NABOKV-L post 0018452, Tue, 14 Jul 2009 09:05:09 -0600

Re: THOUGHTS re: "My Cue"
Joseph Aisenberg's and Mike Donohue's suggestion that Quilty's real name
might begin with Q would make his identity and Vivian Darkbloom's easy for a
reader to find from the title /My Cue/. This may not be a flaw; it may be
as comic as Kinbote's giving away names that Shade had disguised.

We could also imagine that Quilty's real name was Leinsdorf and Darkbloom's
book was called /My Lines/, or other possibilities. We could imagine that
his first name was Merle (feminine in "Merle Oberon") and "Clare Obscure"
was Humbert's or Ray's not entirely witless substitution for Humbert's
original "Merle Blank" (with a reference to Musset's "Histoire d'un merle
blanc"). This is fun for fans--exercise: find a possible original for a
dentist named Ivor who swims "in the ivory"--but if I took it seriously I
might risk "fanwank", readers' desperate attempts to make fiction internally

The same problem arises in fictional works that are supposedly translations,
including lots of fantasy and science fiction. I'll skip some books I've
mentioned before, and just mention that Nabokov addressed something similar
in his notes to /A Hero of Our Time/. The story "Bela" is framed as what
Maksim Maksimich told (the fictional) Lermontov, but at one point Lermontov
gives a Russian poem that is supposedly a translation of something a
non-Russian character sang in another language. In a note, Lermontov says
that Maksim Maksimich gave him the translation in prose, but "habit is
second nature" and Lermontov put it into verse. Nabokov's note is about the
conventions of fiction--Lermontov is supposedly telling us exactly what
Maksim Maksimich told him, except this one improvement. Nabokov doesn't
discuss the original song or how faithful the double adaptation might be, or
anything like that. Not that this is really parallel to the real names of
pseudonymous characters.

I suspect that Nabokov didn't mind any "sloppiness" here, to the extent he
was aware of it, because he wouldn't let anything stand in the way of
wordplay. Also, it functions in the same way as the name "Vivian
Darkbloom": Nabokov wants readers to remember that they're reading a great
work of art by Nabokov. John Ray's praise of Humbert's confession may be
the same thing, with a fig leaf to avoid outraging modesty.

Jerry Friedman

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