' he was saying, and his large, somwhat corpulent figure swayed slightly, 'Ah, the distant congo, my dear Alexy Ivanych...'" Now to my inner ear this sounds at least a little like boasting, as much as simple entertainment for a sick man, indeed the mention of his swaying belly not only recalls the fat-bellied kinglet of his absurd annecdote, but also a contemptuous image of fat
middle-aged guys who like to sit around and pump themselves up with grand adventures they never lived through. Also the old man's response, "'Natasha is back,' Khrenov quietly and firmly interjected, without raising his eyelids..." not only suggests how supersensitive he is, but also delicately hints at embarrassment on his part, an attempt such Wolfe up. It was primarily by this part I first thought Nabokov was being ironic about Wolfe. In the country trip, though, he switches things around tries to make him charming. It's a trick. I mean why else name him Wolfe, if not as in the sexually big bad kind, only try for something differrent--it doesn't work. And I think you cannot really be so certain from the text that Natasha knew he was boasting. Certainly a first reading suggests that she tells him about herVirgin Mary vision and her  bell-ringing because she believes that his mysterious worldliness will make him understand her experiences and
then takes them back when he admits to lying, so that he won't think she's wacky. A second reading made me almost totally unsure as to what was intended with her character. As to a detail I did notice: when Natasha goes out to the country with Wolfe, Khrenov is looking for a newspaper, even under the couch; when she returns it is for that paper he is leaving the apartment. Again an ambiguity. Is it really his ghost or suggestible hysteria on her part that makes her give him as a post-life task the last thing she saw him doing?

----- Original Message ----
From: laurence hochard <laurence.hochard@HOTMAIL.FR>
Sent: Friday, June 13, 2008 6:38:11 AM
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] CORRECTION: Hochard on "Natasha"

On Wolfe's lies:
JA : What makes the character more like Smurov than Sebastian Knight is that Wolfe lies to Natasha [...] clearly using his fibs to impress her and others to make himself seem more intersting
I disagree.
LH : Firstly, what is clear IN THE TEXT is that UNLIKE Smurov, Wolfe NEVER stages himself as the hero of his anecdotes, he just gives poetic descriptions of the places he has "seen".
Secondly, it is also clear that Natasha perfectly KNEW that Wolfe's stories were visions (she is no more surprised when Wolfe "reveals" the "truth" to her than he is when she tells him about her own "visions") and that she appreciated them as such, all the more so since she, too, has visions. This is why I compared their relationship to the one between  Sebastian and Clare: both men invent fictions and both women relish them (RLSK chapter 9 p.79: "She (Clare) stayed there (in Sebastian's life) [...] quietly getting used to the strange creatures (Sefastian's fictions) she found there and petted despite their amazing shape.") Of course, the two stories are stylistically very different (RLSK is rose and mauve and violet whereas "Natasha" is blue and gray - you speak of "the loveliness of the bleuy description).
Thirdly, far from using his stories to show off, the text CLEARLY shows, if one but reads it, that Wolfe uses his stories to humour a sad sick old man haunted by nightmarish memories and the vision of his own death far from home. I quote: "I hear you've almost totally recovered" ...slapping his knees........"Nonsense" Wolfe merrily interrupted and extracted from his hip pocket an ENORMOUS SILVER CIGAR CASE (more about that later) Wolfe started speaking loudly and distinctly. He spoke of how Khrénov still had a long time to live, thank goodness, and how everyone would be returning to Russia in the spring, together with the storks.And then he proceeded to recount an incident from his past."
Now, if you can quote some evidence from NABOKOV'S TEXT showing that I'm mistaken, I certainly won't feel humbled by your disagreeing with me, but, on the contrary, grateful. After all, the purpose of this forum is to unearth "various little marvels" in VN's oeuvre, isn't it?
Speaking of little marvels, did you notice that each time Wolfe is going to "recount an incident from his past",  he takes out his SILVER cigar case (it's a "habitual gesture"), as if it were an inexhaustible MAGIC box from which he draws all his fictions. And this leads me back to RLSK chapter 13 p.127 (vintage paperback edition) where V. is given "an extraordinarily nice note-book enclosing a delightful SILVER pencil" by Mr SILBERmann, and, significantly, this scene takes place just after V. informed Silbermann that he planned to write a book about Sebastian: writing as a magic gift!
I think that a story in which can be detected the presence of images Nabokov will use and develop in later works deserves to be read and re-read before being pronounced minor.

