NABOKV-L post 0014315, Fri, 8 Dec 2006 10:28:15 -0500

Re: Fw: Nabokov's Kamera Obskura and Hildebrand's Camera Obscura
(Alexey to A. Bouazza)
Dear AB,

Thank you for enlightening me about Nicolaas Beets and for the
recollections of your Dutch teacher!

One can never know with Nabokov who seems to have read everything, but I
suspect that he hasn't heard of Hildebrand's book when he wrote his
Obskura" (what you say of the Dutch "Camera Obscura" seems to confirm
Nabokov's novel has little in common with it) in the early 1930s. Had he
known of its existence, he would probably have chosen a different title.
I think he might have discovered it, not without surprise, later, when
was already an American writer. I suspect, he had learnt of Hildebrand
his CO from the same source that was also mine. And I encountered it in
German article published in the 1950s in "International Review of Social
History" (a multilingual threequaterly that may still appear in London),
"Ein unbekanntes Kapitel aus Marx's Leben," by W. Blumenberg. If my
hypothesis that Nabokov has read this article is correct, he would have
known that Marx was half-Dutch. The maiden name of Marx's mother, who
from the family of Hungarian Jews, was Phillips. Marx had many relatives
Holland who supported him financially. All this seemed interesting to
because in "Ada" (where Marx is mentioned as "Marx pere" and Marx's
daughter, Eleanor Marx-Aveling, is blended with Emma Bovary, the heroine
the novel that she has translated into English, and becomes "Eleonore
Bonvard") at least one among the many characters whose name is "Veen"
clothier in Ruinen or "Velvet" Veen) is Dutch.

Alas, I wasn't as lucky with my (school) teachers who never mentioned
Nabokov - not only because his books were banned, but also because even
teachers of literature didn't know who Nabokov was (although they might
heard of Lolita). When I first read (at twenty I believe) VN's poems,
didn't impress me, except, perhaps, "Lilith" (that, I'm afraid,
attracted my
attention not because of its aesthetical merits). I learnt to appreciate
them (particularly, the mature poems written in Russian) only a couple
years later, when I even attempted to translate several early poems that
seemed simple to me into German (I can only remember now that I
the first line of "Great Bear" as "Um Mitternacht war fuerchterlich das
Meer..."). Otherwise, those attempts were very childish and naiv. "V
("In Paradise") is a beautiful poem.

Incidentally, I have a friend who lives in Rotterdam (he is a Russian
and we
were in the same group in University studying German language and
literature) and who telephoned me today (he does this very seldom: once
twice a year). By an even more striking coincidence, it was he who gave
his copy of "Ada" that I still use today.

best regards,

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