Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0000103, Sat, 28 Aug 1993 11:03:15 -0700

chorb6 (fwd)
---------- Text of forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 27 Aug 93 15:49:00 CDT
From: Gene Barabtarlo <GRAGB@MIZZOU1.bitnet>
To: nabokv-l@ucsbvm.bitnet
Subject: chorb 4?

Of course, the Kellers are "ultra-bourgeois" nested on one of the thickest bran
ches of VN's definition of the concept (although Keller's simian features have
little to do with it: Pnin's face is described in like terms). However, even in
his green period Nabokov knew better than simply to hit the easy target of
merchant-class tastes and rituals. The pointed point is that the mother had
cried all the wedding night through because her daughter had cruelly run away
from the garish wedding party, so carefully staged by the loving parents, the
slippers and welcome mat and all. This point,I am sure, was meant to hurt, not
tickle. In other words, I cannot see the thing as the story of a faint artist
and a whimsical girl escaping from a particularly vulgar Russo-German milieu,
she then meeting with a rare and mystical end, he, trying to allay the horror b
y a retrograde operation. This may well be the *formula* of the story (which is
in part declared in the title), with Chorb returning to its pluperfect starting
point (the same bed in the same hotel room) to recapture his love, to make her
image perfect, and thus somehow cancel its heartrending effect on him. (Curious
ly enough, H. Person takes a similar, if much more winding, route along the
plot's loop back to its start in the "same" hotel room). Nabokov may have been
attracted by the neat design and the dramatic finale with its thunderous hush.
But one should not ignore the streak of abject cruelty -- a mortal sin in Nabo-
kov's book then as well as later -- that is made into an inconspicuous but
acute theme. The ending without a resolution proves (to me, in all events) that
this silent theme is meant to drown the apparent one, sketched by Don Johnson.
Chorb is blindly egotistic and therefore he is cruel to others both in extreme
happiness and extreme grief -- in sharp contrast with Sineusov, Cincinnatus,
or Pnin, to name a few sufferers (the latter, amidst the whirlpool of his dis-
aster, feeds a stray dog because "a human's misfortune should not interfere
with a canine's pleasure." Chorb's loss is of course incomparable with Pnin's,
yet it's easier to imagine him kicking the dog out than feeding it.)The Kellers
may be thick-crusted and gaudy, but they are his dead wife's parents and Chorb
hurts them terribly and without thinking. Again, I think it is a double-track
Chorb's wife is not asexual, as has been proposed. The fact that the first
night remains as chaste as the last one (when a whore replaces the wife in
the bed) is an early instance of N's persistent strategy to thwart expectations
at all levels -- verbal, compositional, and narrative. The two escape to a
sordid hotel (sordid, by the way, not because Keller thinks "sex" is dirty, as
Charles Nicol oddly suggests but because hired love-making is) -- and that is
precisely why he "only kissed the hollow of her throat". Which does not mean, o
f course, that things remained that way afterwards (otherwise Nabokov would not
begin the sentence "THAT NIGHT he only..."), during their curiously long, half-
a-year long honeymoon. She does seem to be frigidish, thus entering a rather
peculiar series of Nabokov's intense yet slightly elfic women that begins with
the professor's wife in MEST' and counts Mme Luzhin (her parents are also quite
keller, so to speak), Sonia Zilanov, perhaps even poor Mme Albinus,a.o. It's an
Anglo-Russian type that has some precedents in Turgenev and Bunin and whose
main marks are impetuousness (poryvistost'), chastity (chistota), and an odd
combination of earthly whims and unearthly yearnings.
One may wonder idly whether the Siewert family and the drama of the
broken engagement with all the attending circumstances had not prompted some
of the story's situations and in general Nabokov's fancy.
In another idle endnote I would like to point out that Nabokov would
bring his other desperate widower, Sineusov, to the same beach and make him
rifle through pebbles and wave-delivered rubbish.