NABOKV-L post 0018627, Sat, 3 Oct 2009 13:20:22 -0300

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Re: [NABOKOV-L] [QUERY: SPEAK MEMORY]
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[JM: There is a sentence in Nabokov's "Speak Memory," which I find hard to understand: "It is one of those lives that hopelessly claim a belated something - compassion, understanding, no matter what - which the mere recognition of such a want can neither replace nor redeem." Can anyone offer an interpretation about what the lines in his "tribute" mean?...Is there any article which explores VN's relationship to Sergei, independently of what has already been linked to TRLSK, which may be helpful to understand more about V. and S.? ]

JM: According to Jorio Dauster (private communication) the meaning of the sentence is quite clear. It involves Nabokov's guilt-feelings and "his regret for not having tried to express compassion for his brother while he was still alive". Nabokov is also acknowledging that his omission wouldn't be compensated or redeemed by anything he might say in the present" ( Nabokov's comment would be referring to his blindness to his brother's emotional vacuum and imply in a recognition of his arrogance and disdain towards him).He agrees that these words were not intended as a tribute to Sergei.

Jorio's translation: "É uma dessas vidas que em vão exigem algo que já lhes devia ter sido concedido anteriormente - compaixão, compreensão, sabe-se lá o quê -, e cuja falta não pode ser compensada ou perdoada pelo mero reconhecimento de sua existência."

James Twiggs has brought to my attention various interesting links (not written by Nabokov scholars). I selected two, which seem to offer an interpretation to the query concerning interpretations of VN's tribute:

1. A Look Back at LOLITA by Randall Radic -April 27,2009
http://www.alvahsbooks.com/essays/essay-a-look-back-at-lolita-by-randall-radic/
excerpts: " Nabokov definitely failed his siblings, shrugging off the vaunted Russian sensibility of family ties. This is clear from his guilt over his relationship with his brother Sergei. Nabokov couldn't get around his brother's homosexuality. His mood toward Sergei was tightly complex, composed of sour indifference, flippant disdain, and a deeper zone of doubt and foreboding: all the product of three basic factors: his own aristocratic snobbishness, the security provided by his fame and wealth, and the simple fact that Nabokov could not imagine any other response. Such as forgiveness, understanding, tolerance and love. It never entered his mind to be anything but judgmental and disapproving. Yet when Sergei died, Nabokov felt as if a piece of his own flesh had been torn from him. He realized he loved his brother and that if had tried, perhaps he could have done something for him. Too late."

2. Salon, 2000: http://www.salon.com/books/feature/2000/05/17/nabokov
The gay Nabokov : The novelist never could face the secret that cost his brother his life.
By Lev Grossman, May 17, 2000

