NABOKV-L post 0000543, Sat, 1 Apr 1995 11:00:03 -0800

Re: "Sign and Symbol" poll (fwd)
EDITORIAL NOTE: My apologies to subscribers for sending out Roy Johnson's
response to James Mcshane's "SIgns & Symbols" comment twice. Below is
novelists Donald Harington's thoughtful reponse to both McShane and Johnson.
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sat, 1 Apr 1995 12:35:27 -0600 (CST)
From: Donald Harington <>
To: Vladimir Nabokov Forum <>
Cc: Multiple recipients of list NABOKV-L <>
Subject: Re: "Sign and Symbol" poll (fwd)

> Writing on 'Signs and Symbols',
> says
> > Let's face it, these two are poor excuses for human beings. What
> > kind of person would buy for their son -- ill or well -- a basket
> > of jellies!
> if this is his idea of a sympathetic and well-informed reading,
> I would suggest that he has a great deal of mugging up on the
> history of Eastern Europe 1919-1945 to do
> trace the history of people who were exiled from USSR by
> Stalinism, took refuge in Germany, were exiled again by
> Nazism, and [if they were very lucky] found refuge in USA
> does this life-trajectory remind you of anyone James?
> --
> Roy Johnson |
> PO Box 100 | Tel: +44 (0)61 432 5811
> Manchester M20 6GZ | Fax: +44 (0)61 443 2766
Roy Johnson, who understands the short stories far better than anyone
else, suggests, in his succinct reply to James McShane, the answer to the
original question: What is the meaning of the third telephone call.

The life-trajectory is indeed VN's own, and even if Dmitri were never,
however briefly, confined to a sanatorium, it is easy (from this
novelist's point of view) to imagine how Nabokov would have projected his
own experiences onto the unfortunate family of "Signs and Symbols."

My own (novelist's) reading of the third telephone call has been
optimistic: it is not the sanatorium calling to say that the young man
has successfully committed suicide. Nor, considering how VN hated
ambiguity (as opposed to abstraction) it is not even ambigious.

Rather (as anyone who has tried to get rid of a late-night dialer of
a repeated wrong number knows) it is simply the first and second caller
misdialing yet again, to underscore the anxiety of the whole situation
and to let the couple (and us) know that there is really no escape from
the ceaseless error of it all.

Donald Harington