NABOKV-L post 0026312, Fri, 24 Jul 2015 16:32:00 -0300

following Lik's new white shoes...
A.S: “VN’s story Lik ends in the protagonist’s words…: “К дому, где жили Колдуновы, автомобиль подъехал со стороны площади. Там собралась толпа, и только с помощью упорных трубных угроз автомобилю удалось протиснуться. Около фонтана, на стуле, сидела жена Колдунова, весь лоб и левая часть лица были в блестящей крови, слиплись волосы, она сидела совершенно прямо и неподвижно, окружённая любопытными, а рядом с ней, тоже неподвижно, стоял её мальчик в окровавленной рубашке, прикрывая лицо кулаком, -- такая, что ли, картина. Полицейский, принявший Лика за врача, провёл его в комнату. Среди осколков, на полу навзничь лежал обезображенный выстрелом в рот, широко раскинув ноги в новых белых... -- Это мои,-- сказал Лик по-французски.” “The taxi approached Koldunov’s place from the direction of the square. A crowd had gathered, and it was only by dint of persistent threats with its horn that the driver managed to squeeze through. Koldunov’s wife was sitting on a chair by the public fountain. Her forehead and left cheek glistened with blood, her hair was matted, and she sat quite straight and motionless surrounded by the curious, while, next to her, also motionless, stood her boy, in a bloodstained shirt, covering his face with his fist, a kind of tableau. A policeman, mistaking Lik for a doctor, escorted him into the room. The dead man lay on the floor amid broken crockery, his face blasted by a gunshot in the mouth, his widespread feet in new, white – “Those are mine,” said Lik in French.” [ ] In his Essais (Vol. One, Chapter XVIII) Montaigne says: à ce dernier rôle de la mort et de nous il n’y a plus que feindre, il faut parler français (in this last role of death one should not pretend anymore, one should speak French).

Jansy Mello: The interesting connection made by A. Sklyarenko between Lik’s final words in VN’s short-story and Montaigne’s admonishments intrigued me. For a Frenchman, to resort to his native language at the moment of death means to stop pretending and drop life’s masks to speak from the heart. Lik, however, is not French and not dead! So, I felt torn by two possible intentions: did VN plan to enhance a farcical mood or was he ironical about some undisclosed motif? I did a rapid scan of the story and it didn’t help me to choose.

Lik is a Russian actor, playing in France and who won fame in the part of a stutterer. In his role as a Russian called Igor he had to impersonate someone who was not familiar with French with moments in which a French actor’s impersonation led him to speak haltingly, hesitating over words, as in: "J' étais trop jeune pour prendre part a la.., comment dit-on... velika vo'ina... grande, grande guerre...” Most of the time, however, “ Judging by the printed text of the play, Igor expresses himself (at least in the first scenes, before the author tires of this) not incorrectly but, as it were, a bit hesitantly, every so often interposing a questioning "I think that is how you say it in French?" Later, though, when the turbulent flow of the drama leaves the author no time for such trifles, all foreign peculiarities of speech are discarded and the young Russian spontaneously acquires the rich vocabulary of a native Frenchman..” In the latter case, Lik’s native Russian operated to his disadvantage for he was feigning to be a French actor who feigned to be a Russian. Perhaps only his “stutter” would come in helpful. So… what does it mean to have Lik close the story using French, albeit indirectly (it’s the author who informs us in Russian and in English that Lik’s speech was in French.) Did VN have Montaigne in mind heart? In this case, as in irony and contrast, the substitution wouldn’t be related to a return to one’s native language but to the stepping into someone else’s shoes (Koldunov wearing Lik’s acting apparel).What am I missing?

Help is at hand: “If there is any authorial sleight of hand here, it occurs in two incidents which are both related to the story’s themes. The first is in the opening of the story where Nabokov offers a sort of false beginning by describing the plot of ‘L’Abime’ in a way which leads the reader to expect that this will be the subject of the story: ‘the young man of the play threatens to be somewhat colourless, and it is in a vain attempt to touch him up a little that the author has made him a Russian’ (TD,p.72). The play is a melodrama, and it is gently mocked for dealing in the stereotypes of what the public supposes to be ