Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0000137, Thu, 11 Nov 1993 11:26:15 -0800

Goryanin essay
In the course of a fruitless search for an review of N.
Anastas'ev's FENOMEN NABOKOVA in the pages of the Paris-based paper
RUSSKAYA MYSL', I ran across several Nabokov-related items for the
period from 1 Jan. 1993 to 1 Sept. 1993. (If anyone has the proper
citation for the Anstas'ev review, please let me know.)

By far the most interesting was what is apparently a reprint of
a longer essay that had appeared in a domestic Russian publication.
Entitled "Kak pervuyu lyubov': Vospominaniya o Nabokove" (Like first
love: Memories of N.), it appeared in issue #3990 (29 July-4 Aug.
1993), pp. 11-12. In it, the author, Aleksandr Goryanin, tells of his
joy at encountering a passage in Brian Boyd's VLADIMIR NABOKOV: THE
AMERICAN YEARS (p. 524). At the begining of 1967 the Nabokovs had
received a lengthy letter from a twenty-five-year-old Soviet reader of
THE GIFT and INVITATION TO A BEHEADING. They had been delighted and
amazed at his "intelligent and subtle reaction": "We really did not
know that readers in this age bracket, nurtured on Sholohov and his
likes, could judge literature from the purely aesthetic point of
view." Nabokov had not responded to the letter writer for fear of
creating difficulties for him. Boyd, who fully describes the episode,
does not indentify the nameless letter writer.
It was Goryanin. In his essay he provides an account of the
extraordinary impact that VN had upon his life. I give some of the
highlights below. (I would be most grateful if anyone can provide me
with a citation to, or copy of, his original, longer article as it
appeared in Russia). In the mid-sixties G. was doing field work on
the techtonics of the Tian Shan range in Soviet Central Asia, the very
area where in THE GIFT, Fyodor's father did part of his explorations.
In January 1967 G. wangled a trip to Moscow State University,
ostensibly for research purposes, but, in reality, to see friends who
lent him THE GIFT and INVITATION TO A BEHEADING. G. was so overwhelmed
by the books that after his return to Central Asia, he sent Nabokov
his long letterof appreciation. He got VN's address from WHO's WHO and
dropped his letter in the mail box, not really expecting it to get
through. Silence.
Meanwhile G. worked on his English and French, gave up geology,
and became a literary specialist and translator. To repay his debt to
VN, he, together with Mikhail Meilax, undertook to translate SEBASTIAN
KNIGHT, although there was no hope of publishing it. The work was
delayed for some years when Meilax was sent to a camp. (The transla-
tion appeared only in the "new" Russia.) In the late seventies when
Vasilii Aksyonov, Evgenii Rein, and others decided to challenge the
system by issuing their now famous anthology, METROPOL, G. was asked
to contribute an essay on VN. He agreed, but his essay failed to make
its way from Batum to Moscow in time. As he ruefully remarks, he thus
failed to become the first native Nabokov scholar. Compensation came,
G. received a letter from VN's sister, Elena Sikorsky, who was
visiting Leningrad in early 1978. Sent to an old address, it was
miraculous that he received it. She wrote that her late brother had
been much touched by his 1967 letter and that she treasured her
xeroxed copy. [Elena Sikorsky again refers to this letter in an recent
interview, "Lyubimaya sestra lyubimogo brata," in the journal STOLITSA
(No. 15, 1993). (Does anybody have a copy of this? I'd like to see
it--D. Johnson). G. finally met Elena S. in 1979 and 1980.
G. ends his charming essay with his thoughts on VN's present-
position in Russian literature. Although VN's books have been appear-
ing in Russia starting in 1988, his name is not on everyone's lips. He
is not a "popular" writer, but a "classic." Almost all readers capable
of appreciating him, had read his work during the Brezhnev years. By
the mid-eighties, he had attained the status of a classic and was no
longer much discussed. He has moved into the subconscious of Russian
readers. Admired and imitated by some, disliked by others, he has
become a figure in the pantheon.
The other two references are of less interest:

1. RUSSKAYA MYSL' (No. 3993, 26 Aug--1 Sept. 1993) "Nabokov i Gor'kii"
by Vadim Linetskii of St. Petersburg. The author concedes his unlikely
pairing and presents an argument (that I haven't the patience to fol-
low) about the two writers' shared love of word play, doubles and
duality, and much else. Much of the discussion rests upon DESPAIR and
Gorkii's autobiography.

2.RUSSKAYA MYSL' (No. 3989; 22-28 June 1993). Editor Natal'ya Gor-
banevskaya offers a review (entitled "... `I' ZLAYA DAL'") of the col-
lection of colloquium papers edited by Nora Buhks, VLADIMIR NABOKOV ET
L'EMIGRATION. (The Table of Contents of this volume of papers given at
the Nov. 7, 1992 colloquium "Vladimir Nabokov et L'emigration" was
previously run on NABOKV-L). In addition to the review, one of the
conference papers, Mikhail Geller's, "Nabokov i Politika," is
reprinted in a shortened form on the same page.