Our ED suggested a deadline for presenting commentaries about the first two chapters of “Spring in Fialta” but there were none, although I suspect that many silent Nablers spared some time to reread this wonderful story. Perhaps they might be interested enough to discuss a “critical examination” by Roy Johnson that I found available on line. It brings up several topics of interest.

36 – Spring in Fialta - a critical examination of Nabokov's collected stories

© Roy Johnson 2005


Excerpts: “There appears to be confusion over the date of first publication of ‘Spring in Fialta’ (April 1936) but general agreement that it is the highpoint in Nabokov’s achievement as a writer of short stories.As Barbara Heldt Monter justly claims ‘It is as clear a masterpiece among Nabokov’s short stories as Lolita andPale Fire among his novels.’   (Appel,p.129). It combines a number of his favourite and well-tested themes – recapturing the past, the Double, amorous yearning, Russia and The Woman – and to tell the story he combines several narrative devices – circular construction, absence of ‘plot’, scrambled chronology, and unreliable narrator.

The large scale parallels between Nina and Russia are obvious enough in the light of Nabokov’s earlier stories. Victor meets Nina in the fatidic years of 1917 and every time they subsequently meet he wishes to lead her back into the past before discussing what they have done since they last met. He even draws a comparison between this process and the narrative strategies employed in Russian fairy tales, wherein ‘the already told is bunched up again at every new twist of the story’ (ND,p.5).

These are some of the small details which form the pattern of the ‘mosaic’. But they are not just simple structural echoes or walk-on-walk-off parts for secondary characters which in themselves would make the story no more than choreographically interesting. They also tell us something about Victor’s reliability as a narrator. In the first of these examples it seems that he misjudged the Englishman, and in the second it is evident that he himself fails to recognise the little girl on the second occasion of seeing her. Are his senses as wide open as he originally claimed they were?

Almost all other commentators on this story take Victor at face value. He purports to be telling us of a love affair with this tantalising and somewhat promiscuous woman which has lasted on and off for fifteen years. Andrew Field, conflating Victor and his creator, discusses Nina in terms of Nabokov’s taste for ‘acerbic women’ (Field, VN, p.163). Monter describes it as ‘a love story’ (Appel, p.133) and thinks the Englishman is Nabokov in disguise just because he is a lepidopterist. And Lee only begins to suspect an element of the Double in the relationship between Victor and Ferdinand (Lee,p.32).[  ]In fact Victor is one of the most cunningly presented of all Nabokov’s unreliable narrators. He thinks he is telling us the truth, but the reader is given just enough information within his account to recognise that he is failing to understand the world he is in, deluding himself regarding Nina, misrepresenting people and their motives, and often behaving in a gauchely insensitive manner.

There is an additional complication in the fact that Ferdinand is also something of a portrait of Nabokov himself. He is given the same appearance, he writes in a foreign language and enjoys puns, and he has the same lofty and mocking literary manner. But this detail is best left to those like Field who wish to read biographical significance into it (Field-VN,p.163).

‘Spring in Fialta’ is without doubt Nabokov’s finest achievement as a writer of short fictions, and it bears all the qualities and characteristics of the very greatest short stories. It has a flawless unity of time, place, and action, and its flashbacks are very elegantly and unobtrusively woven into the narrative. It has a dense verbal texture full of echoes, poetic repetitions, and leitmotives which are firmly related to its themes. And it has one of the most subtly concealed of all Nabokov’s unreliable narrators.

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