Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024937, Fri, 27 Dec 2013 22:21:26 -0500

Re: certicle storms in Ada
In a 1972 interview (reproduced in *Strong Opinions), *Nabokov did
distinguish between Pasternak the poet and Pasternak the prose writer. See


Brian Tombe

This interview, conducted by a docile anonym, is preserved in a fragmentary
transcript dated October, 1972.

*There are two Russian books on which I would like you to comment.
The first is* Dr. Zhivago. *I understand you never wished to review it? *

Some fifteen years ago, when the Soviets were hypocritically
denouncing Pasternak's novel (with the object of increasing foreign sales,
the results of which they would eventually pocket and spend on propaganda
abroad); when the badgered and bewildered author was promoted by the
American press to the rank of an iconic figure; and when his *Zhivago* vied
with my Lalage for the top rungs of the best-seller's ladder; I had the
occasion to answer a request for a review of the book from Robert Bingham
of *The Reporter,* New York.

*And you refused? *

Oh, I did, The other day I found in my files a draft of that answer,
dated at Goldwin Smith Hall, lthaca, N. Y., November 8, 1958. I told
Bingham that there were several reasons preventing me from freely
expressing my opinion in print. The obvious one was the fear of harming the
author. Although I never had much influence as a critic, I could well
imagine a pack of writers emulating my "eccentric" outspokenness and
causing, in the long run, sales to drop, thus thwarting the Bolshevists in
their hopes and making their hostage more vulnerable than ever. There were
other reasons-- but I certainly left out of consideration one point that
might have made me change my mind and write that devastating review after
all-- the exhilarating prospect of seeing it attributed to competitive
chagrin by some ass or goose.

*Did you tell Robert Bingham what you thought of Dr.* Zhivago?

What I told him is what I still think today. Any intelligent Russian
would see at once that the book is pro-Bolshevist and historically false,
if only because it ignores the Liberal Revolution of spring, 1917, while
making the saintly doctor accept with delirious joy the Bolshevist *coup
d'etat* seven months later-- all of which is in keeping with the party
line. Leaving out politics, I regard the book as a sorry thing, clumsy,
trivial, and melodramatic, with stock situations, voluptuous lawyers,
unbelievable girls, and trite coincidences.

*Yet you have a high opinion of Pasternak as a lyrical poet? *

Yes, I applauded his getting the Nobel Prize on the strength of his
verse. In *Dr. Zhivago,* however, the prose does not live up to his poetry.
Here and there, in a landscape or simile, one can distinguish, perhaps,
faint echoes of his poetical voice, but those occasional *fioriture* are
insufficient to save his novel from the provincial banality so typical of
Soviet literature for the past fifty years. Precisely that link with Soviet
tradition endeared the book to our progressive readers. I deeply
sympathized with Pasternak's predicament in a police state; yet neither the
vulgarities of the*Zhivago* style nor a philosophy that sought refuge in a
sickly sweet brand of Christianism could ever transform that sympathy into
a fellow writer's enthusiasm.

* The book, however, has become something of a classic. How do you
explain its reputation? *

Well, all I know is that among Russian readers of today-- readers, I
mean, who represent that country's wonderful underground intelligentsia and
who manage to obtain and distribute works of dissident authors-- *Dr.
Zhivago is* not prized as universally and unquestioningly as it is, or at
least was, by Americans. When the novel appeared in America, her left-wing
idealists were delighted to discover in it a proof that "a great book"
*could* be produced after all under the Soviet rule. It was for them the
triumph of Leninism. They were comforted by the fact that for better or
worse its author remai! ned on the side of angelic Old Bolsheviks and that
nothing in his book even remotely smacked of the true exile's indomitable
contempt for the beastly regime engendered by Lenin.

On Fri, Dec 27, 2013 at 2:48 PM, Carolyn Kunin <chaiselongue@att.net> wrote:

> Merry Christmas to you too, Jansy (a bit late). I don't know that Nabokov
> differentiated between Pasternak as a prose or poetry writer. I would be
> surprized, since I don't think his disparagements had anything to do with
> Pasternak's artistic abilities - unless he was envious, which I doubt he
> would have admitted to himself. If Mary Efremov is correct (and I have no
> idea where she got her ideas from) then it was a politically based hatred.
> Well, wait and see what the List can come up with. Perhaps Alexey has some
> information for us?
> Carolyn
> ------------------------------
> *From:* Jansy Mello <jansy.nabokv-L@AETERN.US>
> *Sent:* Monday, December 23, 2013 2:45 PM
> *Subject:* Re: [NABOKV-L] certicle storms in Ada
> *Just checking*: Nabokov disparaged Pasternak's novel Dr. Zhivago, sure.
> But he admired Pasternak's poems and respected him as a poet, right?
> Merry Christmas season to you all.
> Jansy Mello
> -----Mensagem Original-----
> *De:* Alexey Sklyarenko <skylark1970@MAIL.RU>
> *Enviada em:* domingo, 22 de dezembro de 2013 18:42
> *Assunto:* [NABOKV-L] certicle storms in Ada
> 'What was that?' exclaimed Marina, whom certicle storms terrified even
> more than they did the Antiamberians of Ladore County.
> 'Sheet lightning,' suggested Van.
> 'If you ask me,' said Demon, turning on his chair to consider the
> billowing drapery, 'I'd guess it was a photographer's flash. After all, we
> have here a famous actress and a sensational acrobat.'
> Ada ran to the window. From under the anxious magnolias a white-faced boy
> flanked by two gaping handmaids stood aiming a camera at the harmless, gay
> family group. But it was only a nocturnal mirage, not unusual in July.
> Nobody was taking pictures except Perun, the unmentionable god of thunder.
> (1.38)
> In his poem *Groza momental'naya navek* ("The Thunderstorm Instantaneous
> Forever") included in *Sestra moya zhizn'* (*My Sister Life*) Pasternak,
> too, has *grom* (thunder) take pictures:
> *Sto slepyashchikh fotografiy*
> *Noch'yu snyal na pamyat' grom.*
> In memory [of summer] the thunder took at night
> a hundred blinding photographs.
> In his *Vysokaya bolezn'* ("The Sublime Disease") Pasternak compares
> Lenin's *govorok* (speech) to *shorokh moln'i sharovoy* (the rustle of a
> ball lightning).
> Certicle is an anagram of electric. On Antiterra (Earth's twin planet on
> which *Ada* is set) electricity is banned after the L disaster. L is
> Lenin's (and Lucette's, and Lolita's*) initial. *Bliznets v tuchakh* ("A
> Twin in the Thunderclouds," 1914) was Pasternak's first book of poetry.
> *Bliznetsy* ("The Twins," 1852) is a poem by Tyutchev
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