Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026717, Mon, 21 Dec 2015 14:00:03 -0200

Christmas time tales and Nabokov

Among the wintry Russians, Tolstoy and Chekhov produced stories in which
Christian goodness prevails. But in "The Night Before Christmas" (1832),
Gogol, writing in the folk tradition passed down to him by his Ukrainian
mother, tells a wild tale that begins in the witching hour (literally, with
a witch on a broomstick), where the devil gets his due. Gogol's magic is not
Christian (miraculous and didactic), but that of a trickster who steals the
moon and hides it in his pocket. As in Dickens, a man is flown about by a
spirit, but for the purpose of mischief-making rather than moral

A century later, Nabokov wrote two stories typical of his canon in their
cunning and tenderness, while at the same time pinning the essential
elements of the Christmas genre. "Christmas" (1925) is about a father
visiting his country manor after the death of a beloved son, whom he
remembers netting butterflies. When he moves one of his son's pupae into the
heat of the house it emerges unexpectedly, a rebirth as fantastic as the
Resurrection itself. This is fiction as consoling and full of powerful magic
as any religion. It is written wittingly, inside, and out of, tradition -
Christian, rather than Gogol's paganism - and, like the smartest of these
tales, knows its place, even as it tries to usurp it.

Three years later in "A Christmas Story," Nabokov conducted the discussion
of a story's "place" out in the open, pondering the fate of the imagination
under tyranny and reconsidering the debate about puritanism. Wondering how
to write fiction in a manner acceptable to Soviet Russia's cultural
commissars, an old writer, a novice writer, and a critic all discuss how
Christmas can be viable in times that insist only on the real. Finally, the
old man comes up with a story in which well-fed Europeans are mesmerized by
a shop-window Christmas tree stacked with ham and fruit, all the while
ignoring a body slumped "in front of the window, on the frozen sidewalk - ".
The sentence needs no completion: the winning formula has been found
(decadent foreigners blind to the suffering of the poor). As one might
expect from Nabokov, it is a knowing piece - the old writer struggling to
describe Christmas in the critically-approved language (the "insolent
Christmas tree," the "so-called 'Christmas' snow"), and the critic, who
writes for a journal called Red Reality, praising the novice's depiction of
peasant lust, but dismissing his portrayal of an intellectual because "There
is no real sense of his being doomed."

A History of the Christmas Story: Not Altogether Christmas but Christmas All

<http://electricliterature.com/author/kate-webb/> Kate Webb December 16,


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