NABOKV-L post 0018625, Thu, 1 Oct 2009 16:41:58 -0300

Subject
[NABOKOV-L] [TANGENTIAL NABOKOV] Sherlock, Bend Sinister,
Footprints...
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Edmund Wilson and Nabokov often discussed detective novels in their correspondence. They took the trouble to transcribe examples that they thought were either badly written (R.T.. Scott, E. Bramah, Richard Connell,J.D.Beresford, A. Berkeley) or merited praise (Dorothy L.Sayers). In one of his letters Nabokov parodies a Sherlck Holmes investigation concerning a couple of butterfly drawings Wilson had sent to him. Around that time he has been rereading Conan Doyle and mentions his delight with "The Hound of the Baskervilles".
Nabokov also praises an article by Wilson he's just read in The New Yorker ( in the same issue there are adverts for Boticelli-Venus illustrated "Chantilly" bath tablets; a long article about a certain Beardsley Ruml; a sherry brand named "Williams and Humbert.") Feb. 17, 1945 edition.

This time there are no ferocious hounds nor any minute spurs in the snow. Wilson's article was titled "Mr. Holmes, They Were the Footprints of a Gigantic Hound."
Around this period Nabokov was trying to find a publisher for the newly named novel "Bend Sinister" (which Wilson severely criticized in one of his letters to VN) and, perhaps independently or not, unconsciously or not, there were interesting comments about the word "Sinister" in Wilson's review, also about what constitutes for him "good writing and fairy-tales".
Excerpts: "Detective stories are actually a habit-forming drug for which its addicts will fight like tigers." "Sherlock Holmes is literature on a humble but not ignoble level, whereas mystery writers most in vogue now are not. The older stories are literature, not because of the conjuring tricks and the puzzles...but by virtue of imagination and style. These are fairy-tales, as Conan Doyle intimated in his preface to his last collection, and they are among the most enchanting of fairy tales and not among the least distinguished." Creating Sherlock and Dr. Watson was "perhaps the only time in his life he had hit upon a genuine spell" ( an indirect comment about Conan Doyle's dabblings with fairies and spiritualism). "Doyle is exploiting a device quite remote from the suave story-telling of Stevenson: he is working in the familiar tradition ...of the commonplace and common-sense narrative which arouses excitement and wonder. He can mae us feel the presence of the "sinister" - to use one of his favorite words - even in a situation which does not include any fantastic ingredient." Wilson ends his review stating that: "One rarely finds the word "sinister" today; it implies that a spy or a murder, a piece of trechery or an insane neurosis, is something of exceptional occurrence."

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