Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027062, Wed, 15 Jun 2016 22:29:57 -0300

RES: [NABOKV-L] "Lost similes without a string attached to
Former posting: While exploring what I'd initially isolated under
"atmospheric trickery" in some of VN's stories, poems and novels so as to
identify more examples of human beings and animals being deluded by natural
phenomena (in contrast to or in parallel with mimicry), I noticed how these
"refractions"arise in "Pale Fire" with a particular insistence...There must
be various ways to spot the "parhelia"...[footnote *** CK, note to line 70:
"There are events, strange happenings, that strike/ The mind as emblematic.
They are like/ Lost similes adrift without a string,/Attached to nothing./
Thus that northern king,/Whose desperate escape from prison was/Brought off
successfully only because/Some forty of his followers that
night/Impersonated him and aped his flight - [ ] He never would have
reached the western coast had not a fad spread among his secret supporters,
romantic, heroic daredevils, of impersonating the fleeing king. They rigged
themselves out to look like him in red sweaters and red caps, and popped up
here and there, completely bewildering the revolutionary police..."]

Jansy Mello: The multiplication of reflexions in mirrors and, in a different
sense, the multiplicity of disguised imitators moving to and fro in a
landscape, mentioned by Charles Kinbote, carried me from "lost similes
without a string" to VN's studies of "rambling similes," whose description I
first actually noticed in Tom Heisler's "Epic Mirage, Epic Ferocity in
Nabokov's Pnin" Cf. Nabokov Online Journal, Vol. IX (2015), although I had
seen them while reading VN's lectures on Gogol and Proust and, of course, in
Pnin ( Pnin's conference paper "Homer's and Gogol's use of the Rambling
Comparison"*). My first association had to be checked, though: "stringless
similes" are not "rambling similes"...

Brian Boyd, in V.N The American Years, p.176, describes that "Analysing
Proust's opulent imagery, he [Nabokov]would invent his own examples to
explain the most rudimentary figures of speech (...)then rapidily move
toward a hybrid form (...) and apply it to Proust's 'wealth of metaphorical
imagery, layer upon layer of comparisons. It is through this prism that we
review the beauty of Proust's work'...He analyzed in detail one complex
Proustian image-within-image of a moonlit scene, then contrasted it with the
way Gogol might have developed one of his rambling comparisons."

Joseph Frank (In A Garland Companion... ed. V.Alexandrov), departing from
LoL's "Proust", observes that: "Comparing Proust and Gogol, he says that
Proust's imagery 'differs from Gogol's rambling comparisons by its logic and
poetry. Gogol's comparison is always grotesque, a parody of Homer, and his
metaphors are nightmares, whereas Proust's are dreams' (214) ..."
"Another comparison is made between Proust, Gogol and Tolstoy in relation to
a scene in which Proust dwells on the effects of moonlight in Marcel's room.
Gogol "would also have used rich imagery' in describing a moonlit garden,
'but his rambling comparisons would have turned the way of grotesque
exaggerations and some beautiful bit of irrational nonsense' (220)."

In his LoL's "Gogol" lecture (Ed.Bowers Harvest books, p.20) or in the
separate biography (New Directions, p.79), VN writes: " When Chichikov comes
to a party at the Governor's house, the chance mention of black-coated
gentlemen crowding around the powdered ladies in a brilliant light leads to
a fairly innocent looking comparison with buzzing flies - and the very next
instant another life breaks through: "The black tailcoats flickered and
fluttered, separately and in clusters, this way and that, just as flies
flutter over dazzling white chunks of sugar on a hot July day when the old
housekeeper [here we are] hacks and divides it into sparkling lumps in front
of the open window: all the children [second generation now!] look on as
they gather about her, watching with curiosity the movements of her rough
hands while the airy squadrons of flies that the light air [one of those
repetitions so innate in Gogol's style that years of work over every passage
could not eradicate them] has raised, fly boldly in, complete mistresses of
the premises and, taking advantage of the old woman's purblindness and of
the sun troubling her eyes, spread all over the dainty morsels, here
separately, there in dense clusters." / It will be noticed that whereas the
dull weather plus drunken trooper image comes to an end somewhere in the
dusty suburban distance (where Ukhovyortov, the Ear-Twister, reigns) here,
in the simile of the flies, which is a parody of the Homeric rambling
comparison, a complete circle is described, and after his complicated and
dangerous somersault, with no net spread under him, as other acrobatic
authors have, Gogol manages to twist back to the initial "separately" and in

Later VN explains that "Comparisons may be similes or metaphors, or a
mixture of both" and offers models, before he adds "If you go on to say the
mist was like the veil of a bride, this is a sustained simile with elements
of mild poetry; but if you say, the mist was like the veil of a fat bride
whose father was even fatter and wore a wig, this is a rambling simile,
marred by an illogical continuation, of the kind Homer used for purposes of
epic narration and Gogol used for grotesque dream-effects." He also
considers the "rambling metaphor" when the end of the phrse in an illogical
continuation. (Bower's Harvest p.200-202 ).

So... what did Kinbote/Shade indicate by "lost similes adrift..." while
(apparently) associating "emblematic" and "strange happenings" to a crowd of
red-clothed imitators of the ill-disguised King Charles popping up in the
wide landscape? The royal decoys were real in CK's imagination, although
John Shade was made responsible for this "simile" while the envelopping
"ramblings" were Kinbote's. The initial verses are, in themselves, quite


Pnin, chapter 7,5: Pnin had been teaching at Waindell since the mid forties
and never had I seen him look healthier... my good friend managed to combine
a vigorous ducking and twisting of the head (in his continuous attempts to
check and re-check the numbers of cross streets) with a magnificent account
of all he had not had sufficient time to say at the celebration on Homer's
and Gogol's use of the Rambling Comparison.

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