Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026091, Thu, 26 Mar 2015 12:14:12 -0300

[Questions] Proust, Marcel, Humbert, VN...
Former posting (note): “This book is about Lolita; and now that I have
reached the part which (had I not been forestalled by another internal
combustion martyr) might be called "Dolorès Disparue," there would be little
sense in analyzing the three empty years that followed. While a few
pertinent points have to be marked, the general impression I desire to
convey is of a side door crashing open in life's full flight, and a rush of
roaring black time drowning with its whipping wind the cry of lone
disaster.” (“Lolita,” part 2,25)…”

Present posting (associated to HH’s Dolores Disparue in “Lolita” and
Proust’s Albertine Disparue in second half of “In Search of Lost Time”):

"In his Lectures on Literature, which were originally delivered to his
students at Cornell in the 1950s, Vladimir Nabokov calls Marcel Proust's In
Search of Lost Time "the greatest novel of the first half of our century."
Although he makes this statement as an aside in his lecture on Madame
Bovary, this is no mere throwaway remark...The Proustian themes running
through Nabokov's varied works--the themes of time, memory, identity,
sensation, jealousy, loss, etc.--have long been explicated by other critics.
But, it's only in the last hundred pages of Proust's final volume, Time
Regained (the book that culminates the 4,300-page novel and that even few
critics have actually read), that so many of those Proustian themes come
together and create a new theme that Nabokov was to extrapolate to such an
extreme in 'Lolita'."

However, in a 1965 interview, by Robert Hughes, Nabokov makes a different
observation in relation to ProustÂ’s novel:
"My greatest masterpieces of twentieth century prose are, in this
order: Joyce's Ulysses, Kafka's Transformation, Biely's Petersburg,
and the first half of Proust's fairy tale In Search of Lost Time." John
Burt Forester,Jr. notes that: "Rivers, 1984, p.137, plausibly argues that
Nabokov limited his praise to the first half of the Recherche because Proust
was unable to make final corrections on the second half before his death."
[Cf. The Garland Companion to Vladimir Nabokov ed. V.E.Alexandrov. ]. Now it
strikes me that in the two appraisals of ProustÂ’s novel, V. Nabokov employs
the word “half” (first half of our century, the first half of Proust’s fairy
taleÂ…) and, in addition to that, we find that although V.Nabokov chose the
first volume of ProustÂ’s novel for his lecture, he ends it with references
(and incomplete notes and quotations)* to its last volume, namely “The Past
Recovered” ( translated also as “Finding Time again”or “Time regained”), all
of them related to “The Roman d’Albertine” and forming an essential part of
the “second half” of the novel, the one that Nabokov had rejected (and which
was published posthumously.)**

Later on we shall come to another evaluation of ProustÂ’s novel, now
considered in its entirety and through the prism of Charles Kinbote boldly
probing Sybil’s memory (“you remember…you…”). In Pale Fire, after Charles
Kinbote hands Sybil a volume of In Search of Lost Time as a gift to her
husband, he adds:" Â…you remember we decided once, you, your husband and I,
that ProustÂ’s rough masterpiece was a huge ghoulish fairy tale, an asparagus
dream, totally unconnected with any possible people in any historical
France, a sexual travestissement and a colossal farce, the vocabulary of
genius and its poetry, but no moreÂ…" We cannot trust Kinbote, though, not
even his report of SybilÂ’s testimony.

In “Lolita”, Proust, or rather, the narrator Marcel, was presented as the
other “internal combustion martyr,” here in connection to the driving force
behind his search for the Albertine “avatar.” When, as seen in this
postingÂ’s initial quote, the narrator Humbert Humbert writes those lines, he
is also acknowledging his feeling that thereÂ’s no sense in reporting the
following three years in his life since it was then, at that point, that his
active search had come to an end together with his fantasy world (in want of
a better way of phrasing this complicated instant).

However, while he wrote the paragraph in question, he had not yet achieved
MarcelÂ’s wisdom related to the conquest of time through art. Quoting
V.NabokovÂ’s words about Marcel, in the penultimate paragraph of his Lecture
on Proust: “ The illumination is then completed when the narrator realizes
that a work of art is our only means of thus recapturing the past, and to
this end he dedicates himself…” (p.249).

