NABOKV-L post 0005821, Mon, 12 Mar 2001 15:37:10 -0800

Subject
Bend Sinister: One More River To Cross: Hasek
Date
Body
EDITOR's NOTE. Sam Schuman is a founding member of the International VN
Society and compiler of the first bibliography of criticism on VN. In re
the below, I would also mention that VN somewhere describes a night
walking the streets of Prague with the poet Marina Tsvetayeva.
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From: sam schuman <schumans@mrs.umn.edu>


I have a rather clear, personal, mental image of the early scene in
"Bend
Sinister" in which Krug tries to cross a bridge which spans a river
dividing his home city. In my mind, the scene is set in Prague, on the
Charles Bridge. This may be a quirky and idiosyncratic envisioning of
Krug's surreal adventures trying to get off the bridge, once he talks
himself onto it. Or others may share a similar internal picture of
"Chapter Two." In any event, I was struck when a colleague recently
called to my attention an article, by the critic Karel Kosik, comparing
the
Czech authors Kafka and Hasek Both were born in Prague in the same
year,
and spent most of their lives there. Kosik imagines an encounter of
fictional characters on the Charles Bridge:

"Svejk's 'odyssey under the honorable escort of two soldiers with
bayonets'
takes him from the Hradcany garrison jail along Neruda Street to Mala
Strana and over the Charles Bridge to Karlin. It is an interesting
group
of three people: two guards escorting a delinquent. From the opposite
direction, over the Charles bridge and up to Strahov, another trio
makes
its way. This is the threesome from Kafka's "Trial" : two guards
leading
a 'delinquent,' the bank clerk Josef K., to the Strahov quarries, where
one
of them will 'thrust a knife into his heart.' .Josef K. finds Hasek's
trio
excessively comical and only that, without the deeper unexpected meaning
that deciphers the world of farce; similarly, Josef Svejk sees Kafka's
trio
as a comical apparition which obscures the real, grotesquely tragic fate
of
Joseph K." ["Cross Currents," Vol. 1, 1983, p 127]

Nabokov wrote Bend Sinister about 20 years after this fictional
encounter,
in the mid 1940's. But, had the event been real, he might have seen it:
Boyd describes Nabokov in Prague, in 1923, visiting his mother where he
"gazed out at people crossing the Vltava, like musical notes on page
against that background of snow." (p. 221 - "The Russian Years").
Nabokov's mother died in Prague in May of 1939, so the city would still
have been very fresh in his mind at the time of writing Bend Sinister in
1945. In the "Introduction" to the TIME edition of that novel, Nabokov
calls our attention to Kafka by affirming that the novel, like
Invitation
to a Beheading should not be compared to the works the author he calls
"the
great German writer." Clearly, the "crazy -mirror " (xvi) world of Bend
Sinister is no real place at all, but an imagined small, westernized
country recently under the yoke of a soviet-style tyrant, where the
language of the country is "a mongrel blend of Slavic and Germanic"
(xv).
This seems as close to mid-twentieth century Czechoslovakia as anywhere
else.

In any event, it is interesting to think about Nabokov's bridge scene in
relation to those of Hasek and Kafka. Krug's adventure is a kind of
terrifying farce, which seems to emblematize tidily the plight of a
rational individual, trapped in a buffoonish and deadly dangerous
military
totalitarianism. This is not a vision which would seem alien in either
"The Trial" or "The Good Soldier Svejk."

Sam

Samuel Schuman
Chancellor
The University of Minnesota, Morris
Morris, MN 56267
schumans@caa.mrs.umn.edu
320-589-6020