Date: Thu, 12 Jun 2008 12:30:59 -0700
From: vanveen13@SBCGLOBAL.NET
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] CORRECTION: Hochard on "Natasha"

Learning from Hochard that Nabokov was a subtle artist was, of course, nothing short of a revelation; being told I am a
hasty reader, humbling. So I re-read Natasha and am convinced more than ever this is a very minor Nabokov story. On the previous subjects: Wolfe's lies. I am in agreement with Hochard, as I always was, that N. was not being ironic in the suggestion that there is something charming in the character living so fully in his imagination. My problem was with the validity of the idea as dramatized in the story. What makes the character more like Smurov than Sebastian Knight is that Wolfe lies to Natasha up until the trip to the country, clearly using his fibs to impress her and others to make himself seem more interesting, whereas Knight was a writer whose profession is making up stories and being up front about it. On the subject of whether the character's imagination is cliched, I stand by initial opinion, the monkey vertebra, the fat bellied kinglet, the exotic trees with the oranges, seem like something off Skull Island from the old King Kong movie
(please don't inform me that that film came out in 1933 and so could not possibly have influenced N.'s story in 1924), or covers of National Geographics without limit. And about the childishness of Natasha. I should revise my statement a little. She's mushy and formless, characterized only by her visions (which she does and doesn't have) and by her eroticism, especially heightened in the couch scene the night before she and Wolfe go on their trip to the country where lethargy keeps her from brushing away the "formication" on her legs that makes her press them together (this is prophetic as well, by the way, since in the country she and Wolfe have to jump up from the ground where they sat on an anthill); she's also described by her childish hairdo twice (I would like to suggest as well that N.'s idea that we should look at the world with childlike wonder is also cliche. Why is a child's wonder any more valuable than an adult's? My interest in the
world--of nature and the comings and goings of civilization--are far deeper and more varied as an adult than any superstious lazy ideas I had about virtually everything as a kid.) But these things are of course subjective appraisals about which we'll never agree. I instead turn my criticism to structural problems with the story. I had found on my first reading a certain clumsiness in the tale's development, despite the loveliness of the bluey description. It comes in that trip to the country Nabokov forces Natasha to take with Wolfe. They don't just go on a date to a nearby restaurant because N. needs them to be so far away they can't be fetched when Natasha's father kicks the bucket, so that he can make sure she has her vision of him healthily going out to buy the paper before she discovers in fact he has died--though Natasha probably would not have chanced that trip. The part where Wolfe tells her he loves her then dashes into a tobacco
shop right near the end seems awkward as well. Clearly N. hoped this reticence would have a certain psychological legitimacy, when really you can see it's been staged this way just so Natasha will be by herself when she runs into her father outside the apartment building, because N. needs this vision to remain ambiguous. In fact the whole problem with the story's metaphysical elements is that they've been worked out with an eye to tricking the reader. First Natasha says she's had a vision of the virgin Mary and telikenetically made a bell ring, then says she was lying about the whole thing. Then at the end she has a genuine vision? You can too easily see the author is playing the reader rather than revealing his characters, which can be amusing, but flattens out any expression of genuiness there might be in the idea of extrasensory perception, which, since it doesn't exist, needs all the compelling depth Nabokov can invest it with. 

----- Original Message ----
Sent: Thursday, June 12, 2008 12:08:51 PM
Subject: [NABOKV-L] CORRECTION: Hochard on "Natasha"

My message has been a bit mangled; it should read:
" self-centered, in other words,that he can't but be blind to the real
(=poetic) Bombay.
This "reversal of values" is what VN never ceased to illustrate, to
Laurence Hochard
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