I retrieved from the VN List-Archives (May,5
2008) information about TOOL and Dmitri's indignant response to Cynthia
Here is C. Ozick's description - for what it's
'all Nabokovites had to sustain them were such Laura notes as
"Inspiration. Radiant insomnia. The flavour and snows of beloved alpine
slopes. A novel without an I, without a he, but with the narrator, a gliding
eye, being implied throughout." '
I once read that one could know a Russian writer by his
reference to sparkling snow and birch-trees. In my collection of
Poems of Exile ( in Russian and Spanish: Poemas desde el exilio),
I only found one reference to a birch-tree (it was made twice in the same
poem)*. I tried to check it in "Poems and Problems" but their
selection of poems is distinct and, until now, no birches! In the Spanish
they are found in poem XXIX, "Visión" ( written in 1924).
VN once compared New Hampshire and Vermont to his
familiar landscapes in Russia, but more often he settled for the "beloved
alpine slopes" and a Swiss scenery. He stresses the similarity bt. the
landscape in Montreux and his childhood recollections.
Nevertheless the mountains in NH and Vermont (or
in New Wye...despite "Mont Blon") must be very different from the
ragged Alps ( and Zembla?).
Was VN emphasizing the kind of vegetation (firs
and birches) or its butterflies, instead of the massive weight
of stone, to inspire and stimulate his recollections? Cf. VN's poem 9,
written in Feldberg,1925: "I like that mountain in its black
pelisse of fir forests - because in the gloom of a strange mountain country I am
closer to home..."
From H.S years I remember a comparison bt.
America's ancient mountain ranges bordering the Atlantic and those in
South America (minus the snow), always set in contrast with the Pacific
Rockies and Andes. My geography must be wrong...
Concerning the "gliding eye", I was reminded of VN's
short-story "Terror", his "posthumous-game" in "The Eye" and
"TT" ... but the chief suggestive link, for me, lies in a
poem, written by VN in Paris,1939, titled "Oculus", from where I'll copy its last
verses:"Gone, in fact, is the break between matter/ and
eternity; and who can care/ for a world of omnipotent vision,/if
nothing is monogrammed there?"
Pale Fire's promises are comforting by
their offer of preserved personal memory under IPH...
Birches ( a quick survey):
ADA: Blinking in
the green sunshine under a birch tree, Ada explained to her passionate
fortuneteller..[...]They were now about to enter Gamlet, the little Russian
village, from which a birch-lined road led quickly to Ardis.
Lolita: when I saw Lo next, in the late
afternoon, balancing on her bike, pressing the palm of her hand to the damp bark
of a young birch tree on the edge of our lawn [...]for an instant I believed all
our troubles gone
TRLSK: "A last change: a V-shaped flight of
migrating cranes; their tender moan melting in a turquoise-blue sky high above
a tawny birch-grove. Sebastian,
still not alone, is seated on the
white-and-cinder-grey trunk of a felled tree. His bicycle rests[...]'Is this the
The Defense: He sat opposite them [...] and looked
aside at the thick birch trunks spinning past along a ditch that was full of
A Forgotten Poet: His clothes and a half-eaten apple
were found lying under a birch tree, but the body was never recovered.
Wood-Sprite: I enjoyed the Cinderella-like dream-transformation of a
clock[...] Later, when he ( probably) woke up "a wondrously subtle scent in the
room, of birch, of humid moss..." lingered on.
Natasha: Beyond the
lake was the same dark pine forest, but here and there one could glimpse a white
trunk and the mist of yellow leaves of a birch[...] Natasha suddenly recalled
Levitan's landscapes. She had the impression that they were in Russia, that you
could only be in Russia when such torrid happiness constricts your
discovered her standing quite still (only her eyes were moving) in a birch
grove, she seemed to have been spontaneously generated there, among
watchful trees, with the silent completeness of a mythological