NABOKV-L post 0000473, Sat, 11 Feb 1995 16:51:12 -0800

Pilgrimage to "Browning's Door" (fwd)

Last evening, I went to see Browning's door at
Wellesley College. It is located on the fourth floor of the Clapp
library, just outside the'special collections' room. Forgive my lack of
expertise in doors. The door appears to be made of oak (?), with four
inlaid panels and a seam down the middle. It has a brass knocker
(again--excuse my terminological ignorance) and a large brass mail slot
(marked "LETTERS") a little below waist level (depending on your waist).
On the threshhold, a plaque reads, "The Door of 50 Wimpole Street. Given
to Wellesley College by Mrs. Charles F. Griffith of Philadelphia. May
In the form in which the door arrived at Wellesley, the
letter slot seems to have been its most prominent feature. In
the August 1937 _Wellesley College Magazine_ appears Caroline
Hazard's dedicatory address of May 20. As it turns out, in 1930
Hazard had acquired for the college Robert Browning's remarkable
love-letters to Elizabeth Barrett, which had, of course, passed
through the door's slot. The first letter was written in January,
1845, a week after Browning began reading Barrett's two volumes
of poems published in 1844. They met on May 20, 1845 at 50
Wimpole, and married on September 12, 1846.
For Hazard, the creative romance centered on the letters and
the door is augmented by the fact that the acquisition of the
letters was made possible by a benefactor with a remarkable love
story of his own, a philosopher from Harvard named George Herbert
Palmer. Evidently, his wife also wrote poetry, and after her
death, Palmer stocked Wellesley's (now destroyed) Browning Room
with rare books and first editions. His antiquarian connections
uncovered the Browning letters in 1930.
All of this is to suggest that in the Wellesley College
tradition, the door's primary significance was one of an alliance
of loving creativity. It may be that the letters themselves hold
clues to Nabokov's mention of the door in the Gogol book. (The
letters are published, but I have not looked at them). On the
other hand, perhaps the entry is simply Nabokov's tribute to
great and creative loves.
When I first read _Nikolai Gogol_ years ago, I assumed that
the Browning entry was merely Nabokov's joke on the editors who
insisted on a chronology but did not read it. Even such a
reading remains satisfying, if not complete. In response to
Galya Diment's observation, I think that when Nabokov laughs, he
does so at the expense not of his good readers, but of his
careless ones. In the chronology, I sense an inclusive chuckle.