Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025681, Wed, 10 Sep 2014 10:45:28 -0500

Re: Nabokov and L. Trilling
I see where Anthony Stadlen is coming from. Interesting how two people can read the same text in such different ways. In the paragraph I quoted, I did not view Trilling as using the terms health and pathology in Freudian terms at all. He certainly didn't say he was relying on Freud, and it seemed to me, in deference to Nabokov's intent, that he was staying away from Freudian interpretation (as much as Trilling could.) I read the paragraph in the more ordinary usage of the word "health"--as a metaphor, not as a medical pronouncement: the kind of meaning Brian Boyd used to describe a good kind of love, versus passion-love. As Nabokov put it in Sebastian Knight, “Girls
of her type do not smash a man’s life—they build it.” A life-affirming relationship, as opposed to psychoanalytic health, whatever that may be. His point about passion-love in Lolita
harkening back to de Rougement and medieval courtly love is, I think, a brilliant one.

Date: Tue, 9 Sep 2014 14:30:00 -0400
From: nabokv-l@UTK.EDU
Subject: [NABOKV-L] Nabokov and L. Trilling


Re: [NABOKV-L] Nabokov and L. Trilling




9/9/2014 9:04 AM


Brian Boyd, as I expected, understands
that "Trilling missed the fact that in Lolita Nabokov
shows what love is, not by showing it in a form that
conserves its intensity, but by showing exactly what it is not,
in Humbert’s relations with Lolita."

Fran Assa writes that my memory of Trilling's review is
inaccurate. Actually, I have the complete set of Encounter
from No. 1 (October 1953) to the final issue No. 427 (September
1990). I used to buy it when I was still at school in the 1950s,
and read Trilling's article "The Last Lover: Vladimir Nabokov's
Lolita" in No. 61 (October 1958), the month I started
at Cambridge. This was before I read Lolita, which had
not yet been published in Britain. I have read read and pondreed
Trilling's piece many times over the years, and have Encounter
No. 61 before me now. I do not think my characterisation is

My objection to Trilling and to what, as I
see it, Nabokov was colluding with in what I regard as their
failed "encounter" was too perfunctorily expressed. But the
following two passages that Fran Assa quotes from Trilling may
suggest what I was alluding to.

<< He
correctly points out the difference between Humbert's
passion and the kind of love Brian is talking about:

“The condition
towards which such a marriage aspires is health—a
marriage is praised by being called a healthy
marriage. This will suggest how far the modern ideal
of love is from passion-love. The literal
meaning of the word passion will indicate the distance. Nowadays we
use the word chiefly to mean an intense feeling,
forgetting the old distinction between a passion and
an emotion, the former being an emotion before which
we are helpless, which we have to suffer, in
whose grip we are passive. The passion-lover was a sick
man, a patient.

He agrees with
Brian that we have to distinguish this love from
the kind we generally desire. "“Now it may well
be that all this is absurd, and really and truly a
kind of pathology, and that we are much the better
for being quite done with it, and that our
contemporary love-ideal of firm, tolerant,
humorous, wry, happy marriage is a great advance
from it. >>

Trilling proposes an
opposition between two kinds of "love"
-- "healthy" marriage and "sick"
"passion-love", even though the "health" of
modern marriage" may be boring and the
"sickness" may not be a true "pathology". It is
his use of the language of sickness and health
that shows him to be the true Freud-follower
who laboured to enlighten the masses by
abridging Jones's Freud biography.

Of course, the word "love"
is used in many ways, and it is absurd to insist
on only one of its meanings. But it is
justifiable to insist that a leading critic and
a leading author should distinguish accurately
between the various meanings. What Brian and I
are, I think, both pointing to, and what Nabokov
indicates in his novel by the via negativa,
is love as nothing to do with sickness or
health, and certainly not boring, but love
as moral action as well as passion.

Nabokov admitted that he
was not good at talking, and when he slipped
from reading from prepared cards into risky
spontaneity he tended to give hostages to
fortune. He did not do justice to himself or his
book in what I see as the mis-meeting with Trilling.

Trilling is honest enough
to acknowledge that he is not sure whether to
take Humbert's professed remorse and repentance
seriously. I think this must be because,
although he writes that "Lolita" is truly
"shocking", he has not really got the moral
measure of the book. Brian Boyd is the better
critic here, because he shows how Nabokov shows
how monstrously and absurdly ambivalent and
dishonest is Humbert's self-indulgent wallowing
in "guilt". Just for a start, there is the
placing of the scene about the children's voices
heard on the hillside, and the awkward fact
that a truly repentant man does not immediately
charge off to proclaim "She was my child,
Quilty", protest his own "inner essential
innocence", and then foully murder his "Clearly
Guilty" rival.



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