NABOKV-L post 0018648, Fri, 9 Oct 2009 13:48:37 -0300

[NABOKOV-L] [ Sighting] [QUERY] Ada's first lines: Pontius
Julian W. Connolly ["The first lines in 'Ada or Ardor' are more or less similar to Tolstoy's: " 'All happy families are more or less dissimilar[...]the first part of which is, perhaps, closer to another Tolstoy work, Detstvo i Otrochestvo (Childhood and Fatherland, Pontius Press, 1858)..." to which work was Nabokov referring?] : Early in his career Tolstoy wrote three works with the titles "Detstvo," "Otrochestvo," and "Iunost'", which translate as "Childhood," "Boyhood," and "Youth." Nabokov deliberately mistranslates the word "otrochestvo" [boyhood] as "fatherland," which, in Russian, is "otechestvo" a word that is phonetically close to "otrochestvo." He may be getting in a subtle dig at poor translators.

JM: Thank you. I felt there was a "subtle dig" but could not find my way to understand what it was.

Yesterday I received the long awaited new issue of "Nabokov Studies" (vol. 11- 2007/2008).
Its opening article, by Monica Manolescu-Oancea ( "Humbert's Arctic Adventures: Some Intertextual Explorations"), deals with "the controversial and ambiguous nature of Nabokovian intertextuality." (p.5,n.3) among other lucidly researched items concerning the poles and polar bears in "Lolita".
Monica M-O mentions the pitfalls when an ingenuous reader follows a false "allusion" (as the one with a false quote about Corneille's El Cid) but, inspite of the risks, it might be interesting to explore involuntary associations which might have been present in the author's mind, but which he suppressed.
In one of his letters ( Nov.24,1942, No.55) Nabokov describes "a little man, with mild watery eyes" who was often "dismally silent." And yet, while showing VN the Lincoln Monument, he volubly and excitedly reacted to a flagpole. Nabokov ends his report with: " And next day I noticed him tingle for a moment when I happened to mention Poland and Poles. Good case for the Viennese Wizard (who might also observe that "pol" means "sex" in Russian)."
Inspite of the jab against freudians who would find meaning in "pol" when the matter was "natives of Poland" and "flagpoles," Nabokov himself revealed his associative contamination by the words (in English & in Russian), related to the arctic "poles."
Trained in the "viennese" tradition, I couldn't avoid reading it into other Nabokov references - as those quoted by Monica M-O in connection to this disquieting theme (SM: "those companionable phantoms of ships in polar waters", on the "mirage" theme; the Scott polar exploration in which "He sought for the secret of the Pole but found God" ; "the awkward screen meant to dissimulate his desire, a veil..." when the "teller and the listener are momentarily embraced in a scene that stages a tremulous intimacy between words and bodies, behind the verbal and sensual texture of Humbert's arctic adventures".) They may have some bearing on VN's explicit writings and offer another perspective into reading them, but this is very difficult to ascertain. Nevertheless, besides "ambiguous allusions," it is undeniable that "unconscious allusions" are inevitable.

J.Aisenberg [...I would, however, like to explain why I made such a "gross overstatement"... jansymellow queried a quote from Speak Memory, which, resourceful as ever, she cross-referenced with something from the Nabokov-Wilson correspondence, letter 123, page 173 of the paperback.... all I know is how much "gayness" fringes just about everyone of his books.]

J.M: After I began to question (in the N-List) my own ignorance about Sergey Nabokov's life, I received several rich bibliographic indications, most of them from J.Twiggs. I took the trouble to copy them for the benefit of those who share my curiosity from:
Steven Belletto "The Zemblan Who Came in From the Cold, or Nabokov's Pale Fire, Chance, and the Cold War" ELH 73 (2006) Johns Hopkins University Press:

Belletto's article demands a more careful examination than the one I'm able to present here. It's sufficient to say that Belletto argues that Nabokov, chiefly through Pale Fire 's puns and wordgames, could "engage cultural narratives that prescribed the limits of mid-century reality." For him "In Pale Fire the politics of late 1950s America look enough like the 'containment narrative' familiar to Cold War scholars ( and Kinbote's invented Zembla looks enough like a Soviet satellite state) that we ought to ask to what end Nabokov is refracting real-world politics through the prism of his aesthetics." Belleto sees that "the pervasive practice of eliding differences among the so-called enemies of democratic freedom to read homosexuals as political threats on par with Communists. For Nabokov, the logic of what I will refer to as the homophobic narrative was as tragically absurd as the logic of Kinbote's tale of Zembla" [underlined by me].
In Bellotto's controversial article we read that "the genesis of the Zembla narrative is Kinbote's pariah status as a homosexual in the New Wye (New York) community of 1958-1959, the engine driving much of the tale - the assassination plot - exists to convert Shade's accidental death from a freak chance event to an effect explicable by clear causal progression. In short, through Kinbote's narrative, Shade's death paradoxically becomes both cause and effect of the Zembla story."
For him Nabokov "links the potential for real-life coincidences to textual or linguistic coincidences."
Bellotto also quotes the sentence in SM which has been the starting point of this discussion ( in note 12 to his article). He observes that "...can neither replace or redeem"... "reads to me like a man who - with the benefit of a half-century's reflection - is publicly resisting the homosexual 'type' he dropped in a private letter."[ib.] Before writing this down, he'd quoted Steven Bruhm's words about Hermann , Sergey's husband [ following another reference by B.Boyd (RY,396)]: "What we have here is the epistemology of a closet that is both homophobic and queer, one that sees the gay man as a 'type" yet that ostentatiously dissociates him from that typology".

a. General readings with items related to the issue (homophobia, homosexuality, Kinbote, Sergey):
Mary McCarthy: "A Bolt from the Blue" in The Writing on the Wall and Other Literary Essays ( New York:Harcourt, 1970)
Dwight Macdonald, "Virtuosity Revarded, or Dr.Kinbote's Revenge" Partisan Review 29 (Summer 1962)
Andrew Field: Nabokov, His Life in Art ( Boston: Little,Brown, 1967)
David Walker, "The Viewer of the View'; Chance and Choice in Pale Fire,"; Studies in American Fiction 4 ( 1976)
Priscilla Meyer, Find What the Sailor Has Hidden: Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire (Middleton:Wesleyan Univ.Press, 1988)
Brian Boyd, Nabokov's Pale Fire. The Magic of Artistic Discovery (Princeton:Princeton Univ.Press, 1999)
Brian Boyd, VN:The Russian Years
Stacy Shiff, Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov), New York, Random House, 1999
Dana Dragunoiu "Vladimir Nabokov's Ada: Art, Deceptions, Ethics," Contemporary Literature 46 (Summer 2005)

b. More specific articles:
Frank Kermode, "Zemblances," The New Statesman ( 9 November 1962)
Jean Walton: "Dissenting in an Age of Frenzied Heterosexualism: Kinbote's Transparent Closet in Nabokov's Pale Fire": College Literature, Vol. 21, 1994.
Steven Bruhm, "Queer, Queer Vladimir," American Imago,53 , 1996
Phyllis Roth, "The Psychology of the Double in Nabokov's Pale Fire," Essays in Literature 2 (1975)
Kevin Ohi, "Narcisism and Queer Reading in Pale Fire," Nabokov Studies 5 (1998/1999)
Brian Boyd "Reflections on Narcissus" Nabokov Studies 5 (1998/1999)
Paul Allen Miller, "The Crewcut Homoerotic Discourse in Nabokov's Pale Fire" in Discourse and Ideology in Nabokov's Prose, ed. David H.J.Larmour (London: Routledge, 2002).

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors:,
Visit Zembla:
View Nabokv-L policies:
Visit "Nabokov Online Journal:"

Manage subscription options: