Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0000120, Fri, 22 Oct 1993 15:01:48 -0700

Nabokov's punctuation (fwd)
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 21 Oct 1993 18:19 EDT
From: John Lavagnino <LAV@BRANDEIS.BITNET>
Subject: Nabokov's punctuation

I wouldn't have thought it likely, but there is a review in the latest
*New York Review of Books* (November 4, 1993), five pages in length,
that is entirely concerned with punctuation. Nicholson Baker, the
author, is particularly interested in the decline of the practice, once
common, of combining dashes with other punctuation marks. Nabokov, he

used over sixty excellent comma-dash pairings in his first and quite
Edwardian English-language novel, *The Real Life of Sebastian
Knight* (1941). (For example, `` `A title,' said Clare, `must convey
the colour of the book,---not its subject.' '') He used none at all
in *Speak, Memory*: *The New Yorker* had sweated it out of him. In
all of his later work I have noticed only one precious semi-colash:
Humbert writes, ``I remember the operation was over, all over, and
she was weeping in my arms;---a salutory storm of sobs after one of
the fits of moodiness that had become so frequent with her in the
course of that otherwise admirable year!''

(A ``semi-colash'' is Baker's name for the ;--- combination.)

John Lavagnino
Department of English and American Literature, Brandeis University