Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0000500, Mon, 13 Mar 1995 11:00:18 -0800

EDITORS NOTE: The following discussion of VN's story "Orache" is frm Roy
Johnson's book manuscript on VN's stories. They are presented on NABOKV-L
for discussion purposes.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Roy Johnson <Roy@mantex.demon.co.uk>

This week's story - ORACHE

'Orache' (1932) the story with which 'A Bad Day' is twinned,
seems more successful partly because the characterisation of
Peter is less sentimental, because there is less straining for
the evocation of atmosphere, and because the story is more
concentrated in its purpose.

Peter learns at school that his father is to be involved in a
duel, and he finds it difficult to control his emotions until
classes finish. Since his mother and sister are on holiday he is
isolated with his anxiety when he goes home, and everything seems
to remind him of the danger in which his father is placed. At
dinner his father shares jokes with a friend, whilst Peter
wonders why nobody is talking about the duel. Next day at school
however, he learns that the duel has in fact already taken place:
the opponent fired first and missed, and his father fired his own
shot into the air. Peter breaks down in tears with relief.

The story is more tightly structured than 'A Bad Day', held
together by the tension between Peter's emotional upset and a
recurrent image of duelling. Peter sees his father at fencing
practice each morning; he himself 'duels' in a fight at school;
he sees a picture of two men duelling in a magazine; reference
is made to the duel in *Eugene Onegin* - "Onegin shed his cloak,
Lenski plopped down on the boards like a black sack" (DS, p.53);
and the newspaper he sees at school gives an account of his
father's duel.

It is also more convincingly related from the child's point of

"His father was busy in a place known as the
parliament ... there was also something called the
Kadet Party, which had nothing to do with parties or
cadets" (p.46)

and there is a more developed blending of third person narrative
and interior monologue: "never before had he known such tears,
do not tell anyone, please, I am simply not well ... and again
a tumult of sobs" (p.55).

We know from both Nabokov and Field that the events of 'Orache',
like 'A Bad Day', are largely autobiographical, but unlike its
twin there are fewer traces of that provenance evident, and
certainly the absence of lengthy descriptions for their own sake
helps to focus the purpose of the story - which is yet another
variation on the 'Russian subject' of duelling - in this case
the duel which has already taken place, or the duel which has
more effect on a spectator than on the participants. And in terms
of the central issue, the father's honourable action of course
illustrates the exact opposite of *poshlost*.

Next week's story - MUSIC