Fw: The Chronology in Transparent Things
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To: Vladimir Nabokov Forum
Sent: Sunday, November 17, 2002 10:36 AM
Subject: The Chronology in Transparent Things
und hochgeeherte Nabokovwissenschaftler!
I'm always fascinated by the free and unconstrained way in which certain critics explain those VN novels that sometimes seem obscure and not quite "durchsichtig" to an ordinary reader.
If I'm not mistaken, not a single definite date is mentioned in TRANSPARENT THINGS, but one feels the presense of a strong calendar in the story. The information given by the narrator (allegedly the ghost of Mr. R., who is at home in the past and seems omniscient, being a kind of "spectral observer") about Hugh Person's four visits to Switzerland prompts the reader to establish the precise chronology of events in the novel. And the german critic, who reviews german translations of TT and LATH, rashly proposes such a chronology that turns out to be rather absurd. He dates the first visit as happening in 1950 and the last - in 1972. But from the Chapter 4 of the novel we know that between the first and the last visits 18 (achtzehn) years have elapsed, so one of the dates suggested by the critic, or both, must be wrong. We also learn from that chapter that Hugh Person is twenty two at the time of the first visit and forty when he dies, in his last visit. But I think that the clue to the novel's chronology should be looked for in the Chapter 6, when the narrative suddenly switches to the Swiss of the nineteenth century and there appears a Russian traveler, a young novelist ("a minor Dostoevski", as Nabokov calls him in one of the "interviews", SO, p. 195): "She [a prostitute] took him [Hugh Person] to one of the better beds in a hideous old roominghouse - to the precise "number," in fact, where ninety-one, ninty-two, nearly ninety-three years ago a Russian novelist had sojourned on his way to Italy." We see then this writer sitting at the deal table and pondering over a rudimentary novel under the provisional title Faust in Moscow while he is waiting for his friend Kandidatov, the painter. Alas, that painter turns out to be (most probably) invented, but can perhaps the writer be identified? I think, he can and suggest that it is Konstantin Sluchevski (1837-1904) and that the novel he writes has metamorphosed eventually into the tale Professor Bessmertiya ("Professor of Immortality") to be published under that title only in 1894 (it contains an inserted treatise of an invented amateur philosopher in which he tries to prove scientifically the immortality of the human soul). The name Kandidatov might be derived from the academic degree (kandidat - a degree roughly equivalent to Master) of another character (not the author of the treatise) in the Sluchevski tale. I think, Nabokov has here in mind Sluchevski's first visit to Switzerland (he stayed in Geneva, where he put up at the famous "Russian house," a kind of boarding-house), that took place in the August of 1860 (see my VN Symposium 2002 paper soon to appear on the VN Museum Web site). Thus, we can tentatively attribute Hue Person's first visit to the so-called Switzerland to 1953. Then he would revisit it in 1963, again in 1964 (in February) and, finally, fatally for him, in 1971.
A shift in one year is not excluded (1954... 1964, 1965... 1972), because Sluchevski spent some sommer weeks in Geneva (he was a student of the Heidelberg University) also in 1861 (and in 1862, 1863, 1864).
The question is complicated and deserves a closer study than I have conducted. I must confess that I haven't seen Brian Boyd's notes to TT or any article/paper devoted to the novel. Several events are mentioned in it (a distant war, a construction work around Witt, etc.) that could have helped to establish the precise chronology. Unfortunately, or, perhaps, fortunately, I am too much occupied with my translation of ADA and must now return to it. In the end, I would like to note, that it is not so much the outlines of Nabokov's late novels, but rather those of the critics' belated articles that are "fading away" (see the subtitle of the article). In the preamble to the reviewer's article Nabokov's novel is called "Unsichtbare Dinge" (Invisible things)! Elusive Nabokov indeed!
Alexey Sklyarenko aus Sankt-Petersburg