excerpts: "Sergei's homosexuality would cast a long shadow over his strange and heroic life, and it would also, ultimately, be the cause of his horrifying and untimely death. It cast a shadow over Vladimir's life as well: He loved his brother, but whatever else he may have been -- a brilliant writer, a loving father -- Vladimir was a confirmed homophobe, and his gay brother was a constant source of shame, confusion and regret to him.
..........
Vladimir's tortured relationship with Sergei is one of the secret stories of an otherwise very public life, and Nabokov scholars are only now slowly coming to terms with the depths of Nabokov's prejudice. They're also becoming increasingly aware that Sergei is a crucially important figure in his brother's work, a presence with whom Nabokov grappled, in different ways and with different degrees of success, throughout his lengthy oeuvre. Meanwhile, the facts of Sergei's life are still obscure -- forgotten or concealed behind euphemisms or confined to the dusty realm of footnotes and archives.
.........
Nabokov once told an interviewer, "I probably had the happiest childhood imaginable." But Sergei did not...
.........
"Nabokov was fascinated by doubles, and his work is full of them -- mirrors, twins, reflections, chance resemblances. Sergei was his brother's double, a "shadow in the background," as Nabokov put it. All his life Vladimir would be the golden wordsmith, the master of language; Sergei was afflicted with an atrocious stutter that would only get worse as he got older... "
........
"They were never friends when they were children," says Sikorski [Elena Nabokov]. "There was always a sort of aversion."
.......
Nabokov said that he hardly remembered Sergei as a boy. He once wrote, "I could describe my whole youth in detail without recalling him once." But Sergei lurks in every corner ...The two brothers went on to earn identical degrees, seconds in Russian and French, but in all other respects Vladimir and Sergei were utterly different. Composer Nicolas Nabokov, cousin to Vladimir and Sergei, paints much the same double portrait: "Rarely have I seen two brothers as different as Volodya and Seryozha. The older one, the writer and poet, was lean, dark, handsome, a sportsman, with a face resembling his mother's. Seryozha ... was not a sportsman. White-blond with a reddish tint to his face, he had an incurable stutter. But he was gay, a bit indolent, and highly sensitive (and therefore an easy butt for teasing sports)"
.........
Vladimir remained in Berlin, where he met and married his wife, Vera, but Sergei moved on to Paris...the legendary Paris of expatriates, the Paris of modernists and the avant-garde...While Vladimir never stopped mourning the Russia of his youth, Sergei most likely felt at home for the first time in a city that celebrated art and music, and that took his gayness in stride...According to Ledkovsky, Sergei was deeply kind, "always a gentleman," devoted to music but also steeped in Russian, French and English poetry -- all languages that, along with German, he spoke fluently."He was a very talented, brilliant man," says Ledkovsky. "If he were not so timid and shy, if he didn't feel so ... out of place, who knows? He might have been the equal of Vladimir."
......................
The story of Sergei's life in Paris has a Cinderella ending. Sometime in the late '20s or early '30s he met and fell in love with a wealthy, aristocratic Austrian...In a letter that Sergei wrote to his mother, he describes the joy his relationship with Hermann gave him:"I think that you will understand, understand that all those who do not accept and do not understand my happiness are strangers to me." Was his own brother one of those strangers?
.........
According to Andrew Field, his first biographer, Nabokov considered homosexuality to be a hereditary illness... Abnormal or not, homosexuality was actually an important part of life in the Nabokov family.
In his biography of Nabokov, Boyd notes "Humbert's first feignedly nonchalant fumbles with Lolita," and suggests that "the adult Nabokov's disapproval of homosexuals and his solicitude for childhood innocence may all have their origins here."
........
"I believe Nabokov was quite homophobic," says Galya Diment, vice president of the Nabokov Society and a professor in the Slavic department at the University of Washington. "It behooves his fans and admirers to admit it -- and also to regret it." Where did this prejudice come from, in a man who spoke out vehemently against both racism and anti-Semitism ?...
..........
Since Nabokov's death in 1977, the responsibility for managing his posthumous reputation has fallen to his son Dmitri, who is fiercely protective of his father's public image...When his father's attitude toward homosexuality came up on NABOKV-L, a public e-mail list devoted to Nabokov's work, Dmitri leapt into the fray. "I knew it was only a matter of time before the sexual-preference police would go to town on my father," he wrote.
He summed up Nabokov's ambivalence perfectly: "He had a sense of justice, a homosexual brother, and not one but two homosexual uncles. Among the writers he admired there were plenty of homosexuals, from Proust to Edmund White. He had a number of homosexual friends..."
..............
At no point did Nabokov, who in "Lolita" would wring pathos from the sufferings of a child molester, ever have the courage to publicly state that his brother was gay. "It may be a kind of prudery," muses Michael Wood...("The Magician's Doubts")...From the giggly ballet dancers of Nabokov's first novel, "Mary," to the ghastly Gaston Godin, Humbert Humbert's neighbor in "Lolita," to the egomaniacal narrator of "Pale Fire," they are vain, silly, usually effeminate Many of them are pedophiles. Not once did Nabokov, the master observer, describe an instance of mature love between adults of the same sex -- even though a glowing example of that love was right before his eyes.
...........
Although Nabokov's gay characters are two-dimensional at best, Sergei found other, more interesting ways to haunt his brother's fiction. In "The Real Life of Sebastian Knight," ...one finds uncanny references to Sergei everywhere... "The similarities of Sebastian and Sergei fit so well together, it's an aspect of the work that you really have to consider," says Michael Begnal...

Brian Boyd... believes that the real inspiration for Lucette was Sergei. "The centrality of Lucette in 'Ada,'" he argues in an e-mail, "in some ways seems to reflect Nabokov's sense of Sergei: the non-favorite, the frail one beside his confident sibling, the concentration camp victim ... the one we're invited to ignore, and even want to dismiss from the story, but eventually realize we should never have overlooked."
If Boyd is right, "Ada" gives us a last glimpse of Nabokov thinking about Sergei -- and maybe, at last, starting to think about him in a new light. "I think that Nabokov often tries to be inhumanly secure, and confident, and happy, and unregretful," Wood observes. "If he pulled that off, he would be a monster. It's a fine thing to try -- and an even finer thing to fail."
................
Whatever peace Nabokov may have made with Sergei in fiction, it came long after Sergei's death in fact.
( On Nov. 24, 1943, he served as best man at Ledkovsky's wedding. Three weeks later he was arrested for the second time.Sergei's conduct in the camp was nothing less than heroic.)

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