Vladimir Nabokov and Washington Irving

Submitted by Jim Buckingham on Sun, 06/09/2019 - 00:43

Nabokov's tip of the hat towards Irving is found as being one of the first names in Lolita's class list: Flashman, Irving (Part I, Ch. 11). More telling though is what Vladimir would take as a last name should he ever return to Mother Russia under a false passport. That pseudonym would be "Nikerboker" as spelled out at the end of Chapter 12 in Drugie berega / Other Shores. [Interestingly, neither Conclusive Evidence nor Speak, Memory state what that false name would be.] Nabokov's Nikerboker is even spelled out so that the Ni-ker-bo-ker syllable would be long, just like in Na-bo-kov. Of course Nikerboker is Knickerbocker (with its short 'o' sound), Dietrich, Irving's unreliable narrator and his pseudonym. A more apt passport name could not be used than that of Knickerbocker, the narrator of "Rip Van Winkle."

Rip awakens from a twenty-year sleep to return home and finds everything changed and the country now under a different government. Being now under American versus British rule, as a result of the American Revolution. Of course that short story is suspect right from the beginning once one looks into the epigraph taken from William Cartwright's play, The Ordinary, which in turn is based off of one of Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, "The Canon's Yeoman's Tale." In short, Rip Van Winkle's story was a good story, but never came true. Just like the IDEA of VN using a false passport for one more return home would make a good story, but never came true, never happened. Vladimir reflected on this: "I have been dreaming of it too idly and too long." (CESM) in the present perfect tense. Drugie berega / Other Shores adds to that thought something more personal: "I squandered the dream." in the simple past, preterite tense. There's no going back - it's done. But Nabokov's sleep of exile lasted almost three score, three times Rip's. A very long sleep, indeed. So keep dreaming, Vladimir. You Knickerbocker, you New Yorker you.

[Knickerbocker is not just a term for a New York, New Yorker (the city of New York or Manhattan), but also a New Yorker from New York state. The moniker term, Knickerbocker, originated from Irving's satirical, two-volume history first published back in 1809, A History of New York, written by none other than Diedrich Knickerbocker.]