NABOKV-L post 0014133, Tue, 21 Nov 2006 13:51:43 -0200

Dear List,

"Look at the Harlequins" (LATH) is not my favourite among VNs novels, but it deserved praises from Bouazza and Alexey, whose opinions I value. So, perhaps they and you might explore hidden marvels and teach me the way...
In Part One, chapter one, right at the begining, there was an "or" that puzzled me. In another paragraph the same doubt reappeared, but its indefinition seemed to be a lot more reasonable than the narrator's doubts about how many wives he had.

1. I met the first of my three OR four successive wives in somewhat odd circumstances...

2. I sent Ivor Black a polite postcard advising him that I might arrive in Cannes OR Nice some time next week.

I was reminded of Shakespeare's phoenix-date palm in New Wye in the sentence: "Palm trees are all right only in mirages..." but then, in LATH, we shall encounter all sorts of allusions to former novels and an embaras of crisscrossing references...

Our character ( nicknamed McNab?) suffers, like so many others, from various nervous disorders. He states: " The main reason I had agreed to come was the hope of treating in the "brillant brine" (Bennett? Barbellion?) a nervous complaint that skirted insanity. The left side of my head was now a bowling alley of pain. By the time we finally made it to the village of Carnavaux (mottled plane trunks...)"
Here we find, in Carnavaux, Carnival or Mardi Gras, that is, a first a hint of the Harlequin, emphasized by the "mottled plane trunks". The latter word: "mottled", applies not only to a Harlequin costume, but to haphazard effects of light on him. (This spotted rhomboidal element apopears in Agatha Christie's short-stories about Mr. Harley Quin ( The Mysterious Mr. Quin, 1930).

On chapter two, our narrator emphasizes his mental problems:"As a child of seven or eight, already harboring the secrets of a confirmed madman, I seemed even to her (who also was far from normal)..." The pronoun refers to his grand-aunt, Baroness Bredow, born Tolstoy, who brought him up and who taught him about the harlequins: " I kept daydreaming in a most outrageous fashion.
"Stop moping!" she would cry: "Look at the harlequins!
"What harlequins? Where?"
"Oh, everywhere. All around you. Trees are harlequins, words are
harlequins. So are situations and sums. Put two things together--jokes,
images--and you get a triple harlequin. Come on! Play! Invent the world!
Invent reality!"
I did. By Jove, I did. I invented my grand-aunt in honor of my first daydreams, and now, down the marble steps of memory's front porch, here she
slowly comes, sideways, sideways, the poor lame lady, touching each step edge with the rubber tip of her black cane.
(When she cried out those four words, they came out in a breathless dactylic line with a swift lispy lilt, as if it were "lookaty," assonating with "lickety" and introducing tenderly, ingratiatingly those "harlequins" who arrived with festive force, the "bar" richly stressed in a burst of inspired persuasion followed by a liquid fall of sequin-like syllables).

The first references that came to my mind very obviously derived from "Lolita" and "Ada".

Ada: Van "was found worthy of being initiated in her web of wisdom. An individual’s life consisted of certain classified things: ‘real things’ which were unfrequent and priceless, simply ‘things’ which formed the routine stuff of life; and ‘ghost things,’ also called ‘fogs,’ such as fever, toothache, dreadful disappointments, and death. Three or more things occurring at the same time formed a ‘tower,’ or, if they came in immediate succession, they made a ‘bridge.’ ‘Real towers’ and ‘real bridges’ were the joys of life, and when the towers came in a series, one experienced supreme rapture; it almost never happened, though. In some circumstances, in a certain light, a neutral ‘thing’ might look or even actually become ‘real’ or else, conversely, it might coagulate into a fetid ‘fog.’ When the joy and the joyless happened to be intermixed, simultaneously or along the ramp of duration, one was confronted with ‘ruined towers’ and ‘broken bridges.’ "

Lolita: Part One, "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta."


Search the archive:
Contact the Editors:,
Visit Zembla:
View Nabokv-L policies: