NABOKV-L post 0021122, Sat, 1 Jan 2011 20:03:43 -0500

Re: EDSwitch and New Year

Welcome back, and my great thanks to Susan. Wonderful idea marking the galley-slave birthdays.

Date: Sat, 1 Jan 2011 15:52:35 -0500
From: nabokv-l@UTK.EDU
Subject: [NABOKV-L] EDSwitch and New Year

Happy New Year to all NAB-Lers!

A new quarter and a new year are upon us, and it's time for me to take over from Susan Elizabeth Sweeney once again. I hope all subscribers are having an enjoyable holiday curled up with a beloved book, insect, artwork, or engaged in some other "idle" activity--to refer subtly to Nabokov's friend Iulii Aikhenvald and his book of essays, Praise of Idleness.

Speaking of idleness, I thought I'd idly mention an interesting, if minor, find of mine. I was reading Melville's Pierre in late July, and I came across an interesting precursor to Nabokov's famous use of the pun on "Galley Slave":

So, while many a poor, be-inked galley-slave, toiling with the heavy oar of a quill, to gain something wherewithall to stave off the cravings of nature; and in his hours of morbid self-reproach, regarding his paltry wages, at all events, as an unavoidable disgrace to him; while this galley-slave of letters would have leaped with delight--reckless of the feeble seams of his pantaloons--at the most distand prospect of inheriting the broad farms of Saddle Meadows . . . . (260, Northwestern/Newberry 1971) [the sentence continues on at some length]

Unlike Nabokov, Melville was was referring to the writer as a galley-slave, not his characters. It occurs during the introduction of Pierre's own literary efforts as a means of self-support. By "galley", he also may have been referring more to the tray that held the movable type for a printing press, as "galley-proof" may not have been in circulation yet. Pierre is hinted at in the first pages of Lolita, in the guise of "Pierre Point, Melville Sound".

And speaking of Lolita, Today is also the birthday of Dolly Haze; yesterday was that of Sebastian Knight--except that SK was born in Russia, so that date is surely old style, meaning he was born in two centuries. So his "real" birthday took place on January 11, 1900, by western calendars. It might be fun, this year, to try to note known Nabokov galley-slaves' birthdays as they pass, along with any idiosyncracies they possess, much as "Pnin's Day" has been observed here in the past. In a way, such an activity would supplement Pekka Tammi's work on Nabokov's "Poetics of Dates".

Happy reading and writing in 2011!

Stephen Blackwell

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