NABOKV-L post 0022691, Mon, 9 Apr 2012 23:36:07 -0400

Re: Easter patterns in The Defence - a complement

Updike's comment made me think of Lhuzin in terms of Lolita (although Updike makes no such comparison.) Both Lhuzin and Lolita have been stunted in childhood. Lolita has obviously been traumatized by HH. Lhuzin's trauma is harder to pin-point: his psychological disturbance may be organic. But there are also hints that his father's philandering played some part. I don't see that we are given enough information to reach a definite conclusion. But at the great risk of playing the quack, it occurs to me that Nabokov suffered from the double trauma of becoming a refugee, and the murder of his father; or possibly a triple whammy as, soon after the loss of his father, his fiance was made to call off the engagement. All this at a still tender age. Nabokov was resilient enough to overcome these events with his sanity in place, but it may be that like Lolita and Lhuzin, he never fully grew up. Date: Mon, 9 Apr 2012 18:23:51 -0300
From: jansy@AETERN.US
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] Easter patterns in The Defence - a complement

Complementing the comments to Fran Assa's "Lhuzin never really
grows up, does he? The three points in his life show him as
having the same childishness." I'd like to bring up, in the first place,
the link to Updike's criticism:

read in VN's foreword that "The Defence" was "written in 1929--that is,
when Nabokov was thirty, which is the age of Luzhin and that, like "his hero,
the author seems older" John Updike adds "few Americans so young
could write a novel wherein the autobiographical elements are so cunningly
rearranged and transmuted by a fictional design, and the emotional content so
obedient to such cruelly ingenious commands.."
and, several paragraphs later:"Nabokov has always warmed to the subject
of children, precocious children--David Krug, Victor Wind, the all-seeing "I" of
Conclusive Evidence, and, most precocious and achingly childlike of all, Dolores
In his eyes (this review has been previously posted in the VN-L, with
another set of highlights) "The humanity that has come within
Nabokov's rather narrow field of vision has been illuminated by a guarded but
genuine compassion. Two characters occur to me, randomly and vividly: Charlotte
Haze of Lolita, with her blatant bourgeois Bohemianism, her cigarettes, her
Mexican doodads, her touchingly clumsy sexuality, her utterly savage and
believable war with her daughter; and Albinus Kretschmar of Laughter in the
Dark, with his doll-like dignity, his bestial softness, his hobbies, his family
feelings, his craven romanticism, his quaint competence. An American housewife
and a German businessman, both observed, certainly, from well on the outside,
yet animated from well within. How much more, then, can Nabokov do with
characters who are Russian, and whose concerns circle close to his own aloof

John Updike also refers to the novel's level "as a work-epic of
chess (as Moby Dick is a work-epic of whaling) The Defense is splendidly shaped
toward Luzhin's match with Turati...Their game, a potential draw which is never
completed, draws forth a display of metaphorical brilliance that turns pure
thought heroic. Beneath the singing, quivering, trumpeting, humming battlefield
of the chessboard, Turati and Luzhin become fabulous monsters groping through
unthinkable tunnels": However, after the game is adjourned, "the
metaphors have reversed the terms" and "the chess-images that have haunted the
fringes of his [Luzhin's] existence now move into the center and render the
real world phantasmal." Nabokov's tormented character "is lovable,
this child within a monster, this "chess moron," and we want him to go on, to
finish his classic game with Turati, and, win or lose, to play other games... He
seems blocked by something outside the novel, perhaps by the lepidopterist's
habit of killing what it loves; how remarkably few, after all, of Nabokov's
characters do evade the mounting pin."

The same ambition that stimulates John Shade in 1962 ("It sufficed that I in life could find/...some kind/Of correlated
pattern in the game,/Plexed artistry, and something of the same/ Pleasure
in it as they who played it found//...Playing a game of worlds, promoting
pawns/ To ivory unicorns and ebon fauns...") seems to have been spotted by John Updike as
being already at work in this early Russian novel:
"Nabokov's exacting criteria of artistic a memorable
section in Conclusive Evidence concerning butterflies," ..."relates to the
'mysteries of mimicry'..." In this case, the lines about
"plexed artistry" might indicate such "mysteries of
mimicry" when an artist, like a playful god, relates his
scientific findings to art.

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