Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026822, Fri, 22 Jan 2016 11:31:17 -0200

- Ultima Thule,,ToOL, The Circle and The Gift.
I just received Stephen Blackwell’s auspicious information naming the winners of VN prizes and the great number of special awards. Congratulations to all, I wish I could start reading articles, publications and books immediately! I wonder if there are any of them available on line. Cf. Announcement: Three Nabokov Studies prizes were announced at the Society Business Meeting in Austin on Jan. 9, 2016. Congratulations to all finalists and winners! -Stephen Blackwell, secretary, IVNS.


Alexey Sklyarenko: In VN’s story Krug (“The Circle,” 1936) [ ] Tanya Godunov-Cherdyntsev, with whom Innokentiy (the main character in “The Circle”) was in love as boy, is the sister of Fyodor Konstantinovich Godunov-Cherdyntsev, the main character and narrator in VN’s novel Dar (“The Gift,” 1937)[ ] In Bend Sinister the name of one of the Ekwilist soldiers is Gurk (Krug backwards). According to Kinbote, Odon [ ] has the half-brother Nodo, a cardsharp and despicable traitor.”

Jansy Mello: In his notes to “The Circle”, V. Nabokov writes:

“By the middle of 1936, not long before leaving Berlin forever and finishing Dar (The Gift) in France, I must have completed at least four-fifths of its last chapter when at some point a small satellite separated itself from the main body of the novel and started to revolve around it. Psychologically, the separation may have been sparked either by the mention of Tanya's baby in her brother's letter or by his recalling the village schoolmaster in a doomful dream. Technically, the circle which the present corollary describes (its last sentence existing implicitly before its first one) belongs to the same serpent-biting-its-tail type as the circular structure of the fourth chapter in Dar (or, for that matter, Finnegans Wake, which it preceded).[ ] It may be added that the story will produce upon readers who are familiar with the novel a delightful effect of oblique recognition, of shifting shades enriched with new sense, owing to the world's being seen not through the eyes of Fyodor, but through those of an outsider less close to him than to old Russia's idealistic radicals (who, let it be said in passing, were to loathe Bolshevist tyranny as much as liberal aristocrats did)…”

V. Nabokov’s short-story’s opening sentences are: “In the second place, because he was possessed by a sudden mad hankering after Russia. In the third place, finally…” The last lines are: “What a dreadful feeling of uneasiness. He felt that way for several reasons. In the first place, because Tanya had remained as enchanting and as invulnerable as she had been in the past.”

Innokentiy fell under Tanya’s spell despite their social differences…“When speaking of her, people exclaimed, "What a pretty girl!" She had light-gray eyes, velvet-black eyebrows, a largish, pale, tender mouth, sharp incisors, and—when she was unwell or out of humor-one could distinguish the dark little hairs above her lip. She was inodinately fond of all summer games, tennis, badminton, croquet, doing everything deftly, with a kind of charming concentration—and, of course, that was the end of the artless afternoons of fishing with Vasiliy, who was greatly perplexed by the change and would pop up in the vicinity of the school toward evening, beckoning Innokentiy with a hesitating grin and holding up at face level a canful of worms. At such moments Innokentiy shuddered inwardly as he sensed his betrayal of the people's cause.”

Alexey’s associations and quotes are difficult for me to follow but he provides the stepping stones to a different experience of re-reading certain VN short-stories which I thought I’d never pick up again to enjoy - for I’m not at all fond of “Ultima Thule” or “Solus Rex”, in spite of my gigantic admiration of “Pale Fire”. The strange punning in the first paragraph of UT seems to have been quite an important play with “apropositional” thoughts since VN reintroduced the “ellipsis” in the last line of the story: “when I vanish, it will vanish as well. Alas, with a pauper's passion I am doomed to use physical nature in order to finish recounting you to myself, and then to rely on my own ellipsis...” ( I was carried over to “The Original of Laura” and Philip Wild’s project of “self-erasure” and Falter’s “subtraction,” which I can now set side by side with the events surrounding Dmitri Nabokov’s initiative to posthumously publish the various –unfinished- parts of this novel!)


