Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


The Original of Laura: reprise

The run-up to the release of The Original of Laura, not so much a novel in fragments as fragments toward a novel, raised expectations beyond anything that it could fulfill, and the reviewers aren't pleased (reminiscent of Helen Vendler's reception of Alice Quinn's effort, “Betraying Elizabeth Bishop: The Art of Losing”). The state of the manuscript requires extra- rather than interpolation, a willingness to perpetrate an intentional fallacy to perpetuate the legacy.

Based on the then sketchy reports, I had speculated on Laura's origination:
I would propose as a primary source: Poe's "The Oval Portrait", a short short that takes the relation of Art to Life to an extreme (and which, as a discourse upon a discourse, welcomes extrapolation [or is it involution?] to the story itself, as well as to critical appreciation). TOOL would be an elaboration of, a doubling of, an argufying of and an answering of TOP's theme.
I'd taken the hint from Lara's Transatlantica précis (Its central female character seems to be Flora, the wife of the narrator and, most likely, the ‘original’ of Laura, who is the eponymous heroine of a novel titled My Laura. This novel is sent to the narrator and main protagonist of The Original of Laura by a painter, a rejected admirer of his wife, Flora, of whom “he did an exquisite oil a few years ago.” In My Laura, the mistress is less lucky: she is destroyed by the “I” of the book whilst “in the act of portraying her”—‘literally’, as a writer. Apparently “the portrait is a faithful one,” its features being “absolutely true to the original.” cf p121; prior post for embedding context), and would seem to be borne out by other supporting detail, such as the valet in "Legs" (pp 255-261) and, from the initial chapter, by one of Flora's fawners: Only by identifying her with an unwritten, half-written, rewritten difficult book could one hope to render at last what contemporary descriptions of intercourse so seldom convey [...] Readers are directed to that book—on a very high shelf, in a very bad light—but already existing, as magic exists, and death, and as shall exist, from now on, [...] A copy of Glist's "Glandscape" (receding ovals) adorned the wall.. The second chapter provides some elaboration, in Flora's grandfather's landscape painting being consigned to oblivion, her father's auto-photography of his obliteration; her mother's "art was not strong enough to survive the loss of good looks ...". And her husband's self-effacing technique is the central conceit of the novel-in-ovo. That said, I had expected more in the way of the play of the light ...

But the aspect that caught my attention has deeper implication. There is as usual ample intertextuality to prior art (Hubert H. Hubert being the most obvious case), but not in the hyparodic spirit of Look at the Harlequins!; the text that exists does fulfill one promise, providing a window into Nabokov's creative process (reflected in Philip Wild's annihilative strategies), from a personal standpoint; the book most drawn upon is (once again) Speak, Memory. The opening to chapter 5 thereof describes a different sort of creative destruction:
I have often noticed that after I have bestowed on the characters of my novels some treasured item of my past, it would pine away in an artificial world where I had so abruptly placed it. Although it lingered on in my mind, its personal warmth, its retrospective appeal had gone and, presently, it became more closely identified with my novel than with my former self, where it had seemed to be so safe from the intrusion of the artist. Houses have crumbled in my memory as soundlessly as they did in the mute films of yore, and the portrait of my old French governess, whom I once lent to a boy in one of my books, is fading fast, now that it is engulfed in the description of a childhood entirely unrelated to my own. The man in me revolts against the fictionist, and here is my desperate attempt to save what is left of poor Mademoiselle.
The novel within the novel, "My Laura" transfers this process to depiction of a character (based on the character Flora, who remains inviolate in the novel proper), and her husband in turn is unwritten out of existence from the inside. The writing on the wall (or in the wallpaper, another leitmotif, cf Pnin) is that which closes SM's chapter 3, in elliptical self-portraiture:
I see again my schoolroom in Vyra, the blue roses of the wallpaper, the open window. Its reflection fills the oval mirror above the leathern couch where my uncle sits, gloating over a tattered book. A sense of security, of well-being, of warmth pervades my memory. That robust reality makes a ghost of the present. The mirror brims with brightness; a bumblebee has entered the room and bumps against the ceiling. Everything is as it should be, nothing will ever change, nobody will ever die.