Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0021601, Sat, 7 May 2011 10:19:36 +0200

Re: [NABOKOV] Stray patterns
Dear Jansy,
I suppose that Opal Wheeler's illustration was based on Margaret Isabel Dicksee's painting of the young Handel discovered in the attic of his family's house playing the cembalo (you may find a color reproduction of it at
and a black-and-white one at
The painting was made in 1893 and gravures based on it were soon circulated rather widely (I don't know where the painting is housed today).
Didier Machu

Jansy <jansy@AETERN.US> a écrit :

> Despite the wealth of information about an American author called
> Opal Wheeler*, I was unable to discover when she was born and the
> date her books for children were published. There are vague
> references to "mid-twentieth century" and to book prizes received in
> 1946, and later. The dates indicate that Wheeler's illustrated books
> couldn't have been in Vladimir Nabokov's mind when he wrote "The
> Defense" in Russian, since it was published in Berlin already in
> 1930. Anyway, it may happen that certain images from her books might
> have been inspired by other drawings and engravings from other, more
> famous, illustrators. I recollect particularly well one of these,
> with a small boy playing piano and his father, holding a candle and
> wearing a nightshirt, peering at him from the door. It appears in
> "Haendel at the Court of the Kings" and the story of Haendel's role
> at the English Court, under the patronage of King George I as told by
> Ms. Wheeler, would have appealed to Nabokov's sense of humor.**
> Various hints in the first chapters of 'The Defense' seem to gain a
> final shape in the woodcut on the wall of Luzhin's Berlin apartment
> which I always involuntarily associate to Opal Wheeler's caption in
> her book on Haendel. In Mr and Mrs Luzhin's new residence there "was
> a bay window and from there one could see a small public garden with
> a fountain at the end of the street....(In the bedroom)..."pressing
> close up to one another, stood two flocculent beds....and a woodcut
> in the wall space between the windows showed a child prodigy in a
> nightgown that reached to his heels playing on an enormous piano,
> while his father, wearing a gray dressing gown and carrying a candle,
> stood stock-still, with the door ajar." ( I brought this theme up
> once in the List, but at that time could not name the book, nor its
> author).
> There's been a kind of paternal and editorial tussle over Luzhin as a
> child-prodigy (a musician? a violinist? a chess-player?)*** which is
> felt in the English translation of the book, as do the wonders of
> reading a musical score and playing chess without the concrete
> instruments at hand. We all remember that in his 1964 interview with
> Alvin Toffler, Vladimir Nabokov mentions that: "I have no ear for
> music, a shortcoming I deplore bitterly...My knowledge of music is
> very slight...I am perfectly aware of the many parallels between
> the art forms of music and those of literature, especially in
> matters of structure, but what can I do if ear and brain refuse
> to cooperate? I have found a queer substitute for music in chess--
> more exactly, in the composing of chess problems." ****
> ..................................................................................................
> * Handel at the Court of Kings
> by Opal Wheeler
> Publisher: Zeezok Publishing
> ©1971, Item: 11467
> Trade Paperback, 166 pages
> Price: $13.95
> With clarity and with admirable simplicity, keyed to the
> understanding of children, Opal Wheeler has traced the many-sided
> career of George Frederic Handel, whose restless nature vied always
> with his tremendous ability as a composer and director.Handel's
> strange boyhood, clouded by the fact that his father did not want him
> to become a musician, and the later years when, thanks to the
> patronage of the Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels, his music was played
> before the greatest music lovers of Europe-all this makes absorbing
> reading. The selections of Handel's music included here are those
> best understood and most apt to be mastered by young musicians.One
> evening, back in 1691, conservative Doctor Handel was shocked and
> dismayed to find his small son carrying the torch at the head of a
> band of singers wandering through the little town of Halle. The good
> doctor never quite understood the all-consuming love of music which
> drove his son from childhood on and on to the great heights he
> eventually attained as the beloved Father of the Oratorio, the
> composer of the magnificent "Messiah". Opal Wheeler has given us here
