NABOKV-L post 0019206, Sat, 23 Jan 2010 14:20:45 +1300

Re: Request for source of quotation
I think the answer to your question about La Jalousie versus Lolita is that Nabokov was automatically excluding his own works from such rankings, just as when he offered his famous 1965 list of his favorite 20C masterpieces of prose, Ulysses, Transformation, St Petersburg and the first half of In Search of Lost Time, in that order (SO 57). I am sure that he thought Dar (The Gift), and Pale Fire ranked at least after Ulysses, and before it in terms of their lack of artistic flaws (he had not yet written Ada). He simply assumed that it would naturally be improper and immodest to include his own work in such a list.
I say this partly because of Nabokov's response to Lucie Leon Noel's account of his quietness during a dinner with Joyce: "She pictures me as a timid young artist; actually, I was forty, with a sufficiently lucid awareness of what I had already done for Russian letters preventing me from feeling awed in the presence of any living writer" (SO 292). He says that only when provoked to correct the record. I take this to mean that he thought Dar was in the same class as Ulysses; and, as I argue in VNRY, Nabokov deliberately designs Dar to trump Ulysses AND In Search of Lost Time, just as he designed the poem "Pale Fire" to trump Eliot's Four Quartets.
He may have said that his English was only patball to Joyce's champion game, but I am sure he would not have thought his Russian inferior to Joyce's English, only that as a master of English prose, Joyce was ahead of him--but I think he felt that in his English fiction he recouped in other ways (see, for instance, his discussions of flaws in Ulysses) like narrative inventiveness, artistic strategy, economy and harmony, imagistic fluency, and psychological accuracy.
Brian Boyd
On 23/01/2010, at 4:20 AM, Anthony Stadlen wrote:

Thanks again to Ludger Tolksdorf and Nikolai Melnikov for their so prompt responses to my request for the source of Nabokov's assertion that Robbe-Grillet's La Jalousie was "the finest novel about love since Proust".

There does arise, then, the serious question I said would arise, if this quotation should be confirmed, as it now has been confirmed by the scholarly Messrs Tolksdorf and Melnikov. Since Nabokov published Lolita in 1955 and Robbe-Grillet published La Jalousie in 1958, Nabokov is, in 1959, saying unequivocally that La Jalousie is a finer novel about love than Lolita. Unless, of course, Nabokov does not regard Lolita as a novel about love.

But, in that film extract available online, Nabokov says, to Trilling, that he agrees with Trilling that Lolita is a book about love. However, elsewhere he calls Humbert a "cruel and vain wretch" who contrives to appear "touching". Brian Boyd has ably demonstrated the sentimental, sententious sham of Humbert's show of repentance.

Nabokov's remark to Trilling was one that he did not read from a prepared index-card as he did elsewhere throughout the programme. Was this an instance of his "talking like a child", as he said he did, which was why he preferred to read from cards? Was his agreement a "childish" response to Trilling's flattery?

For what it is worth, neither Lolita nor La Jalousie seems to me to have much to do with love, though both have much to do with jealousy. Perhaps Nabokov's comment to Anne Guérin about La Jalousie was as unguarded, as uncarded, and arguably as misguided as his comment to Trilling. But I agree with Nabokov that both are fine novels. Is there room for doubt as to which he considered the finer?

Anthony Stadlen

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