Lectures on Literature: time-space and Cinderella
Vladimir Nabokov begins his "Lectures on Literature" speaking about Jane
Austen and her novel "Mansfield Park."
"About thirty years ago..." So the novel begins. Miss Austen wrote it
between 1811 and 1813 so that "thirty years ago" would mean, when mentioned
at the beginning of the novel, 1781. About 1781, then, "Miss Maria Ward, of
"But let us get rid of the time-space element first. "About thirty years
ago" - let us go back to that opening sentence. Jane Austen is writing after
her main characters, the younger people of the book, have been dismissed [
]As we shall see the main action of the novel takes place in 1808. The ball
on Mansfield Park is held on Thursday, the twenty-second of December and, if
we look through our old calendars, only in 1808 could 22 December fall on a
When Nabokov decides to "get rid of the time-space element" he suggests
that, instead of considering the beginning of the story in 1781 (focusing on
the date the novel started to be written and on the author's chronological
time), one should consult an old calendar to discover in what year December
22 fell on a Thursday, the day when the story that's told in the novel must
have begun: 1808, i.e., the intended historical year in her fiction.
After dealing with "time" he moves to the "space element" but he deals with
it very quickly: He mentions that the story starts in Mansfield Park at the
Bertram estate, and that it is a fictitious place. Without adding any other
comment, though, he lets us learn that the heroine's mother marries an
"impecunious hard-drinking lieutenant" in 1781, in the same year as her
oldest sister married "a gouty clergyman". "Having settled these matters,"
he goes on, "let us glance at Jane Austen's way of presenting them."
expecting his students to be ready to delve into the reality of fiction, its
particular structure and plot, its "machinery," leaving Miss Austen's
"reality" behind ("the winds of history are hardly felt in the seclusion of
Mansfield Park."), together with "the superficial action concerned with the
emotional interplay between two families of country gentlefolks." And yet,
why did he bother to mention this re-emergence of 1781?
Right at the start we find that Jane Austen was born in 1775 and that she
died in 1871 (the same numerals as in 1781).but this is of no importance
concerning VN's dismissal of the novel's "time-space" elements. However, his
way of describing Fanny Ward puzzled me since she represents "The prototype
of these quiet maidens is, of course, Cinderella. Dependent, helpless,
friendless, neglected, forgotten - and then marrying the hero". This
fairy-tale heroine reappears in "Ada" but in this novel she is often
associated to the promiscuous maid Blanche - and to a pumpkin-like coach.
At times we also encounter casual remarks about Ada's lost fur slippers and
to Lucette's "Glass" shoes, but I must check these items first to be certain
of how slippers and shoes fit in Ada's plot, or how they relate to Blanche
if Cinderella is, in fact, a "prototype" of quiet maidens who end by
marrying the prince. Should I consider "prototype" a word to be reckoned
with in the present lecture?
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