Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0000094, Mon, 23 Aug 1993 09:16:01 -0700

---------- Text of forwarded message ----------
Date: 23 Aug 93 11:06:43 EST
From: EJNICOL@root.indstate.edu
Subject: Re: Chorb1 (fwd)

My thoughts on Chorb were presented at the MLA Nabokov session a
couple of years ago (Feminist perspectives was the session title, so
I was delivering my paper in a sort of Vivian Darkbloom disguise).
My argument went sort of as follows:

1. When VN was a boy, he had a brief, intense, but "sexless"
relationship with a girl he met on a French beach, called Colette in
Speak, Memory.
2. Although he picked up many descriptive details from Colette for
Lolita, he became upset when Kingsley Amis suggested Colette was the
original for Lolita--or more accurately, for Annabel Leigh, Lolita's
look-alike and Humbert's first love. VN was outraged, saying that
his love for Colette was innocent (and occurred several years earlier
in his life than Humbert's encounter on the beach with Annabel).
VN's protest seemed out of proportion: anyone reading the Colette
chapter of Speak, Memory together with the description of Humbert's
first view of Lolita can see Amis' point.
3. Chorb's wife is unnamed and described in only one sentence: "He
saw her small face with its dense dark freckles, and her wide eyes,
whose pale greenish hue was that of the shards of glass licked smooth
by the sea waves." While I traced the connections of this imagery at
length in the paper, I won't do so now. Simply, I suggest that
Chorb's wife is VN's first attempt to put Colette in his fiction.
Although the story takes place in the middle of Germany, the
important locale for Chorb and his wife is the beach.
4. But as we saw from VN's protest at Amis' discussion of Colette,
their beach encounter was an innocent one, one devoid of sexual
concerns, just a sort of platonic love. So when VN imagined Colette
grown up and married, the marriage came out entirely sexless.
5. I am glad to have my reading of Chorb confirmed by that of John
Lavagnino in his discussion: "sexless . . . an asexual childlike
woman." I take it that Lavagnino finds this attitude to be rooted in
Chorb's perspective and possibly not "really" true. I have no
quarrel with that. Indeed, in order to imagine Colette married, VN
had to invent a very childlike man to marry her, so that there would
be no suggestion of sexual situations in the story. The only person
preoccupied with sex is Chorb's father-in-law, who sees the hotel
where they stayed the first night of their marriage as a dirty, evil
place--because in his mind sex, evil, and dirt are connected. But
VN's story is a sort of proof that sex and love need not be
connected, and that male-female relationships certainly do not need
to be furtive or "dirty." It's a sort of proof that VN's
relationship with Colette was pure.