Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024687, Sat, 12 Oct 2013 20:28:04 -0400

THOUGHTS: Art's higher level (VN and Musil?)
Dear Matthew,

it may be interesting to recall in this context Robert Musil and /The Man
Without Qualities
(German <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/**German_language<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_language>>:
/Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften/) -
it is no more romantic, not as in XIX century, and there is sibling incest
theme there. Do you know, whether VN expressed any
opinion about Musil and his roman?

All the best

Sergei Soloviev

Roth, Matthew wrote:

> Jansy asked: “Did Nabokov employ incest in his novels as a deliberately
> romantic nuance?”
> I think we have to distinguish between the kinds of incest he employs. The
> sibling incest of /Ada/ is of a very different character than the incest in
> /Lolita/ and the later novels. I haven’t read it in a while, but I recall
> that Don Johnson has a cogent essay on this topic as it relates to /Ada/.
> He also has one on incest in /LATH!/ but it is mostly devoted to
> deciphering the family relationships therein, rather than relating the
> theme to a tradition.
> The most helpful article I’ve read on this topic is by Peter Thorslev,
> “Incest as Romantic Symbol” (Comparative Literature Studies 2.1, 1965).
> Thorslev identifies three kinds of Romantic incest narratives: parent-child
> (with parent as aggressor), stepson-stepmother (the Don Carlos plot), and
> sibling. Parent-child incest always involves, at the symbolic level, “the
> sense of the past as being parasitic upon the future; of fathers,
> authorities, institutions, and traditions having outlived their usefulness,
> but being unwilling to grow old gracefully and wither away and even
> attempting grotesquely to renew their youth by devouring their young or by
> reproducing upon them.” I suppose the idea of Humbert and Lolita being
> representative of the Old World and New World could be seen as a variation
> on Thorslev’s idea.
> Sibling incest gets the most attention from Thorslev because it is the
> dominant form in the Romantic era. Focusing primarily on Chateaubriand’s
> /Rene/ and /Atala/, and myriad works by Byron and Shelley, Thorslev argues
> that, “there is a very real sense in which the only love possible for the
> Romantic hero - for Chateaubriand's René, for the Byronic Hero as
> epitomized in /Manfred/, for Shelley's poet-hero in /Alastor, Laon and
> Cythna or Epipsychidion/ - is an incestuous love. First, it symbolizes
> perfectly this hero's complete alienation from the society around him; and
> second, it symbolizes also what psychologically speaking we can call his
> narcissistic sensibility, or, more philosophically speaking, his
> predilection for solipsism.” A few more quotes:
> *“The alienation of the more Romantic heroes…--of René, of Manfred, and of
> Shelley's Laon--as indeed of the poets whom these heroes in part represent,
> is based on more than a defiance of established social or religious
> conventions, or even of ‘natural’ laws : it is based, ultimately, on their
> narcissistic sensibilities, on their almost obsessive preoccupation with
> their own feelings, moods, and thoughts.”*
> * *
> Speaking of Chateaubriand’s Rene:
> *And long before a thought of incest has crossed his mind (as a matter of
> fact, it is his sister who first declares her love), he has reached the
> conclusion that his only salvation will be to find a soul that is the
> mirror-image of his own: in an especially revealing passage he wishes that
> God had given to him, as He gave to Adam, a love taken from his own side, a
> virtual extension of his own soul and body.*
> * *
> And of Shelley:
> * *
> *And even in Shelley's less avowedly narcissistic poems, such as
> /Epipsychidion/, in which the poet-hero explicitly affirms the existence of
> a transcendent reality which he shares with his beloved, one still gets the
> irrepressible feeling that here the poetic persona has in effect *
> *stepped through Narcissus' looking-glass to embrace his mirror-image, his
> sister-soul. Certainly the never-never land of poetic phantasy at the close
> of /Epipsychidion/, the "Elysian Isle" to which the poet-hero proposes that
> he and his sister-psyche retire with a few books and musical instruments,
> is as idyllic as a classical pastoral, but also fully as artificial and far
> indeed from the emotions and realities of the world they would leave
> behind. And one remembers that the poem closes ambiguously, with the
> emphasis not on life, but on death: "One Heaven, one Hell, one
> immortality,/ And one annihilation . . ." (11. 585-586).*
> * *
> He concludes:
> * *
> *Incest has been a popular theme in literature for well over two thousand
> years, and it continues so today; but it was in the Romantic Age that it
> was first developed into a literary symbol, a symbol of the Romantic
> psyche's love affair with self and of its tragic isolation in an
> increasingly alien world.*
> * *
> So, do we think that Nabokov was drawing from, or replying to, this
> Romantic tradition, particularly in /Ada/?
> Matt Roth

Susan Elizabeth Sweeney
Co-Editor, NABOKV-L

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