Forster and Nabokov
"Rodney Welch" <>
Wed, 15 Aug 2007 08:31:08 -0400

I have seen the following quote attributed to Nabokov. Does anyone know the source?
"The term 'narrative' is often confused with the term 'plot,' but they're not the same thing. If I tell you that the king died, and then the queen died, that's not narrative; that's plot. But, if I tell you that the king died, and then the queen died of a broken heart, that's narrative."
Interestingly, this example was first used by E.M. Forster in his 1927 "Aspects of the Novel":
"Let us define a plot. We have defined a story as a narrative of events arranged in their time-sequence. A plot is also a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality. 'The king died and then the queen died,' is a story. 'The king died, and then the queen died of grief' is a plot. The time-sequence is preserved, but the sense of causality overshadows it. Or again: 'The queen died, no one knew why, until it was discovered that it was through grief at the death of the king.' This is a plot with a mystery in it, a form capable of high development. It suspends the time-sequence, it moves as far away from the story as its limitations will allow. Consider the death of the queen. If it is in a story we say: 'And then?' If it is in a plot we ask: 'Why?' That is the fundamental difference between these two aspects of the novel. A plot cannot be told to a gaping audience of cave-men or to a tyrannical sultan or to their modern descendant the movie-public. They can only be kept awake by 'And then--and then----' They can only supply curiosity. But a plot demands intelligence and memory also."
Sounds a bit like a weird game of oneupsmanship, as Nabokov -- who famously had little use for Forster, unfortunately -- seems to be agreeing with Forster's example and correcting it at the same time. The two do not seem to agree on the terms.
Or am I misreading something?
Any thoughts?
Rodney Welch
Columbia, SC

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