Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0000576, Wed, 3 May 1995 11:33:40 -0700

Re: RJ: "The Leonardo" (fwd)
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Roy Johnson states that the "cumulative effect (of narrative devices) in
'The Leonardo' borders on an embarrassing 'knowingness'... which leaves
the reader feeling uncomfortable."

Of course, this is hardly one of VN's best or even more interesting
stories, but I think there is a little more subtlety to it than Johnson's
summary indicates. Rather than taking the reader's discomfort to be a
result of weakness in the writing, I think it indicates VN's (limited)
success in subverting something besides the cartoonish thuggery of Gustav
and Anton. The reader should feel uncomfortable if, like the narrator,
he finds himself disappointed that Romantovski was not "a remarkable
poet"--as if this were the only way his persecution and murder could
create "harmony and meaning."

VN's remark elsewhere (and I apologize for paraphrasing) that the
murderer is always inferior to his victim should be recalled here.
Furthermore, the fact that Romantovski turns out to have been a
_counterfeiter_ may fail to signify with the narrator, but should not
with readers of VN's other works.

The narrator's "knowingness" and snobbery of sorts don't permit him to
care beyond the fact that this was not a tragic "Romant"ic figure--the
starving artist. This snobbery, though, seems to be the author's target,
or trap, and explains the frequent conflation of the narrative first
person voice with that of the vile brothers.

Allan McWilliams