An image from the first chapter of Nabokov’s Bend Sinister and one from a footnote at the end of Breton’s Nadja (1947) bear an unlikely similarity: both describe a painter who fails to paint a sunset because the scenery changes faster than the painter can paint.


From Nadja (trans. R. Howard): “…shortly before sunset, a curiously scrupulous painter struggled with skill and speed on his canvas against the fading light. The spot of color corresponding to the sun gradually descended with the sun. Finally, nothing remained. The painter suddenly discovered he was far behind: he obliterated the red from a wall, painted over one or two last gleams lingering on the water. His painting, finished for himself, for me the most unfinished thing possible, looked very sad and very beautiful” (148)


From Bend Sinister: “But it all fades, it fades, she used to sit in a field, painting a sunset that would never stay, […] – but the sunset had gone, leaving only a clutter of the purplish remnants of the day, piled up anyhow – ruins, junk”


Perhaps this is coincidental - I have no way of knowing if V. Nabokov ever read Nadja – but perhaps Nabokov was paying a subtle homage to another modernist.

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