Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026443, Sun, 13 Sep 2015 18:54:09 -0300

RES: [NABOKV-L] Was Nabokov a Hebephile\Ephebophile?
J.A: What about the scene in Speak Memory in which Nabokov was forced to sit on Uncle Ruka's lap, the uncle petting him and lavishing on him endearments until N's Father would put an end to these embarrassing episodes? Don't these have some connection to the famous scene involving Humbert's relieving himself with Lolita's legs on the Haze Davenport sofa? By the way is a similar scene to both in The Defense in which the demented chess genius has an orgasm while being touched by the woman he marries without her understanding what's happened.

JM: A.. Probably some of his reader’s reactions could be of interest to him should he be shaping his own pain and pleasure into words to distance himself from past experiences. The plot of his novel is obviously totally different from what we read in “Speak, Memory” but still I find it curious that there are no mentions (that I’m aware of) to a different perspective through which, at certain times and angles, the nymphet could be envisaged as a faunlet being held up to a star atop a Christmas tree by an over-fond uncle Basile (in ADA we find “Papa Fig” and “old Mr. Nymphobottomus”) .

B. returning to my last posting: why do most readers try to identify the author of “Lolita” with the aggressor HH and not in the victim, Lo? (the conscious representation of painful or traumatic experiences may result from a double reversion of figures and roles: from adult to child, from girl into boy, from victim to aggressor).


C (present posting). The association between the SM episode of small Vladimir on his uncle Ruka’s lap and the divan scene in “Lolita,” brought up by JA, stimulated me to check the original text for my other reference to it and…well! I have no idea why on earth I substituted the uncle’s lap for his holding VN up to place a star on a Xmas tree! (it would have been fun if it were true, it would lead us straight to Gray Star and to Lolita’s demise). JA’s recollection is precise. Mine is a confabulation of disparate elements but this doesn’t compromise the initial association related to nymphets turned into faunlets…

V.Nabokov wrote about his uncle with affection and felt embarrassed for him by being fondled in front of the servants. It doesn’t seem that his father’s interference settled the affair, though. Nor does it seem that VN felt total displeasure and repugnance by his uncle’s caresses.

“Uncle Ruka appeared to me in my childhood to belong to a world of toys, gay picture books, and cherry trees laden with glossy black fruit [ ] When I was eight or nine, he would invariably take me upon his knee after lunch and (while two young footmen were clearing the table in the empty dining room) fondle me, with crooning sounds and fancy endearments, and I felt embarrassed for my uncle by the presence of the servants and relieved when my father called him from the veranda: “Basile, on vous attend.” Once, when I went to meet him at the station (I must have been eleven or twelve then) and watched him descend from the long international sleeping car, he gave me one look and said: “How sallow and plain [jaune et laid] you have become, my poor boy.” On my fifteenth nameday, he took me aside and in his brusque, precise and somewhat old-fashioned French informed me that he was making me his heir. “And now you may go,” he added, “l’audience est finie. Je n’ai plus rien a vous dire.”
[ ] I remember him as a slender, neat little man [ ] a mobile Adam’s apple bobbing conspicuously above the opal and gold snake ring that held the knot of his tie [ ] and there was usually a carnation in the buttonhole of his dove-gray, mouse-gray or silver-gray summer suit. It was only in summer that I used to see him [ ] [from] his beloved Egypt… he would send me picture postcards (palm trees and their reflections, sunsets, pharaohs with their hands on their knees) crossed by his thick scrawl.[ ] Then, in June again, [ ] with the promise of a marvelous present, on small, mincing feet in high-heeled white shoes would lead me mysteriously to the nearest tree and delicately pluck and proffer a leaf, saying, “Pour mon neveu, la chose la plus belle au monde—une feuille verte.” // Or he would solemnly bring me from America the Foxy Grandpa series, and Buster Brown—a forgotten boy in a reddish suit [ ] Every episode ended in a tremendous spanking for Buster, which was administered by his wasp-waisted but powerful Ma [ ] Since I had never been spanked, those pictures conveyed to me the impression of strange exotic torture not different from, say, the burying of a popeyed wretch up to his chin in the torrid sand of a desert, as represented in the frontispiece of a Mayne Reid book.”[ ] “… wearing an opera cloak, he almost lost his life in an airplane crash on a beach near Bayonne. (When I asked him how did the pilot of the smashed Voisin take it, Uncle Ruka thought for a moment and then replied with complete assurance: “Il sanglotait assis sur un rocher.”) He sang barcaroles and modish lyrics (“Ils se regardent tous deux, en se mangeant des yeux …” “Elle est morte en Fevrier, pauvre Colinette! …”

Anyway, the parallels between “Lolita” and a few other novels with VN’s description of his uncle’s improper behavior, in SM, indicate to me how complex were VN’s emotions and associations. I can find snippets of Ruka in various references, in PF, RLSK, ADA to air plane pilots and accidents, characters with prominent Adam’s apples, an emphasis on dove-gray suits here and there, French songs, “Colinette”,aso). Particularly striking to me is VN’s report of his uncle’s occasional behavior linked to an incurable heart ailment and Sebastian Knight’s illness and Sabbath relaxation (besides their postural stretching and feeble heart I see no other points in common bt. Ruka and Sebastian):

“He insisted that he had an incurable heart ailment and that, when the seizures came, he could obtain relief only by lying supine on the floor. Nobody took him seriously, and after he did die of angina pectoris, all alone, in Paris, at the end of 1916, aged forty-five, it was with a quite special pang that one recalled those after-dinner incidents in the drawing room—the unprepared footman entering with the Turkish coffee, my father glancing (with quizzical resignation) at my mother, then (with disapproval) at his brother-in-law spread-eagled in the footman’s path, then (with curiosity) at the funny vibration going on among the coffee things on the tray in the seemingly composed servant’s cotton-gloved hands.” SM, My Uncle

“I suppose Sebastian already knew from what exact heart-disease he was suffering. His mother had died of the same complaint, a rather rare variety of angina pectoris, called by some doctors 'Lehmann's disease'. It appears, however, that after the first attack he had at least a year's respite, though now and then he did experience a queer twinge as of inner itch in his left arm.//He sat down to his task again and worked steadily through the autumn, spring, and winter. The composing of Success turned out to be even more arduous than that of his first novel and took him much longer, although both books were about the same length. By a stroke of luck I have a direct picture of the day Success was finished. This I owe to someone I met later — and indeed many of the impressions I have offered in this chapter have been formed by corroborating the statements of Miss Pratt with those of another friend of Sebastian's, though the spark which had kindled it all belongs in some mysterious manner to that glimpse I had of Clare Bishop walking heavily down a London street.// The door opens. Sebastian Knight is disclosed lying spread-eagled on the floor of his study. Clare is making a neat bundle of the typed sheets on the desk. The person who entered stops short. //'No, Leslie,' says Sebastian from the floor, 'I'm not dead. I have finished building a world, and this is my Sabbath rest.' “ RLSK, 9.

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