NABOKV-L post 0015615, Sun, 28 Oct 2007 16:14:43 -0300

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NABOKOV LIST [THOUGHTS] Papin Sisters, Rendell,
Announced Murders and Nabokov
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Dear List,

How nice to find at our List an informal place for discussion, without having to develop extensive inquiries into all the research items a full article might demand...
A matter came, quite accidentaly, to my attention. I would have missed it altogether had I not happened to watch Chabrol's most recent " L'Ivresse du Pouvoir" ( 2006) and enjoy its cynicism and narrative flow.
The majority of my friends disliked the movie and while puzzling about my solitary preference I realized there was an affinity bt.Chabrol's catastrophic views and Rendell's novel I just read.
There was some Nabokov in the air, too. "Lolita" and prolepsis; "Pale Fire" and the piles of dead bodies in the end - as we also find at the end of WS's "Hamlet", in Titus Andronnicus, in their perverse characters and the way the spectator/reader is acquainted with destiny....

Further research showed me Chabrol had, indeed, filmed two Rendell novels, one of them about the events in "A Judgement in Stone" (1977), entitled La Cérémonie ( 1995). A site indicated that Chabrol had found his inspiration not directly in Rendell, but in a crime committed by the Papin Sisters ( around 1933), an event that also stimulated Jean Genet's play "Les Bonnes". [Cf. also Jacques Lacan's (dec 1933) article, first published in "Minotaure" and later included in the collection about "Paranoic Psychosis and its relations to Personality".]

What interested me most in Rendell's book had not a direct relation to Christine and Lea Papin, but to Nabokov.
I could not even say that it was how Rendell's book began that interested me as a clear example of the manipulation of a detective novel's genre ( as practived before her by VN), nor her choice of an illiterate murderer living in a very litterate milieu.
This is when I discovered the affinity bt. this procedure, used by Rendell, and VN's achivements.

VN's novels are books which one reads and re-reads and therefore, even when the murderers are not announced in a specific novel, we always end up by wing the plot in advance. And yet, knowing how the story ends doesn't spoil our enjoyment: it actually enhances it. The finale is known, the line of events has already been established, i.e, destiny is "written down" and everybody is, deterministically, already punished and still the reader hopes, against common-sense and experience, that he shall be invited to intervene and alter the disastrous course of events, or make some sense, find a moral or transcendental meaning in their sheer gratuity...
As readers we end up in a fight against fate, authorial commands, a character's blind cruelty... Although we are permanently informed against our most delirious expectations!. This is the point that fascinates me, how this "hope" can be renewed in the reader, how he fights against his better judgement...

Nabokov's earlier books ( Lolita, PF - also Despair...) created not only something similar to Agatha Christie's " A Murder is Announced" ( mentioned by HH in his prision-cell) but they juggled with the time element, an aspect that has already been discussed in our list. [ Steve Blackweel, noted on Nabokov's use of "prolepsis", that: There is surely some connection to Pushkin in all this, especially to widespread ironic self-reference in EO and especially to ch 3:XIV..."Pushkin" foretells a future work of his."; JM turned to Dureau ("Nabokov ou le Sourire du Chat" ): "although Russian authors (Tolstoy, Chekhov, Dostoevsky) use prolepsis" analepsis being rarer, "the addition of proleptic and analeptic gaps to the structure of the novel is characteristic of Nabokov´s style." ] Already in Lolita's opening chapter VN has Humbert Humbert declare his love for Lolita ( prolepsis). Only a second reading will reveal that both, Lolita and the narrator, are dead ( analepsis) and the consequences of his love.
John Ray Jr's words anticipate information about Humbert Humbert, his crime, his passion, his emprisonment.

Ruth Rendell's novel begins with: "Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write...She accomplished nothing by it but disaster for herself, and all along...she knew she would accomplish nothing..." She said that this procedure, of starting with the murder and the identification of the muderer, "was hardly ever, if ever, done and I wanted to try it, to see if people would still go on reading, because I felt that that particular kind of suspense, that 'whodunnit' suspense, need not necessarily be in my kind of book... I aimed at... that people would still be sufficiently interested in the characters and the way the novel progressed not to need the suspense..."
RR's murders were unstable characters, "psychopaths", whereas their victims were likeable and well-adapted people. Rendell herself observed that " this is the only book I have ever written in which I became myself upset at the prospect of the fate that awaited these people. I knew that they must die but I liked them. Usually I am quite detached from this but I was not, and I was quite distressed at the thought that they must die without my altering the whole plot structure, and I wasn't prepared to do that."

Suppposing that Rendell was influenced by the Papin Sisters when writing "A Judgement in Stone" I began to wonder, also, if Nabokov had been acquainted with this particular crime and how it affected dramatists, writers, psychoanalysts and movie directors. I'm not suggesting that VN's choice of juggling with the time element (prolepsis, analepsis) while writing his novels bears any relation to that. I was thinking about how a certain train of events in a given culture stimulates different reactions in those that witness it, directly or indirectly, and how hope and despair, freedom and determinism, love and hate gain expression in their contemporaries.

In short, could VN have been branded by events still undescribed, like the 1933 crime committed by the Papin sisters in France, in a way that we could detect its effects in his choice of psychopathic and paranoid characters set against his godlike determination of their destinies?.
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