Joseph Aisenberg replies JM’s queries: On the "deep amputation" quote: in context the narrator describes people running up a snowy hill followed by a groan. Isn't the meaning then that someone's leg or legs have sunk into the snow, figuratively amputating the limbs; the "arctic" in this context meaning "of or pertaining to the cold conditions which created the snowy hill?" As to the purpose of the seasonal shift to Spring, if you go back to my piece you'll see I pointed out that christian imagery crops up quite a bit through the story, and that I narrowed the story's present day action down to the week before Easter Sunday. Therefore the perverse Last Supper episode is for the narrator then a precursor looking forward to Nina's death, a last supper before her sacrifice. The end of the story's important to keep in mind as well since the narrator declares Nina to be mortal, unlike Ferdinand and Segur--and unlike Jesus who rose from the dead. She's simply gone but for the memories the narrator can evoke of her which simply reenact the death. By the way, on St. George theme, Nina makes the sign of the cross over the narrator's head each time she leaves him which is an important echo of the St. George story. I think if the mood seems pagan rather than christian despite the christian imagery it's because nabokov has inverted the meanings of the christian myths, Victor does not defeat the dragon Ferdinand and so Nina is sacrificed and dies, right?
Jansy Mello: Thank you once again, Joseph. I found your original posting to the VN-L in the Sept.2014 archives. Here’s the link:
I found another interesting address that brings bibliographical information about VN and St. George:
We even discussed some of the ideas you had advanced in it*. I can remember now (how could I have forgotten it!) that I felt uncomfortable by you reference linking a coral cross in a shop window to Christianity and “trashy things” - but I enjoyed your suggestion about the recurrence of the “souvenir trash” theme. The “lunar lollipop” is described twice and it’s indicated at various points of the story. Its “opalescence” is an effect that has fascinated VN in Pale Fire( the predominant reference derives from the “iridulet”), the “sorry-go-round” of postcards is mentioned in “Beneficence” and, as an amusement park fixture, in Pale Fire too.
How curious: an iridescent opal cloudlet also harbors a “pale fire”, doesn’t it?
Today you mentioned the Last Supper episode as the narrator’s intimation of Nina’s death. Victor lets the reader know right from the beginning of his story that Nina is going to die very soon (prolepsis or flash forward), and, imho, you are right (I enjoyed your marking of “the platform of the Fialta time-frame”) because Victor includes the moment of his vague intimation of her “sacrifice” in his “objective” report of what he’d learned about Nina’s decease in the end.
You noted: “nabokov has inverted the meanings of the christian myths, Victor does not defeat the dragon Ferdinand and so Nina is sacrificed and dies, right?” Here I cannot agree with you. Victor’s profound feeling about his mystical bond with Nina is constantly presented in an ambiguous way, oscillating between his suffering from a supernatural intuition and having a hallucinatory experience. It seems that everything related to the atemporal love between Victor and Nina is solely a product of his imagination: this is why I cannot see her role in the story as being important enough to represent the virgin (!) who was rescued by St. George nor Victor as a failed savior (he was, in fact, a failed and timid lover).** Tunnels are important in this short-story (they give access to Fialta and the St. George tunnel is depicted in the “trashy” inkstand Ferdinand buys and abandons) but so are the slithering express trains that, like dragons, with “reckless gusto ... collect throughout the night as many tunnels as possible.”
Didier Machu posted a reply to his former query about Charlotte Haze and her “yellow/maroon” color scheme and, almost side by side, you pointed out the importance of Nina’s color scheme and the recurrence of yellows (the orange peel, Nina’s scarf, Segur’s automobile…). I wonder if there is a more general hidden significance related to yellow (butterflies, as in Lolita? Particular synesthetic feelings related to the yellows?). However, since the pascal theme prevails in “Spring in Fialta”, I have the impression that yellow/gold arise as the companion color of the purples (violaceous, violet, Fialta itself) in their association to Christian rituals during Easter.
Charlotte and Nina share another characteristic, though: they are presented by the narrator during their first and last encounter with him and their “narrational” lifespan is totally encompassed by the text as a sort of aside in the mainstream of the story. (Wow, now I came to another association from PF: “If I correctly understand the sense of this succinct observation, our poet suggests here that human life is but a series of footnotes to a vast obscure unfinished masterpiece.” And, also, to a contrasting commentary about Ferdinand in “Spring in Fialta”: “and as for history it will limit his life story to the dash between two dates.”)
