Re: American; Danish; Cresset
Not wanting to labour this topic beyond bearance, I nevertheless believe
that telling points need addressing, or what’s a discussion forum for? Too
often, meseems, good but unwelcome chess moves in the argument are silently
disregarded by posters, who counter with poker faces. This is not playing the
Suellen: My contention is that because Nabokov wanted to be an American
writer he immersed himself in American literature and found in Melville a
tradition that he could graft himself onto. This he did at least in Ada where
there are many Melvillian echoes and threads but especially to Pierre or the
Ambiguities (note the parallel title Ada or Ardour).
I’m happy to say that although I haven’t read Pierre or the Ambiguities I
have done a little browsing on the title, and have been sent scurrying off to
immerse myself in it. At first I was flippantly reminded of Twelfth Night or
What you Will as a third parallel title, but the following review from 1852
has so intrigued me that Pierre clearly falls into the must-read category.
“Pierre; or the Ambiguities is, perhaps, the craziest fiction extant. It has
scenes of unmistakeable power. The characters, however false to nature, are
painted with a glowing pencil, and many of the thoughts reveal an intellect,
the intensity and cultivation of which it is impossible to doubt. But the
amount of utter trash in the volume is almost infinite --- trash of conception,
execution, dialogue and sentiment. Whoever buys the book on the strength of
Melville's reputation, will be cheating himself of his money, and we believe
we shall never see the man who has endured the reading of the whole of it....
Comment upon the [plot] is needless. But even this string of nonsense is
equalled by the nonsense that is strung upon it, in the way of crazy sentiment
and exaggerated passion. What the book means, we know not. To save it from
almost utter worthlessness, it must be called a prose poem, and even then, it
might be supposed to emanate from a lunatic hospital rather than from the
quiet retreats of Berkshire.” --- Charles Gordon Greene, in Boston Post, August 4
Berkshire ? I mused. Is there a Berkshire in America? A puzzling remark,
seemingly contradicted by this: “Pierre; or, The Ambiguities is the only
novel by Melville that takes place on land in the United States.” [From the
internet.] Melville does strike me as rather internationally-minded, although
still indubitably American. Billy Budd, a very fine and beautifully told
story, was set, curiously to me, in the Royal Navy; and it also reveals Melville’s
deep esteem for Andrew Marvell, which I would say VN strongly shared.
Anyway, even before reading it, I am very happy to agree that Ada will show
distinct affinities with Pierre. I do seriously wonder, though, whether VN
deliberately chose Pierre predominantly because it provided an American “
tradition that he could graft himself onto” rather than because it was an
ultra-fascinating piece of writing in its own right.
Suellen: Of course I could go on at length but I'll stop here simply to
say that Nabokov stated over and over his love and affinity for America. He
didn't just "want to be thought of as an American writer", he actually took
pains to be one.
Here are some more quotes from Strong Opinions [ McGraw-Hill, 1973.
Nabokov's first collection of "public prose," interviews, letters to the editor, and
articles] about VNs sense of himself as an American
"I think of myself as an American writer who has once been a Russian one."
"I am as American as an April in Arizona."
"I am 1/3 American --- good American flesh keeping me warm and safe."
"I am an American, I feel American, and I like that feeling"
"I see myself as an American writer...".
These quotes, at first glance, seem very compelling, especially the last
two. On second thoughts the first three strike me as slightly dubious. I do
think that the dates they were uttered, as well as the contexts in which they
were made, also have to be given close consideration. I am reminded of the
popular statesman who famously declared “Ich bin ein Berliner”, and the political
context in which he made it.
Although I have already taken MR’s earlier points about how and why VN
came to move to Switzerland with due respect, I still can’t help feeling that
they are insufficient on their own to explain a wholesale change of domicile
from 1959 onwards until his death, unless the Swiss environment was
fundamentally more congenial to the family. Somewhere I remember reading that V&VN never
owned a home in their entire lives, so I suppose they were in any case
constitutionally peripatetic. I regret I still tend to believe that VN in America
was never more than a European/Russian, living a cultural frontier life.
Perhaps that should be changed to a social frontier life. They were rather private
people, after all.
Although I sincerely trust that these remarks are not being interpreted as “
snobby”, perhaps I ought to explain what was I trying to say by suggesting
that European literature/values were elitist rather than democratic. But
perhaps I ought not to go on too long.
Two more things, though.
Flipping through Jekyll and Hyde, I noticed that VN got his “Danish” name
etymologies from “an old book on surnames”, on which the inaccuracies have to
Carolyn’s thought that VN owned the 1947 Cresset edition of Hogg would have
to mean that VN inserted the echo into his 1965 translation of the 1932
original. The previous edition, in about 1922, was not issued by Cresset (I
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