Did HH reach a realization that approaches Marcel’s “illumination”? His last
words in his “Confessions” are:
“…and one wanted H.H. to exist at least a couple of months longer, so as to
have him make you live in the minds of later generations. I am thinking of
aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the
refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my

And… it’s in the beginning of the line “one wanted HH to exist” that, for
me, reveals VN/HHÂ’s insight ( IÂ’m still pondering about it, though) and I
must go back to VNÂ’s lecture on Proust to show the way, on p.210-11 (check
also 222 and 226) “Within the novel the narrator Marcel contemplates, in the
last volume, the ideal novel he will write. ProustÂ’s work is only a copy of
that ideal novel – but what a copy!”

Did he?

And John Shade, did his poem stand by itself ( a matter of some controversy)
or was C. Kinbote needed to make him “live in the minds of later
generations” by a similar procedure as the one adopted by HH ? Too many
hasty questionsÂ…


*- This matter is presented by Fred Bowers, in the introduction to the
edition of V.Nabokov’s Lectures on Literature: “Quotation bulked large in
NabokovÂ’s teaching methodsÂ…In the construction of the present reading
edition from the lectures, NabokovÂ’s method has been followed with very
little cuttingÂ…for the quotations are most helpful in recalling a book to
the readerÂ’s memory or else in introducing it to a fresh reader under
NabokovÂ’s expert guidance[ ]Â…Some few quotations have been selected by the
editor although not called for either in the lectures or in the teaching
copies when the occasion seemed to require illustration of a point that
Nabokov was making[ ] A unique instance, however, occurs at the end of the
lectures on Proust. Nabokov had chosen for his text SwannÂ’s Way, the first
volume of Remembrance of Things Past. The last lecture on Proust ends with
an extended quotation from MarcelÂ’s meditations in the Bois de Boulogne on
his memory of the past that concludes the novel. It is an effective ending
to the novel but it leaves Marcel (and the reader) only a short way along
the road to the full understanding of the functions and operations of memory
as the key to reality, the meaning of the whole work. The musings in the
Bois, indeed, are only one of the different aspects of viewing the past that
in the gradual building up of MarcelÂ’s understanding prepare him for the
final experience that reveals the reality for which he had been searching
through the preceding volumes. This event takes place in the great third
chapter, “The Princesse de Guermantes Receives,” of the final volume, The
Past Recovered. Since the revelation found in this chapter is the key to the
cumulative meaning of the whole series of novels, any consideration of
Proust that did not analyze it in explicit terms and make clear the
difference between its full flowering and the early seed dropped in SwannÂ’s
Way would fail in its essential purpose. Although NabokovÂ’s lectures on
Proust ended with the quotation of the episode in the Bois, a random
sentence or two unconnected directly with his lectures suggests that he may
have taken up the matter with his students, the more especially since the
extensive typed quotations from Derrick LeonÂ’s book on Proust tend to
concentrate on this final episode and its explanation. NabokovÂ’s disjunct
remark that “a nosegay of the senses in the present and the vision of an
event or sensation in the past, this is when sense and memory come together
and lost time is found again” is essentially true and an excellent
encapsulation of ProustÂ’s theme; but it would not be very illuminating to
anyone who had not read this final volume without the full explanation
Proust himself provides in The Past Recaptured. The editor in this
extraordinary case has felt justified, therefore, in extending the Nabokov
ending by fortifying with quotation from the final volume of Remembrance of
Things Past the incomplete Nabokov notes in an attempt to focus more sharply
the essence of the revelation that came to Marcel by providing excerpts from
ProustÂ’s own account of the transformation of memory into reality and into
material for literature.[ ]” (Introduction xi/xii). Obs: I underlined the
instances related to “disjunction,” “random sentence or two” and
“incompleteness,” related to “the second ( ‘disjointed’) second half of
Remembrance of Things Past.

** - A reminder, following the Wikipedia listing of the seven volumes of "In
Search of Lost Time": Swann's Way; In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower;
The Guermantes Way; Sodom and Gomorrah; The Prisoner; The Fugitive;
Finding Time Again, when it is informed that “the last three of the seven
volumes contain oversights and fragmentary or unpolished passages as they
existed in draft form at the death of the author; the publication of these
parts was overseen by his brother Robert. The Prisoner (La Prisonnière, also
translated as The Captive) (1923) is the first volume of the section within
In Search of Lost Time known as "le Roman d'Albertine" ("the Albertine
novel"). The name "Albertine" first appears in Proust's notebooks in 1913.
The material in volume 5 and 6 were developed during the hiatus between the
publication of volumes 1 and 2 and they are a departure of the original
three-volume series originally planned by Proust.”

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