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...
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
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
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
John Ray Jr's words
anticipate information about Humbert Humbert, his crime, his passion, his
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
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
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