Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024809, Tue, 19 Nov 2013 13:11:19 -0500

In this article in today's NYTimes (November 18, 2013.) See ending: I cut off copying the article after it mentioned Nabokov.

An Old Chinese Novel Is Racy Reading StillDavid Tod Roy Completes His Translation of ‘Chin P’ing Mei’By JENNIFER SCHUESSLER

Published: November 18, 2013 FacebookTwitterGoogle+SaveE-mailSharePrintSingle PageReprints
When David Tod Roy entered a used-book shop in the Chinese city of Nanjing in 1950, he was a 16-year-old American missionary kid looking for a dirty book. Enlarge This Image Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Mo. Photograph by John LambertonA 17th-century illustration for the Ming dynasty novel “The Plum in the Golden Vase,” newly translated, in five volumes with more than 4,400 endnotes, by David Tod Roy. Enlarge This Image Nathan Weber for The New York TimesMr. Roy.
His quarry was an unexpurgated copy of “The Plum in the Golden Vase,” an infamously pornographic tale of the rise and fall of a corrupt merchant, written by an anonymous author in the late 16th century. Mr. Roy had previously encountered only an incomplete English translation, which switched decorously into Latin when things got too raunchy. But there it was — an old Chinese edition of the whole thing — amid other morally and politically suspect items discarded by nervous owners after Mao Zedong’s takeover the previous year. “As a teenage boy, I was excited by the prospect of reading something pornographic,” Mr. Roy, now 80 and an emeritus professor of Chinese literature at the University of Chicago, recalled recently by telephone. “But I found it fascinating in other ways as well.” So have readers who have followed Mr. Roy’s nearly 40-year effort to bring the complete text into English, which has just reached its conclusion with the publication by Princeton University Press of the fifth and final volume, “The Dissolution.” The novelist Stephen Marche, writing last month in The Los Angeles Review of Books, praised Mr. Roy’s masterly rendering of a richly encyclopedic novel of Ming dynasty manners, which Mr. Marche summed up, Hollywood-pitch style, as “Jane Austen meets hard-core pornography.” And Mr. Roy’s scholarly colleagues are no less awe-struck at his erudition, which seemingly leaves no literary allusion or cultural detail unannotated. “He is someone who believes it’s his obligation to know absolutely everything about this book, even things that are only mentioned passingly,” said Wei Shang, a professor of Chinese literature at Columbia University. “It takes a certain kind of stubbornness to complete this kind of project.” It also may take a certain stubbornness on the part of ordinary readers to make it all the way through this five-volume work, given its Proustian length (nearly 3,000 pages), DeMille-worthy cast (more than 800 named characters) and “Ulysses”-like level of quotidian detail — to say nothing of Mr. Roy’s 4,400-plus endnotes, whose range and precision would give one of Nabokov’s obsessive fictional scholars a run for his money.
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