Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0016940, Thu, 21 Aug 2008 11:29:37 EDT

Re: [NABOKOV-L] A muderder's fancy prose

In a message dated 21/08/2008 15:46:27 GMT Standard Time,
vanveen13@SBCGLOBAL.NET writes:

I take H.H.'s sentence about how you can always count on a murderer for a
fancy prose style in a couple ways. There's what the character means, what the
author means, and what the gambit of a fancy prose style for a lurid subject
is actually about. H.H. I assume means that because he's a murderer he's not
going to speak the plain truth, that he's going to use words to get around
sordidness and elide ethical lapses; N is warning the reader through the
narrator to closely read what this character tries to get away with; a great many
of the book's first readers forgot this as the book progressed and fell for
the narrator's fanciness as sensitivity. Note Dorthy Parker's review, who
thought H.H. was a good complicated man and Lolita a hard nosed brat with a
tender spot for money! But I suspect the true reason for all this fanciness was
that Nabokov, an old fashioned gentleman in terms of literature, was
uncomfortable with outright obscenity and had to come up with a way to mitigate the
lewd material, similiar to Anthony Burgess use of the nadsat slang in A
Clockwork Orange (follow this link and you can read my recently published essay on
the film, which has a few mentions of N.:
_http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/61/61clockwork.html_ (http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/61/61clockwork.html) ), so
he could allow himself to penetrate as deeply into the subject as he did.
What other reasons can there be for H.H.'s often untranslated French
pornographic poetry, or having Humbert censor Lolita in their last scene together when
she tells him she refused to "blow" Clare Quilty's "beastly boys"? Ordinarily
this sort of thing would not work, would seem coy and arch in English, but
succeeds brilliantly because Nabokov has made it into a wonderfully ironic
psychological touch. H.H. can casually destroy a little girl's life, turn her
into his cross-country sex slave and reduce the poor thing to the status a
whore, making her perform hand jobs on him while he watches school girls debark
from a bus, but he's too prissy to be able to deal with the girl's slangy
sexual vulgarisms, and refuses to reprint verbatim Lolita's four letter language
when the two of them are nearly caught in the act on a mountainside! Nabokov
turned what I think was an aesthetic limitation into an amazing advantage, a
way to dramatize the character's slimy self-serving dishonesty, which makes
H.H. rather like Eichman if you think about it.

This is all absolutely correct, and indeed obvious, but almost never stated
so well, if at all.

Anthony Stadlen

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