Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025362, Sat, 3 May 2014 03:01:00 -0300

...patches and First Love, correction.
JM: Marina’s operatic laughing became adverbial (“trillingly”)* [ ]. I
chose a short-story (First Love)…
Continuation: Not only Marina, Ada too will create combinations of sounds
and manner: “When he grew too loud, she shushed, shushingly breathing into
his mouth.” But, leaving aside the magic adjectives and adverbs, this time I
isolated something different from the same “First Love”, not junctions, but

“ It was at night that the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits et des
Grands Express Européene lived up to the magic of its name. From my bed
under my brother's bunk (Was he asleep? Was he there at all?), in the
semidarkness of our compartment, I watched things, and parts of things, and
shadows, and sections of shadows cautiously moving about and getting
nowhere. The woodwork gently creaked and crackled. Near the door that led to
the toilet, a dim garment on a peg and, higher up, the tassel of the blue,
bivalved nightlight swung rhythmically. It was hard to correlate those
halting approaches, that hooded stealth, with the headlong rush of the
outside night, which I knew was rushing by, spark-streaked, illegible.”**

Several “illegible” elements without and within are now experienced in
“halves”: “semidarkness,” “parts of things,” “sections of shadows.” This is
quite the opposite of the more obvious twins, doubles, mirrors and
Doppelgängers - and yet, it is somehow close to John Shade’s splits.

“ But, Doctor, I was dead!/ He smiled. "Not quite: just half a shade," he
said.” Followed by “.. I once overheard/ Myself awakening while half of me/
Still slept in bed. I tore my spirit free,/ And caught up with myself — upon
the lawn/ [ ] / …where Shade stood in nightshirt and one shoe./ And then I
realized that this half too/ Was fast asleep; both laughed and I awoke.”
Or, for that matter, following CK, the barn ghost’s (Aunt Maud) blurred
voice suggestive “of a half-awakening from a half-dream slashed by a sword
of light on the ceiling.” And Gradus himself is halved: “we may concede,
doctor, that our half-man was also half mad.”
Cf. also CK’s note to Lines 727-728.


Would it be too absurd to extend the comparison between “First Love” and
“Pale Fire” and their fragments and “halves,” by mentioning also various
levels of actual (“real”) trains, toy trains and “toylike trams” in the
short-story, together with PF’s “sudden trains” (mainly used by Gradus who
even rode a “train of thought”)? It seems to be a futile task and yet I
feel there’s a significant link somewhere (well, the link is Nabokov’s
mind…but what pregnant image is still lying in wait?)

A first flimsy attempt: First Love, part One - Announcing a boy’s “toy
love,” which will emerge on Part Three **.

First paragraph: “IN THE early years of this century, a travel agency on
Nevski Avenue displayed a three-foot-long model of an oak-brown
international sleeping car. In delicate verisimilitude it completely
outranked the painted tin of my clockwork trains. Unfortunately it was not
for sale…
Second paragraph: “The then great and glamorous Nord Express (it was never
the same after World War I), consisting solely of such international cars
and running but twice a week, connected St. Petersburg with Paris…”
Sixth and seventh paragraphs: “When, on such journeys as these, the train
changed its pace to a dignified amble and all but grazed housefronts and
shop signs, as we passed through some big German town, I used to feel a
twofold excitement, which terminal stations could not provide. I saw a city
with its toylike trams, linden trees, and brick walls enter the compartment,
hobnob with the mirrors, and fill to the brim the windows on the corridor
side. This informal contact between train and city was one part of the
thrill. The other was putting myself in the place of some passerby who, I
imagined, was moved as I would be moved myself to see the long, romantic,
auburn cars, with their intervestibular connecting curtains as black as bat
wings and their metal lettering copper-bright in the low sun, unhurriedly
negotiate an iron bridge across an everyday thoroughfare and then turn, with
all windows suddenly ablaze, around a last block of houses.”
[ ] “There were drawbacks to those optical amalgamations. The wide-windowed
dining car, a vista of chaste bottles of mineral water, miter-folded
napkins, and dummy chocolate bars (whose wrappers—Cailler, Kohler, and so
forth—enclosed nothing but wood) would be perceived at first as a cool haven
beyond a consecution of reeling blue corridors; but as the meal progressed
toward its fatal last course, one would keep catching the car in the act of
being recklessly sheathed, lurching waiters and all, in the landscape, while
the landscape itself went through a complex system of motion, the daytime
moon stubbornly keeping abreast of one's plate, the distant meadows opening
fanwise, the near trees sweeping up on invisible swings toward the track, a
parallel rail line all at once committing suicide by anastomosis, a bank of
nictitating grass rising, rising, rising, until the little witness of mixed
velocities was made to disgorge his portion of omelette aux confitures de

