NABOKV-L post 0000596, Thu, 18 May 1995 09:10:30 -0700

RJ:Breaking the News (fwd)
EDITOR'S NOTE: British Nabokovian Roy Johnson presents another section
from his study of VN's short stories--a weekly feature of NABOKV-L.
In his later (and much discussed) English story "Signs and Symbols," VN
pointed to parallels between it and "Breaking the News." Does anyone have
any ideas about what light the latter might cast on the former?

This week's story - BREAKING THE NEWS

'Breaking the News' (March 1934) is another light character
sketch combined with a study in dramatic irony. We are given what
James would call the *donee* of this story immediately at its
outset: "Eugenia Isakovna Mints was an elderly emigre widow who
always wore black. Her only son had died on the previous day. She
had not yet been told" (RB,p.37). The son has fallen to his death
down an elevator shaft, and a group of friends are faced with the
task of giving her the information. This is obviously
embarrassing for them - especially so since the widow is deaf.
One of them wonders "What gradual preparation can there be when
one has to yell?" (p.38).

The widow shuffles about her daily business in Berlin, shut off
from the world by her affliction but sustained by the fact that
her son corresponds with her regularly from his own exile in
Paris (the second centre of emigration). She has even just
received the last postcard he sent: "I continue to be plunged up
to the neck in work and when evening comes I literally fall off
my feet" (p.38).

Fortunately Nabokov does not overdo this sort of grim irony in
such a short piece. In fact the ending of the story is focused
upon an excellent example of *restraint*. The group of friends
finally assemble at the widow's flat, but still they cannot bring
themselves to say anything. She actually holds out her deaf aid
for them to speak into, and it is because of their reticence -
"they ... were careful to keep their voices away from her" (p.44)
- that she eventually realises that something very serious must
have happened.

There is no need for Nabokov to spell out the drama of what will
be inevitable. The characters in the story all know what will
happen, and the reader knows too. As in the case of 'The Return
of Chorb' we are offered not a dramatic confrontation but a study
of what is more interesting - what leads up to it and how it
comes about. The obvious climax and ending are withheld: Nabokov
is following that post-Chekhovian strategy of understatement and
the subsuming of dramatic in structural interest which
characterises the work of those in the forefront of the
development of the short story around this time.

Next week's story - IN MEMORY OF L.I.SHIGAEV

Roy Johnson |
PO Box 100 | Tel +44 0161 432 5811
Manchester 20 | Fax +44 0161 443 2766