Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024319, Fri, 7 Jun 2013 09:48:12 -0300

[SIGHTING] New edition of V.Nabokov's short-stories ("Contos
Reunidos) Correction

Sixty-eight short-stories by Nabokov, written in the period of 1920 and 1950, are published together in a new translation to the Portuguese

Folha de São Paulo, 01/06/2013 - Contos de Vladimir Nabokov ganham antologia

O escritor russo naturalizado americano Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977), cujos contos ganham antologia
[ ]
'Nunca tive nenhum 'propósito' em mente ao escrever contos", diz o autor numa nota de 1976 a "Uma Página de Vida" (1935). Tome-se isso como uma boutade. Nabokov, como todo escritor de peso, jamais entrou em luta com as palavras --este emaranhado de espinhos-- acreditando que ela fosse vã.
RINALDO GAMA é doutor em comunicação e semiótica pela PUC-SP e autor de "O Guardador de Signos: Caeiro em Pessoa" (Perspectiva/IMS).

When I tried to find on line the original of a quoted sentence [a 1976 note to "A Slice of Life" (1935)], I came across a very old VN-L posting that I think would be fun to bring back to the List's attention..* Nevertheless, this more recent commentary by Nabokov was unavailable to me. Here is my attempt to render it back into English: "I've never had any 'purpose' in mind when I wrote short-stories".
Prof. Gama, in the review in which he quoted this line by VN, considers it a boutade by Nabokov, since the author "never struggled in vain with words ( 'that tangle of thorns')."

* - Subject:RJ:A SLICE OF LIFE (fwd)
From:Donald Barton Johnson <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Vladimir Nabokov Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Thu, 6 Jul 1995 10:52:29 -0700
Parts/Attachments:text/plain (104 lines)

EDITORIAL NOTE: Each week British Nabokovian Roy Johnson presents his
analysis of one of VN's short stories. The sketches, presented in
chronological order, are drawn from Johnson's book manuscript. It is
hoped that the analyses will prompt discussion of Nabokov's stories, a
rather neglected area of his work. Please address your comments to
NABOKV-L. Each presentation concludes with the title of the story to be
discussed the following week, so that subscribers can read them in advance.

This week's story - A SLICE OF LIFE

In 'A Slice of Life' (September 1935) Nabokov returns to the
seedy and vulgar side of emigre existence to explore a part of
it which is almost the polar opposite of the joys of literary
creation - the world of shabbiness and moral squalor which he had
touched on in 'An Affair of Honour' and 'A Dashing Fellow'. All
the characters in 'A Slice of Life' are horrendously degenerate,
self-seeking and crude; and in dealing with them Nabokov set
himself two problems in terms of narrative mode. First of all he
chose one of this vulgar company as first person narrator, and
it is not easy to convey vulgarity via the mind of someone who
*is* vulgar whilst at the same time being both logically and
aesthetically coherent. And the second novelty, a strategy he
used only once in all of his work [known to me] is that the
narrator is a woman.

Maria Vasilevna is a slattern (by her own admission) who has
previously been enamoured of Pavel Romanovich, a crop-haired slob
of a man whose behaviour becomes worse and worse as the story
progresses. He is obsessed with the fact that his wife has left
him for another man, and he enlists Maria's help in a plan which
purports to warn the wife of her folly. Pavel drunkenly concocts
the scheme in a mood which ignores Maria's feelings for him and
swings violently from braggadocio to maudlin self-pity. They
arrange for Maria to bring his ex-wife to a bar for an 'important
discussion' but when they arrive there Pavel pulls out a gun and
wounds her. There is a fracas in the bar from which everyone is
led away, leaving Maria to be picked up then abandoned by a
complete stranger.

As an exercise in revealing squalid behaviour the story is very
successful indeed and a typically Nabokovian study in the
grotesque. But unfortunately its coherence is undermined by an
unusual failure to control the narrative mode. He creates a
reasonably credible female point of view: "Yes, I wear mourning,
for everybody, for everything, for my own self, for Russia, for
the fetuses scraped out of me" (DS,p.142). Problems arise however
when he confronts the difficulty of dealing with two aspects of
the narrative which are essentially in opposition to each other.
First of all there is the problem of having this narrator reveal
her own vulgarity. Would such a person really confess herself
honestly as being "in the rumpled dress of a slatternly after-
lunch siesta, and no doubt still bearing the pillow's imprint on
my cheek" (p.141)? Even allowing a certain amount of suspension
of disbelief for the poetic rhythms of her expression, surely one
of the hallmarks of vulgarity is a *lack* of self-consciousness.
It does not seem psychologically credible to have fictional
characters *aware of* their own lack of judgement and taste. And
though it *is* credible for a woman with little of either to be
enamoured of a brute, Nabokov has not created a completely
convincing manner to have her reveal this to us.

The second problem concerns fictions narrated from limited points
of view. Smurov in 'The Eye' is a liar who even tried to deceive
himself - but at least he was reasonably well educated, so we
could believe that a character like him *could* offer such a
narrative. It *is* possible to circumvent the limitations of a
naive or a simple narrator who must deliver an account of morally
complex events, as *Huckelberry Finn* or 'Diary of a Madman'
show. In 'A Slice of Life' it might have been possible to stay
within the consciousness of a slovenly and presumably uneducated
woman for such a relatively short span (3,000 words) without
boring the reader. Nabokov has certainly engineered this feat
successfully on other occasions; but here he cannot resist the
desire to stray outside that limitation and creep towards the
intelligent and perceptive inventions of some of his other
narrators. It is simply *not* possible to maintain suspension of
disbelief when this supposedly stupid woman describes Pavel's
descent into drunkenness thus:

"En passant, he managed to finish the decanter, and
presently entered ... the final part of that drunken
syllogism which had already united, in keeping with
strict dialectical rules, an initial show of bright
efficiency and a central period of utter gloom"

Women like Maria do not, could not think in such terms. Nabokov
is too clearly present in what is supposed to be someone else's
narrative at such points, and the thread connecting our credulity
to the story snaps. This is a fairly rare lapse in what is
normally one of his strong areas as a writer - the skillful
control of narrative and narrators.

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