Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024536, Sat, 31 Aug 2013 10:54:04 -0300

Re: [QUERY] "Scenes from the Life of a Double Monster"
JM "I was unaware ...that ... Vera ... disencouraged her husband to write a novel about Siamese twins so that its first chapter was turned into a short-story. Paulo Ghiraldelli Jr. departs from ...those two brothers who are inexorably tied together to develop in a superficial way a couple of conjectures about Vladimir's conflictual love-hate relationship with his homosexual brother..[ ]Has anyone ever read about Vera's qualms and vetoes in this matter?."
Mary Efremov: "there were other gays in the family and family members can always tell but maybe not talk about it....both uncles from father's and mother's side were gay, and embarassing...his father coined a proper russian word for homosexual and tried to introduce legislation to de-criminalize homosexual behaviors....ravopolniy."
JM: Like many others, I feel uncomfortable with generalizations and broad categorizations - and It seems to me that the term "gay" has been applied to lots of different kinds of sexual choices, identities, feelings and behaviors: how would "ravopolniy" be translated to the English?
ME: homosexual is the translation
SESweeney:For a psychoanalytic reading of this story, which argues that it expresses various anxieties about VN's relationship with Sergei, see my essay "The Small Furious Devil: Memory in 'Scenes from the Life of a Double Monster,'" in A Small Alpine Form: Studies in Nabokov's Short Fiction, ed. Charles Nicol and Gene Barabtarlo (New York: Garland, 1993), pp. 193-216). I have just discovered that a copy of my essay is available online here.

Jansy Mello: Thanks, Mary. You had me puzzled with "a proper russian word for [ ]homoxexual behaviors...ravopolniy." The Russian word is stricter and more to the point.

The opportunity to read SES's paper about "the small furious devil" and "Doppelgänger" in Nabokov's work was very enriching and stimulating. SES has answered all my queries in it.
Concerning Vera's influence on the writing of "Scenes" we find her note 17, reporting an anedocte by Andrew Field (VN 287) and a reference to B.BOyd's AY 170-171.
The reasons why the novel was abandoned and only part of it used for "Scenes" are carefully explored with personal elaborations and a wealth of academic research into the subject. One of the sentences from Beth's paper corrected my initial perspective. "Unlike 'Tyrants Destroyed,' however, 'Scenes' never evolved beyound this embryonic, metaphorical stage to become an independent, fully realized work of fiction...'Scenes' like the Siamese twins themselves, did not divide successfully." I had failed to envisage the story as a grand metaphor!

Below I'll be bringing up various paragraphs extracted from SES's article and I hope that I haven't distorted her arguments by my tendentious pruning (as she informed in her posting quoted above, her paper is avaliable on line for any further checking)

SES asks: "Why was Nabokov unable to finish this particular work as he had planned? And what was the 'small furious devil' which distorted its shape?" and she adds: "If physical and psychological aberrations 'nurtured Nabokov's artistic fantasy,' as Dmitri Nabokov says, it was not by accident" [ ] As "Phyllis Roth 'shows ...in his autobiography, Nabokov sought artistic control over memories which were particularly painful' [ ].'Scenes' might be one of the few instances when he failed to transform those feelings into a transcendent fiction...Discovering the reasons why he could not finish (it)...will illuminate the ways in which he did achieve such artistic control in his other fictions [ ] what painful feelings did the figure of Siamese twins, that 'rarest of freaks' suggest to Nabokov in particular?"

According to her, Nabokov's fascination with doubles "clearly demonstrate his familiarity with this literary tradition [the Romantic 'Doppelgänger'], as well as with various psychological explanations for it." To explore the latter, she works over articles by G Green, P.Roth and Freud's "The Uncanny" and "Creative Writers", among others. She notes that "Unlike Poe's William Wilson or Stevenson's Mr. Hyde, Nabokov's doubles cannot be reduced to the dramatized conscience or unconscious of his narrator...they remain completely separate individuals. The conjoined twins epitomize this peculiarity...'a palpable reflection of [a] corporeal self'."
According to SES "We may find answers to our questions in the many similarities between 'Scenes' - Nabokov's most graphic and grotesque depiction of duality - and his relationship with his brother Sergei...his childhood relationship with this real-life Doppelgänger who also resembled him in age and appearance but was a completely separate person " ] and she poses new questions: "What does Nabokov's relationship with his brother have to do with the grotesque, or with the anxious memories it evokes?"

SES acute probings isolate the two themes that had become enravelled in other explorations: the grotesque monstrosity of VN's fictional Siamese twins allied to VN's childhood conflicts with his brother Sergei - and - VN's experiences with his family's homosexual relatives. A most pertinent and total division of academic issues!