PF: “When I’d just turned eleven, as I lay/ Prone on the floor and watched a
clockwork toy —/ A tin wheelbarrow pushed by a tin boy —/ Bypass chair legs
and stray beneath the bed.” And CK: “From far below mounted the clink and
tinkle of distant masonry work, and a sudden train passed between gardens,
and a heraldic butterfly volant en arrière, sable, a bend gules, traversed
the stone parapet, and John Shade took a fresh card.” (I find that these two
sentences are connected to the poem’s last lines…#)

“ And from the inside, too, I’d duplicate / Myself, my lamp, an apple on a
plate:/ Uncurtaining the night, I’d let dark glass/ Hang all the furniture
above the grass..”

There are alternations of dark and light, past and present, real and dummy
objects but, most of all, inside and outside percepients that are “optically
amalgamated” by reflections on glass or that are gastrically disgorged by
variations of speed.
The universe expands and contracts, like a little boy’s stomach. Things are
split and then unified (but unification seems to be catastrophic).

I think the key-word that describes story and poem to connect them to a
particular Nabokovian anguish is “anastomosis.” At least, for now!


* - Thrillingly, a return to Ada and Marina’s “trills”, now with natural
cricket sounds toying with “trillion” and “in thrall,” in Shade’s PF: “And
there’s the wall of sound: the nightly wall/ Raised by a trillion crickets
in the fall./ Impenetrable! Halfway up the hill/ I’d pause in thrall of
their delirious trill.”

** - This quote was copied from an interesting blog with splashes of
commentaries, images and assorted Nabokoviana: THhttp://
SDAY, 13 MAY 2010
v.html> Night Train (III): Vladimir Nabokov
For the lines about “A Refrigerator Awakens” (originally printed in The New
Yorker), quoted in a former posting, I visited another, lighter, blog:

** - Part Three: “On the browner and wetter part of the plage, that part
which at low tide yielded the best mud for castles, I found myself digging,
one day, side by side with a little French girl called Colette.[ ] She
would be ten in November, I had been ten in April. Attention was drawn to a
jagged bit of violet mussel shell upon which she had stepped with the bare
sole of her narrow long-toed foot.” [ ] Two years before, on the same
plage, I had been much attached to the lovely, suntanned little daughter of
a Serbian physician; but when I met Colette, I knew at once that this was
the real thing. Colette seemed to me so much stranger than all my other
chance playmates at Biarritz
[ ] Colette was back in Paris by the time we stopped there for a day before
continuing our homeward journey; and there, in a fawn park under a cold blue
sky, I saw her (by arrangement between our mentors, I believe) for the last
time …She took from her governess and slipped into my brother's hand a
farewell present, a box of sugar-coated almonds, meant, I knew, solely for
me; and instantly she was off, tap-tapping her glinting hoop through light
and shade.[ ] The leaves mingle in my memory with the leather of her shoes
and gloves, and there was, I remember, some detail in her attire (perhaps a
ribbon on her Scottish cap, or the pattern of her stockings) that reminded
me then of the rainbow spiral in a glass marble. I still seem to be holding
that wisp of iridescence, not knowing exactly where to fit it, while she
runs with her hoop ever faster around me and finally dissolves among the
slender shadows cast on the graveled path by the interlaced arches of its
low looped fence.”

# - A dark Vanessa with a crimson band

Wheels in the low sun,
settles on the sand

And shows its ink-blue
wingtips flecked with white.

And through the flowing
shade and ebbing light

A man, unheedful of the
butterfly —

Some neighbor’s gardener, I
guess — goes by

Trundling an empty barrow
up the lane.

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