Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0019215, Sat, 23 Jan 2010 13:55:01 EST

Re: Request for source of quotation

I am sure Brian Boyd is right in what he says about Nabokov's modestly
excluding his own works. He could be so arrogant sometimes that one forgets he
could be truly modest when it mattered.

The question of what is and isn't love still remains. As a matter of fact,
on refflection, I was forgetting that in that encounter with Trilling,
Nabokov first resists Trilling's idea that literature is about forbidden love,
and that if Nabokov wanted to say something new he had to turn to
something as nasty as Humbert's dealings with Lolita. Nabokov points out that "Anna
Karenin" describes Kitty and Lyovin's wholesome love and marriage. But
Trilling retorts that the book is not called "Kitty and Lyovin", it's called
"Anna Karenina", and it's after this that Nabokov more or less gives way,
saying "You're right". So Nabokov is not perhaps making such an unequivoval
assertion that "Lolita" is about love as I was suggesting.

Anthony Stadlen

In a message dated 23/01/2010 01:32:54 GMT Standard Time,
b.boyd@AUCKLAND.AC.NZ writes:

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

Anthony Stadlen
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