Continuing her investigation, SES concludes that, given that: "Nabokov repeats, corrects, and reinvents the 'miserable memories' of his relationship with Sergei in the doublings which dominate his fiction... the memory of Sergei... is that "small furious devil" which so distorts "Scenes.." A convincing example on part III in her work quotes VN's admission that Mademoiselle O and First Love are 'true in every detail to the author's remembered life' - "before he adds shrewdly," 'As to the rest, I am no more guilty of imitating 'real life' than 'real life is responsible for plagiarizing me' - "Besides identical narrative situations, in which one brother recounts his shared childhood with another, there are indeed suggestive similarities between the Siamese twins and Nabokov's own childhood relationship with Sergei." When SES examines "the way in which [Scenes] attempts to transform, often very self-consciously, Nabokov's painful memories." she notes that the important theme of " 'running away' also functions, in this story, as the leimotif of Nabokov's relationship with his brother - the kind of "thematic design" which Nabokov follows througout Speak,Memory, and which he identifies as the purpose of autobiography. ,,,the "abortive flight" of the twines (Scenes) attempts to express the cumulative significance of all of these remembred escapes with Sergei." to conclude that " 'Scenes' is not about adult doubles like the other Doppelgänger fiction, but about the childhood relationship between two brothers. It may also reflect Nabokov's feelings about Sergei's homosexuality and his own guilt over discovering and revealing..." since the "reworking of memory may be the essential feature of Nabokov's art. His fiction not only demonstrtes the mechanics of memory, but, more important, it reveals the resemblance between remembering and fiction-making." * This is a very clear and important point related to memory, imagination and fiction-making, the workings of which can be followed an examined in VN's writings and according to how successful he was in his transmutation of individual remembrances into Art ..

In my opinion, when VN states "I was the coddled one, he [Sergey] the witness of coddling" (SM), he may not have been absolutely truthful, because there are various other sparsed observations of his that deny it. Sibling rivalry, cruel jealousy and not only "embarassment" were distorted and fictionalized in various ways.
VN carries "painful and guilty memories," and he brings to light in his autobiography one or two extremely significant examples. But there are also other painful memories that'll remain secret, perhaps even to himself. After all, Freud wrote extensively about perversions (he never considered homosexuality as belonging to this category, as it was classified in his time). He also wrote about human inborn "bisexuality" so,why not admit that, like everyone else, Nabokov had homosexual cravings that became extremely difficult for him to understand and experience, because of the traumatic nature of his submission to Uncle Ruka's caresses, or even any sort of sibling rompings with Sergey (many traumatic experiences are only turned into "sexual traumas" when the vistims is also excited and experiences pleasure)?

* - In part I and II of her fascinating paper, SES works over the articles of several other Nabokov scholars. For example. she informs that, for Carol T. Williams, "the Siamese twins embody 'in absolute form' the 'monstrous truth about mortal unity'...Human that the narrator Floyd is, he cannot recognize the intimations of ideal unity in his Siamese twinship with Lloyd"...and that "Ellen Pifer concurs that the twins' juxtaposition of 'physical duality and psychological isolation' ironically shows 'how fallacious a social and political ideal is an exaggerated faith in the collective spirit of mankind" .A different argument is derived fromL.L Lee for whom "the twins' symbiosis represents not 'ideal unity' but earthly captivity..." For her, "these critics interpret it [duality] no more convincingly than Field and Kecht" as.for example, when ".Lee hesitates..'little Platonic half-eggs both seeking and shunning our other halves...' Inspite of these author's differences, as she observes, all of them agree about what the story exemplfies "the essencial singularity of human life... a constant theme in Nabokov's fiction..." and that "the unfinished 'Scenes' is itself an oddity, 'something' that 'had gone dreadfully wrong', like the accident of nature it describes"...."the story was indeed a 'rahter unsuccessful experiment'

For Sweeney "the grotesque, and what it represented, was an important part of that process. Dmitri Nabokov observed that 'aberrations in general, both phusical and psychological, were among the diverse sources of raw material that nurtured Nabokov's artistic fantasy'. " After quoting VN's lines (the ones that inspired the title of her article:"I was always ready to sacrifice purity of form to the exigencies of fantastic content, causing form to bulge and burst like a sponge-bag containing a small furious devil.") she reasserts that: "The grotesque, then, was an essential part of Nabokov's process of composition: it often inspired his fiction, and even determined its form.". and later SES neatly closes her article with an expansion of just that conclusion by approaching the grotesque, the doubles and fictionalized recollections.

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors: mailto:nabokv-l@utk.edu,nabokv-l@holycross.edu
Visit Zembla: http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/zembla.htm
View Nabokv-L policies: http://web.utk.edu/~sblackwe/EDNote.htm
Visit "Nabokov Online Journal:" http://www.nabokovonline.com

Manage subscription options: http://listserv.ucsb.edu/