* J. Aisenberg: “Spring In Fialta”… has a complex structure as well as a somewhat paradoxical center… the first six paragraphs of the story, which comprise a kind of scene-setting prologue in panoramic view…takes us to the point where Victor, the narrator, runs into Nina. These paragraphs establish not exactly a present tense from which the flashbacks are able to depart, because the time frame of the story itself, in the first sentence of the second paragraph, is established as already past …Using internal clues …we can establish the platform of the Fialta time-frame fairly exactly... It takes place during Lent, in 1932. Lent began February 10th of that year and ended Easter, March 27th…Spring officially begins on either the 19th or 20th of March, which means that the events in Fialta probably took place sometime the week before Easter… The first paragraph not only builds Fialta as an impressionistic place for the story to unfold in, as Maxim Shrayer noted …in his book The World of Nabokov’s Stories, it also establishes an existential, metaphysical sense of the world as perception: past and present, real and unreal, specific and individual, trite and commercial—before revealing in the second paragraph that the story is a first person narrative. "
Jansy: The choice of violets and purples is another indicative of Lent and the Christian Easter (as celebrated in Italy?). However, further on J.Aisenberg notes: "Nabokov gives trash it’s amusing, poetic due, adding humorous depth to his tragic-erotic fantasia…The second para carries forward the “souvenir trash” theme, combining it with the second element of the tale not much noted previously, that is Christian mythical imagery: 'coral crucifixes in a shop window' [ ] And remember the yellow orange peels. This color, along with the blue and the mist and the sea, constantly come back." I remember from "S,M" and from "The Defense" Nabokov's sentimental, but never "trashy"description of Orthodox Christian Easter rituals in Russia, similar in tone to what is mentioned by JA in another note, in connection to para 2 and 6: "her making the sign of the cross gives us more Christian imagery that may perhaps be a callback to the St. George legend."[… ] “she would rapidly make the sign of the cross over me every time we parted”,
J.A: " In paragraph 3 we are told that the narrator will only be in Fialta a short time on leave from his family: “I had left my wife and children at home, and that was an island of happiness always present in the clear north of my being, always floating beside me, and even through me, I dare say, but yet keeping on the outside of me most of the time.” This is one of those interesting sentences which manages to unsay the point it's trying to make by the end, that is that his home life is happy—he leaves us feeling that the happiness he speaks of though always present in the “clear north of his being” by remaining outside himself “most of the time” means he’s really quite alienated from his banal life[ ] The 6th para points out the flimsy nature of the narrator’s and Nina’s relationship—he “fail[s] to find the precise term” for it in fact.”
Jansy: I’d like to draw a parallel between Victor’s description of his family life in connection to “remaining outside himself…alienated from his banal life” which are suggestive of Henri Bergson’s ideas concerning duration (la durée) but, at this exact point, as being indicative of “fake duration” - and anotherapproach by Nabokov when he contrasts married love to his love for Nina, as in Fran Assas’s selection from Spring in Fialta where she observes that the lines about V’s family life are “out of keeping with the rest of the story, and seems uncharacteristically awkward,” before she notes that: “… most significantly, the flow of real time is interspersed with the narrator’s story of their history together, all chance meetings since their youth. (“Back into the past, back into the past, as I did every time I met her, repeating the whole accumulation of the plot from the very beginning up to the last increment—thus in Russian fairy tales the already told bunched up again at every new turn of the story”). Here, although this reference to “real time” has no Bergsonian connotation, it seems to me that Fran came close toNabokov’s inclusion of “atemporality” in his story. Nevertheless, Fran seems to have shunned this “mystic dimension” to dwell on the heart-rendingexpressions of “pity” present in quotidian and in “family” loves.
As Fran writes: “He puzzles over the fact that ‘Again and again she hurriedly appeared in the margins of my life, without influencing in the least its basic text.’[…] The crux of his feelings for her are found in the following paragraph: “... my married life remained unimpaired […] I grew apprehensive because something lovely, delicate and unrepeatable was being wasted: something which I abused by snapping off pure bright bits in gross haste while neglecting the modest but true core that perhaps it kept offering me in a pitiful whisper.[...]
As I see it, VN/V was unable to “de-temporalize” his love for Nina and to free it from the ever constant edge human mortality (the non-farsical aspect of VN’s mystic approach).
**I was always surprised by V. Nabokov’s later coldness towards his great love Irina and his failing to come to her rescue when her economic situation became unbearable ( I think it was in “the collected letters” that we read his letter refusing to advance money to an aging and destitute Irina). Was he ever Irina Guadanini’s “chevalier”?
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