“DO YOU remember the day you and I were lunching (partaking of nourishment) a couple of years before your death? Assuming, of course, that memory can live without its headdress? Let us imagine—just an "apropositional" thought—some totally new handbook of epistolary samples. To a lady who has lost her right hand: I kiss your ellipsis. To a deceased: Respecterfully yours. But enough of these sheepish vignettes. If you don't remember, then I remember for you: the memory of you can pass, grammatically speaking at least, for your memory, and I am perfectly willing to grant for the sake of an ornate phrase that if, after your death, I and the world still endure, it is only because you recollect the world and me. I address you now for the following reason. I address you now on the following occasion. I address you now simply to chat with you about Falter [ ] Adam Falter was still one of us then, and, if nothing about him presaged... what shall I call it?—say, seerhood—nevertheless his whole strong cast [ ] now, in retrospect, explains why he survived the shock [ that is: “he strikes me as a person who... who, because he survived the bomb of truth that exploded in him... became a god! Beside him, how paltry seem all the bygone clairvoyants”] : the original figure was large enough to withstand the subtraction.

Several crucial themes from both chapters (UT and Solus Rex) are mentioned in VN’s “Ada”, “Speak,Memory”, “Pale Fire” …*:

Sineusov in SR: “how can I reconcile myself to your disappearance, to this gaping hole, into which slides everything—my whole life, wet gravel, objects, and habits—and what tombal tailings can prevent me from tumbling, with silent relish, into this abyss? Vertigo of the soul.” **


UT: … “and, as before, a wave would arrive, all out of breath, but, as it had nothing to report, it would disperse in apologetic salaams. Pebbles like cuckoo eggs, a piece of tile shaped like a pistol clip, a fragment of topaz-colored glass, something quite dry resembling a whisk of bast, my tears, a microscopic bead, an empty cigarette package with a yellow-bearded sailor in the center of a life buoy, a stone like a Pompeian's foot, some creature's small bone or a spatula, a kerosene can, a shiver of garnet-red glass, a nutshell, a nondescript rusty thingum related to nothing, a shard of porcelain, of which the companion fragments must inevitably exist somewhere—and I imagined an eternal torment, a convict's task, that would serve as the best punishment for such as I, whose thoughts had ranged too far during their life span: namely, to find and gather all these parts, so as to re-create that gravy boat or soup tureen—hunchbacked wanderings along wild, misty shores. And, after all, if one is supremely lucky, one might restore the dish on the first morning instead of the trillionth— and there it is, that most agonizing question of luck, of Fortune's Wheel, of the right lottery ticket, without which a given soul might be denied eternal felicity beyond the grave. ***


* - “ Freudians are no longer around, I understand, so I do not need to warn them not to touch my circles with their symbols. The good reader, on the other hand, will certainly distinguish garbled English echoes of this last Russian novel of mine in Bend Sinister (1947) and, especially, Pale Fire (1962); I find those echoes a little annoying, but what really makes me regret its noncompletion is that it promised to differ radically, by the quality of its coloration, by the amplitude of its style, by something undefinable about its powerful underflow, from all my other works in Russian. The present translation of "Ultima Thule" appeared in The New Yorker, April 7, 1973.” (VN note)

** “This is ecstasy, and behind the ecstasy is something else, which is hard to explain. It is like a momentary vacuum into which rushes all that I love” and “Gradually, however, he regained a semblance of self-control by the magic method of not allowing the image of Ada to come anywhere near his awareness of himself. This created a vacuum into which rushed a multitude of trivial reflections. A pantomime of rational thought. Ada, I, ch.41

*** - “I do not doubt that among those slightly convex chips of majolica ware found by our child there was one whose border of scrollwork fitted exactly, and continued, the pattern of a fragment I had found in 1903 on the same shore, and that the two tallied with a third my mother had found on that Mentone beach in 1882, and with a fourth piece of the same pottery that had been found by her mother a hundred years ago—and so on, until this assortment of parts, if it all had been preserved, might have been put together to make the complete, the absolutely complete bowl, broken by some Italian child, God knows where and when.” “Speak, Memory” (308-9).

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