NABOKV-L post 0005933, Wed, 25 Apr 2001 16:42:39 -0700

Subject
Reviewlet of Torpid Smoke: the Stories of Vladimir Nabokov
Date
Body
Torpid Smoke. The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov, ed. Steven G. Kellman &
Irving Malin. Rodopi: Amsterdam/Atlanta GA, 2000. 246 pp. $38


Contents: Foreword. Barbara WYLLIE: Memory and Dream in Nabokov's Short
Fiction. Julian W. CONNOLLY: Nabokov's Approach to the Supernatural in
the Early Stories. R.H.W. DILLARD: Nabokov's Christmas Stories. Nassim
W. BALESTRINI: Art and Marriage in Vladimir Nabokov's "Music" and in Lev
Tolstoy's "The Kreutzer Sonata'. Steven G. KELLMAN: How They Brought the
Bad News to Mints: "Breaking the News". J.E. RIVERS: Alone in the Void:
"Mademoiselle 0". Maxim D. SHRAYER: Nabokov's "Vasily Shishkov": An
Author-Text Interpretation. Christian MORARU: "Vile Scripts": Games of
Double-Crossing in Vladimir Nabokov's "The Assistant Producer". Victor
STRANDBERG: Nabokov and the "Prism of Art". Brian WALTER: "A Forgotten
Poet": Nabokov's Dostoyevskian Row. Irving MALIN: Reading Madly. Linda
WAGNER-MARTIN: "The Vane Sisters" and Nabokov's "Subtle and Loving"
Readers.


Editors Kellman and Malin have performed a service in gathering and
seeing into print this collection of a dozen essays. The contributors
include seasoned experts from both Russian and English literature
departments. In ⌠senority,■ the gamut runs from R.H.W. Dillard, who in
1966, published one of the best early Nabokov surveys, to Barbara
Wyllie, whose first critical studies date from 2000. In approach, the
essays range from Maxim Shrayer▓s high-powered, extremely well-informed
study of ⌠Vasiliy Shishkov,■ through Dillard▓s elegant, insightful
meditation on Nabokov Christmas stories, to Irving Malin▓s capricious
look at ⌠Signs and Symbols.■ Indeed, Kellman and Malin bring a light
note to a thematically somber volume. Kellman▓s flair for graceful
whimsy conveying a serious point is well expressed by his title ⌠How
They Brought the Bad News to Mints: ▒Breaking the News▓■ which focuses
upon VN▓s recurrent theme of announcing the death of a loved one. Not
only does he touch upon it in several Nabokov works, but sets it in the
wider context of works by Kate Chopin (!), Antigone, Racine and Kafka.
Malin addresses the thematically akin ⌠Signs and Symbols■ which has been
so often discussed that some consider it a test case for
determinacy/indeterminacy in interpretation. Malin seems to be parodying
the issue.

The essays by Christian Moraru and Linda Martin-Wagner are
theory-driven: postmodernist in the former, and feminist in the latter.
Moraru brings several theorists to bear on Nabokov▓s use of narrative
styled after film, phonograph, radio, etc. to break down the
fiction/reality distinction. In ⌠The Assistant Producer,■ the first of
VN▓s English stories and one based upon a ⌠real■ event, Moraru sees
the technique as heralding the later English Nabokov. Linda
Martin-Wagner▓s feminist orientation leads her to the insight that,
inter alia, ⌠The Vane Sisters■ illustrates academic harassment avant de
lettre and that VN, as an outsider, identifies with Cynthia.

Brian Walter▓s piece on ⌠A Forgotten Poet■ argues that previous
criticism has focused on the theme of interaction between the narrator
and his ⌠hero■ and overlooked evidence that Nabokov was (also) trying to
enlighten American readers about an aspect of Russian culture often
portrayed by Dostoyevsky in his hysteria scenes. Julian Connolly
expertly examines the evolution of Nabokov▓s evocation of the
supernatural in the early stories showing how it moves from the
awkwardly overt to being artfully submerged in his texts. Rather
similarly, Barbara Wyllie looks at the development of the themes memory
and dream in the early stories, giving particular attention to ⌠The
Return of Chorb.■ Although Nabokov▓s relative indifference to music is
notorious, Nassim Ballestrini examines ⌠Music■ (vis-a-vis Tolstoy▓s
painfully didactic ⌠Kreutzer Sonata■) to suggest how Nabokov subtly
integrates music into his tales, seeing music as part of ⌠cosmic
synchronization.■

Victor Strandberg▓s graceful study of ⌠That in Aleppo Once┘■ explores
Nabokov▓ assimilations of Shakespeare and Henry James in what is, so
far, the most thorough consideration of the latter in VN. The high point
of the volume, at least for me, is J.E. Rivers' leisurely investigation
⌠Mademoiselle O.■ Rivers▓ traces the many variant versions of the
text(s) and specifically probes their very ⌠Frenchness.■ He also
explores the author▓s diminishing regard for Mademoiselle O. through the
years.

Alas, the publisher, has not served the editors well. In spite of the
splendid quality of the book▓s paper, Rodopi appears not to have
proofread their publication at all. Misprints occur on virtually every
page. These, however, should not detract from the virtues of the
essays≈-some of which are very fine indeed.