Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence



It is a commonplace that all Vladimir Nabokov's books in English are dedicated "To Vera", his wife and amaneusis, and that she was his primary audience, but the extent to which she motivated his writing remains underappreciated. Variants upon her name often appear subtly encoded in his novels, seemingly acrostic filigree to major motifs but perhaps the seed from which themes grew. For example, squirrels in Pnin; on Victor's gift to Pnin, a blue glass punchbowl (158):

Margaret Thayer admired it in her turn, and said that when she was a child, she imagined Cinderella's glass shoes to be exactly of that greenish-blue tint; whereupon Professor Pnin remarked that, primo, he would like everybody to say if contents were as good as container, and, secundo, that Cendrillon’s shoes were not made of glass but of Russian squirrel fur—vair, in French. It was, he said, an obvious case of the survival of the fittest among words, verre being more evocative than vair, which, he submitted, came not from varius, variegated, but from veveritsa, Slavic for a certain beautiful, pale, winter-squirrel fur, having a bluish, or better say sizïly, columbine shade, from columba, Latin for "pigeon," as somebody here well knows--so you see, Mrs. Fire, you were, in general, correct."

(I have reproduced the typography as exactly as I could, because something else is happening here, an almost imperceptible shift from indirect to direct discourse [even to a closing quote mark], which has otherwise gone unremarked.)

The novels of the period, from Pnin through Ada, carry through this and other commonalities (in Lolita, it's the color of her iris); Pnin shares with Pale Fire not only the former title character, but seizures leading to altered states of perception (Pnin, Shade), ornithologists, and, it so happens, another disguised acrostic: In answer to a NABOKV-L query on Kinbote in Pale Fire, Alexey Sklyarenko notes that kinboot's Russian equivalent is vira (and later expands upon other kotorrelates). Unfortunately, the query itself elides the rest of the OED entry: "(not to be confused with cynbote OE or royal compensation)." Which may explain why Kinbote's an exiled King.

(I had been thinking about elaborating upon prior problematics of the caissic variety to describe how Nabokov wove language and literature into his composition, but the ground upon which such figures play proved too unstable to sustain the metaphor ... though the thematic structure behind multiplexed allusions corresponds well, as noted now and then and once [upon a time] again.)


Post a Comment

<< Home