> the most finished, most completely satisfying book on her list of
> fine music biographies. Handel at the Court of Kings should be a
> favorite of all children who love music, whether they are young
> musicians themselves or not.
> **www.baroquemusic.org/bqxhandel.html: situates Wheeler's source: "It
> was obligatory for every cultural and music-loving person of any rank
> or nobility to do the Grand European Tour which naturally included
> the main Italian cultural centers. Thus on his travels around Italy
> Handel also made a number of useful contacts including the Duke of
> Manchester, the English Ambassador, and most significantly Prince
> Ernst August of Hanover, brother of the Elector (later King George I
> of England) who pressed him to visit Hanover...The Royal Houses of
> Britain and Germany had always been closely inter-related, and the
> Act of Settlement of 1701 which secured the Protestant succession to
> the Crown of England, had made Handel's Hanoverian employer George
> Louis' mother heiress-presumptive to the throne of Great Britain.
> Thus the Elector George Louis would have been anxious to have Handel
> spy out the land and report back to him on the London musical, social
> and political scene[...] and by September 1714 Britain had a new
> monarch. Thus it was that George Louis, Elector of Hanover and
> already naturalized by Act of Parliament in 1705, became King George
> I of England, initiating the Royal House of Hanover. One of the first
> engagements for the new George I was to attend morning service at the
> Chapel Royal where ''a Te Deum was sung, composed by Mr Handel" - and
> Handel's position with the new ruler appears to have been secured."
> *** - (The Defense, Foreword): "in the late thirties when an
> American publisher showed interest in it, but he turned out to belong
> to the type of publisher who dreams of becoming a male muse to his
> author, and our brief conjunction ended abruptly upon his suggesting
> I replace chess by music and make Luzhin a demented violinist." and,
> in fact, we learn that Luzhin.."played in St. Petersburg, Moscow,
> Nizhny Novgorod, Kiev, Odessa. There appeared a certain Valentinov, a
> cross between tutor and manager. Luzhin senior wore a black armband -
> mourning for his wife - and told provincial journalists that he would
> never have made such a through survey of his native land had he not
> had a prodigy for a son." His father didn't "notice that he had
> endowed his son with the features of a musical rather than a
> chess-playing prodigy, the result being both sickly and angelic -
> eyes strangely veiled, curly hair, and a transparent pallor."//
> **** - "Luzhin senior came in - on tiptoe. He had been prepared to
> find the violinist still talking on the telephone...and was brought
> up short upon seeing his son.... 'Excellent chessmen. Do you play?'
> 'Indifferently,' said Luzhin senior...'What a game, what a game,'
> said the violinist, tenderly closing the box. 'Combinations like
> melodies. You know, I can simply hear the moves.'...'The game of the
> gods. Infinite possibilities.' 'A very ancient invention,' said
> Luzhin senior and looked around at his son: 'What's the matter? Come
> with us!' " ... // "It was this old man who explained to Luzhin the
> simple method of notation in chess, and Luzhin, replaying the games
> given in the magazine, soon discovered in himself a quality he had
> once envied when his father used to tell somebody at table that he
> personally was unable to understand how his father-in-law could read
> a score for hours and hear in his mind all the movements of the music
> as he ran his eye over the notes, now smiling, now frowning, and
> sometimes turning back like a reader checking a detail in a novel - a
> name, the time of the year. 'It must be a great pleasure,' his father
> had said, 'to assimilate music in its natural state.' It was a
> similar pleasure that Luzhin himself now began to experience as he
> skimmed fluently over the letters and numbers representing
> moves...Luzhin ...contented himself with perceiving their melody
> mentally through the sequence of symbols and signs. Similarly he was
> able 'read' a game already perused once without using the board at
> all; and this was all the more pleasant in that he did not have to
> fiddle about with chessmen while constantly listening for someone
> coming..." //
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View Nabokv-L policies: http://web.utk.edu/~sblackwe/EDNote.htm
Visit "Nabokov Online Journal:" http://www.nabokovonline.com

Manage subscription options: http://listserv.ucsb.edu/