ANNC: A Reader’s Guide to
Nabokov’s “Lolita” by Julian Connolly , (Ph.D. Harvard,
1977), Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of
Virginia. He is the author of Nabokov’s Early Fiction: Patterns of Self and
Other (1992) and editor of Nabokov and His Fiction: New Perspectives (1999) and
The Cambridge Companion to Nabokov (2005). He has published over sixty
articles on Russian literature.
JM: In a recent posting (Oct.
9, 2009) Julian W.
Connolly answered a query on ADA: "Tolstoy wrote three works with
the titles "Detstvo," "Otrochestvo," and "Iunost'", which translate
as "Childhood," "Boyhood," and "Youth." Nabokov deliberately
mistranslates the word "otrochestvo" [boyhood] as
"fatherland," which, in Russian, is "otechestvo" a word that
is phonetically close to "otrochestvo."
discerned by Connolly serves to connect childhood and fatherland
to Nabokov's "other shore memoirs" ("ex Ponto"). His detailed
explanation proved to be most inspiring to me, when I was inquiring
into the relation bt. "Ponto" and "Pontius," although
for him, as
for B.Boyd, Nabokov might be "getting in a subtle dig at poor
the common agreement is that Nabokov was referring to
incompetent translators, mainly due to Vivian Darkbloom's note to page 9 in
"Ada" ["All happy families
etc: mistranslations of Russian classics are ridiculed here. The opening
sentence of Tolstoy’s novel is turned inside out and Anna Arkadievna’s
patronymic given an absurd masculine ending, while an incorrect feminine one is
added to her surname. ‘Mount Tabor’ and ‘Pontius’ allude to the
transfigurations (Mr G. Steiner’s term, I believe) and betrayals to which great
texts are subjected by pretentious and ignorant versionists. "] ( the
italics are mine).
On the matter of Mr. G.Steiner, I found out
that, with only one exception qua "monism" and
"perfection" (After Babel, page 264, Oxford University Press,
paperback), he was always very appreciative of Nabokov's
achievements. Close to his
second reference to Nabokov's jingle ("What is
translation? On a platter/ A poet's pale and glaring head..."), I
encountered Steiner's term "transfiguration", and its opposite,
"diminution" (Cf.No Passion Spent, 1996, Faber and Faber Ltd,p.201).
For him these are the two major
problems that arise during translations and, in the first
instance, "the translator is too high a master in his own right...his
version is too sovereign." Steiner then adds:
"I have called this paradoxical betrayal 'transfiguration'."
Nabokov's choice to explain the two kinds
of betrayals thru Steiner classified the translations, for which
"the translator is too high a master," as "Mount Tabor". He reserved "Pontius" to its opposite when "the
translator has...been inadequate to his chosen task"(G.S,p.201).
Nevertheless Darkbloom's note is slightly
ambiguous because he distinguishes between transfigurations and
betrayals, whereas for Steiner both are a kind
of betrayal Darkbloom disparaged the results of "pretentious
and ignorant versionists" by lumping together these two mishaps, as if
in both cases the versionists were incompetent and ridiculous.
In the spirit of Steiner's arguments, which
maintain that nobody escapes the need to "translate," (even monoglots,
intralingually), I consider that it's still possible to suppose that by
"Pontius" Nabokov, self-critically, bore in mind his particular
version of his childhood in Russia, deformed and betrayed
along his various "memoirs," - but hopefully arising as
"transfigurations", unlike all those other poor
versionist's efforts, as it had happened