Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0021104, Mon, 27 Dec 2010 00:05:00 -0200

Re: Jane Austen, Mark Twain and Vladimir Nabokov ...
Sandy Klein sends: Jane Austen's Shadow Stories http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2010/12/jane-austen-mark-twain-and-vladimir.html Saturday, December 25, 2010*

JM: I cannot agree with A. Perlstein that "Nabokov was a passionate Janeite," that he'd been ironical in his letter to Wilson or in his depreciative comments (in "Verses and Versions") on women translators and poets. He changed his mind and expressed his admiration for Jane Austen, without being totally enthranced by her (no time to check in LEL, but I remember that he described her style as derived from "needle-work precision" or something of that kind). In "Ada", though, we find an appreciative remark: 'I can add,' said the girl...that my mother was even crazier than her sister...Dr Krolik, our local naturalist, to whom you, Van, have referred, as Jane Austen might have phrased it, for the sake of rapid narrative information (you recall Brown, don't you, Smith?), has determined the example I brought back from Sacramento..."

Don B. Johnson: "Peterson's grouse" is a reference to the late Roger Tory Peterson, the author of the long-time standard guide to North American Birds. There is no "Peterson's Grouse," however. Alan P. Peterson's book is long post-VN. Long ago,I published an article entitled, I vaguely recall, "The Birds in Nabokov's Ada" in an obscure Festshrift for Dean S. Worth.

JM: Thanks, Don. Perhaps the "obscure Festshrift" could be digitally resuscitated for the benefit of us, late-comers?

Jim Twiggs: I wish to thank Sandy Klein for all the interesting items he contributes to the List on a regular basis...Thanks as well to Jansy Mello ...Finally, Susan and Stephen deserve our deepest appreciation for the time and hard work they put into the List each and every day, including Christmas.

JM: My heartfelt thanks to Jim Twiggs for his constant encouragement and the kind words he now expressed. I join him in thanking Sandy Klein for all the riches he forwards to us and, in particular, to our laborious and patient EDs, SES and Stephen and, formerly, Don B. Johnson. I feel very priviledged to be able to share all the joys, queries, information all of you have to offer.

A poem by Octavio Paz came to my attention today, and I was reminded of John Shade's passage from despair towards a "faint hope." after he recognized "a web of sense and plexed artistry." Despair, as in Speak, Memory's "The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is headed for (at some forty-five hundred heartbeats an hour)." we find in PF (lines 122/24): "Outstare the stars. Infinite foretime and/Infinite aftertime: above your head/They close like giant wings, and you are dead."until, in lines 800/834, he concludes that, perhaps, there are unknown forces "Playing a game of worlds.../...Making ornaments/ Of accidents and possibilities."
Here it is:

In the original, Hermandad. (Homenaje a Claudio Ptolomeo)
"Soy hombre: duro poco
y es enorme la noche.
Pero miro hacia arriba:
las estrellas escriben.
Sin entender comprendo:
también soy escritura
y en este mismo instante
alguien me deletrea."

In a translation (The Collected Poems 1957-1987; Carcanet Press, Manchester, 1988. Brotherhood )

"I am a man: little do I last
and the night is enormous.
But I look up:
the stars write.
Unknowing I understand:
I too am written,
and at this very moment
someone spells me out. "

* ...Nabokov writing to his friend Edmund Wilson, "I dislike Jane, and am prejudiced, in fact, against all women writers. They are in another class. Could never see anything in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE" ...I take Nabokov's comment to Wilson about Austen as a very sophisticated joke, meaning precisely the opposite of what you claim...we have Nabokov creating a very elegant little Chinese Box of nested veiled allusions, all based on the theme of overtly stated dislike betrayed by unconscious revelation of unconscious attraction...Nabokov was clearly a writer who, even in his nonfiction, was very concerned with achieving subtle ironic effects--and that is most of all why I believed he was a passionate Janeite, because I believe his deep study of Austen's writing only enhanced that quality in his own, and Austen was indeed a _great_ teacher for him....Arnie Perlstein

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