Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026816, Tue, 19 Jan 2016 15:12:43 -0200

{NABOKV-L] The work of memory: The Circle, Pnin, Firsr Love,
The Reunion
In “The Circle” (VN’s Krug), “Innokentiy goes fishing with Vasiliy, the
blacksmith’s son. According to Koldunov, he and Lik used to catch bychki
(gobies) in childhood: “Remember, Lavrusha, how we used to catch gobies
together? As clear as if it happened yesterday. One of my fondest memories.
Yes./ Lik knew perfectly well that he had never fished with Koldunov, but
confusion, ennui, and timidity prevented him from accusing this stranger of
appropriating a nonexistent past,” as A.Sklyarenko informs.

A (not quite) similar situation is described in “Pnin”, whose narrator has
known Pnin since he was “a thirteen-year-oldgimnazist (classical school
pupil)” [ ] “Do I really remember his crew cut, his puffy pale face, his
red ears? Yes, distinctly. I even remember the way he imperceptibly removed
his shoulder from under the proud paternal hand, while the proud paternal
voice was saying: ‘This boy has just got a Five Plus (A +) in the Algebra
examination.” (ch.1) Pnin, however, denies any knowledge of this encounter,
as the narrator informs in ch.3: It was the custom among émigré writers and
artists to gather at the Three Fountains [ ] and it was on such an occasion
that, still hoarse from my reading, I tried not only to remind Pnin of
former meetings, but also to amuse him and other people around us with the
unusual lucidity and strength of my memory. However, he denied everything.
He said he vaguely recalled my grand-aunt but had never met me. He said that
his marks in algebra had always been poor and that, anyway, his father never
displayed him to patients; he said that in Zabava (Liebelei) he had only
acted the part of Christine's father. He repeated that we had never seen
each other before. Our little discussion was nothing more than good-natured
banter, and everybody laughed; and noticing how reluctant he was to
recognize his own past, I switched to another, less personal, topic.”

I had forgotten that Mira Belochkin (at least, Belochkin’s siter) is first
mentioned in ch. 2, where he mentions the cast of A.Schnitzler’s “Liebelei”:
“Fritz was played by stocky, forty-year-old Ancharov. [ ] Fritz's pal
(was) Theodor Kaiser (Grigoriy Belochkin). A moneyed old maid in real life,
whom Ancharov humoured, was miscast as Christine Weiring, the violinist's
daughter. The role of the little milliner, Theodor's amoretta, Mizi
Schlager, was charmingly acted by a pretty, slender-necked, velvet-eyed
girl, Belochkin's sister, who got the greatest ovation of the night.” The
narrator’s recollections certainly provoked painful remembrances in Pnin and
his denials might have stemmed from his wish to keep the narrator at bay,
just as Lik had (unsuccessfully) attempted to shy away from Koldunov’s fond

While perusing through V. Nabokov’s short-stories I found a reference to two
other similar situations related to the workings of memory. In “The
Reunion”: “Serafim shook his head and got up, tugging down his waistcoat.
His gaze-stopped once again on the oleograph of the girl in red with the
black poodle.

"Do you recall its name?" he asked, with his first genuine smile
of the evening.

"Whose name?"

"Oh, you know—Tikhotski used to visit us at the dacha with a
girl and a poodle. What was the poodle's name?"

"Wait a minute," said Lev. "Wait a minute. Yes, that's right.
I'll remember in a moment."

"It was black," said Serafim. "Very much like this one.... Where
did you put my coat? Oh, there it is. Got it."

"It's slipped my mind too," said Lev. "Oh, what was the name?" [

"It's really absurd," exclaimed Serafim. "I know it's there in one of my
brain cells, but I can't reach it."

"What was the name... what was it?" Lev chimed in. "It really is
absurd that we can't... Remember how it got lost once, and you and
Tikhotski's girl wandered for hours in the woods searching for it. I'm sure
there was a k and perhaps an r somewhere."

They reached the square. On its far side shone a pearl horseshoe
on blue glass—the emblem of the subway. Stone steps led into the depths.

"She was a stunner, that girl," said Serafim. "Well, I give up.
Take care of yourself. Sometime we'll get together again."

"It was something like Turk.... Trick... No, it won't come. It's
hopeless. You also take care of yourself. Good luck."

Serafim gave a wave of his spread hand, and his broad back
hunched over and vanished into the depths. Lev started walking back slowly,
across the square, past the post office and the beggar woman.... Suddenly he
stopped short. Somewhere in his memory there was a hint of motion, as if
something very small had awakened and begun to stir. The word was still
invisible, but its shadow had already crept out as from behind a corner, and
he wanted to step on that shadow to keep it from retreating and disappearing
again. Alas, he was too late. Everything vanished, but, at the instant his
brain ceased straining, the thing stirred again, more perceptibly this time,
and like a mouse emerging from a crack when the room is quiet, there
appeared, lightly, silently, mysteriously, the live corpuscle of a word....
‘Give me your paw, Joker.’ Joker! How simple it was. Joker...”.

And in “First Love” : “The dog was a female fox terrier with bells on her
collar and a most waggly behind. From sheer exuberance, she would lap up
salt water out of Colette's toy pail. I remember the sail, the sunset, and
the lighthouse pictured on that pail, but I cannot recall the dog's name,
and this bothers me.” [ ] And now a delightful thing happens. The process
of re-creating that penholder and the microcosm in its eyelet stimulates my
memory to a last effort. I try again to recall the name of Colette's
dog—and, sure enough, along those remote beaches, over the glossy evening
sands of the past, where each footprint slowly fills up with sunset water,
here it comes, here it comes, echoing and vibrating: Floss, Floss, Floss!”


Btw: I couldn’t figure out what is the meaning of “yore” in this sentence
(from “Lips to Lips”): "And his entire yore seemed to him a horrible error,"
roared Ilya Borisovich, and then added, in his ordinary office voice, "Type
this out for tomorrow, five copies, wide margins, I shall expect you here at
the same hour."

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