I examine "Gods," one of Nabokov's "bottom of the barrel" stories, as a previously unnoticed but telling finger exercise for "An Evening on a Vacant Lot" and, less obviously, the final section of Chapter One and much of Chapter Nine of Speak, Memory. Though superficially about a death of a child, the story is Nabokov's first sustained public effort to write about his grief after his father's death, a subject he found deeply disturbing. Even 45 years after the assassination of Nabokov's father, Nabokov' mourning was still so deep that in the 1967 version of Speak, Memory, he felt himself small, untidy, ridiculously inarticulate, and overwhelmed by his subject, feelings one does not usually associate with Vladimir Nabokov: "preserved drafts of some of his [V.D. Nabokov's] proclamations (beginning "Grazhdane!", meaning"Citoyens!") and editorials are penned in a copybook-slanted, beautifully sleek, unbelievably regular hand, almost free of corrections, a purity, a certainty, a mind-and-matter cofunction that I find amusing to compare to my own mousy hand and messy drafts, to the massacrous revisions and rewritings, and new revisions, of the very lines in which I am taking two hours now to describe a two-minute run of his flawless handwriting. His drafts were the fair copies of immediate thought. In this manner, he wrote, with phenomenal ease and rapidity (sitting uncomfortably at a child's desk in the classroom of a mournful palace) the text of the abdication of Grand Duke Mihail (next in line of succession after the Tsar had renounced his and his son's throne). No wonder he was also an admirable speaker, an 'English style' cool orator, who eschewed the meat-chopping gesture and rhetorical bark of the demagogue, and here, too, the ridiculous cacologist I am, when not having a typed sheet before me, has inherited nothing."
Nabokov, Grief, and Repetition
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