NABOKV-L post 0018637, Tue, 6 Oct 2009 09:38:20 -0700

Although Boyd is clearly an expert in a way I could never be on these subjects, I would think twice before making such associations, especially as with both Lucette and Ada, Nabokov seems to have been parodying a set of complex readerly expectations. The two sisters are slyly described in terms of types: Ada is given dark hair, slim build, pale skin, a morbid funest quality straight out a host of romantic poetry, gothic fiction, even melodrama--the kind of character we would normally expect to die young and tragically. Lucette is physically her opposite. She has firery red hair, a healthy sunny pallor; consistently she is dressed in life-giving greens. Lucette starts out as the unattractive younger sister picking her nose only to emerge later in the book as actually more objectively appealing than Ada, even down to her chic. Nabokov's playing with one of the structuring principles of so many melodramatic works: the principal of oppositional characters:
good girl/ bad girl; Kitty and Anna Karenina; Becky Sharp and Amelia Sedly from Vanity Fair; Scarlett O'hara and Melanie Wilkes in Margaret Mitchell's Gone With Wind, the movie of which Nabokov parodied in Lolita. There are also bad films too numerous to bother invoking from the forties and fifties. Our expectation is that Van will realize Lucette is the good one, his true mate, after Ada bites the dust. (In fact this way this way of structuring things is still with us is in a pale attenuated way in romantic comedies where the hero has a crush on a buxom shallow blonde only to realize that his best friend, the girl he gets along with, a brunette who secretly has a crush on him, is really the woman of his dreams when she takes off her glasses). Only Nabokov turns everything upside down. Even though Van realizes that Lucette's more interesting than Ada, and twice as as beautiful (I'm thinking of lines from a marvelous thirties romantic comedy starring
Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant which also uses this good sister/bad sister device), he simply does not find Lucette as attractive, refuses to conform to genre; so it is the breath-of-fresh-air redheaded sun-lover who finally turns out to be the morbid one who does herself in.

My point is that when a book like this plays so intricately and sophisticatedly with literary genres it's probably dangerous to think the characters bear much of a relationship to people in the author's real life. Though because I'm human, I've often wondered if Lucette might not have been suggested to him in the person of Fillipa Rolf, known to him in the years he was writing Pale Fire and described fascinatingly in Vera, Stacy Schiff's book. I'm sure Nabokov would have denied any of these real life attributions.

--- On Sat, 10/3/09, jansymello <jansy@AETERN.US> wrote:

From: jansymello <jansy@AETERN.US>
Date: Saturday, October 3, 2009, 5:13 PM

Joseph Aisenberg: "...For Nabokov's strained
relationship to him you should read Boyd's Vladimir Nabokov, The Russian
Years...The lines you quote, which have been called a tribute, of course aren't
really much of a tribute. Nabokov is saying that he had always, correctly had a
feeling of contempt for his brother (because Nabokov disdained
homosexuality)...This sentence ["It is one of those
lives that hopelessly claim a belated something... ] I've always
thought, was rather unsettling and ugly, as were the words written to Wilson you
quote. Nabokov simply could not transcend his bigoted feelings about his
brother's sexuality and so his tributes are cutting and condescending at the
same time as they try to express regret..."
JM: Thank you, JA, for explanation and
interpretation. Perhaps Nabokov's vocabulary in relation to
"homosexuality" was not as rich as was his habitual 
verbal genius in relation to everything else under the sun. After all,
there must be probably more than a hundred ways to be "homosexual,"
and such labeling is insufficient to explain why Nabokov
"disdained" it.
Brian Boyd's hypothesis linking Sergei and Lucette is very
interesting: it might explain why Van Veen avoided touching or cuddling his
half-sister, while his lovemaking to ADA
ignored any universal restriction to incest. "Lucette/Sergei" and
Van's relationship would then have become a taboo for other, more
involuted reasons, should they have been
associated to physical contact and affection
between brothers.    

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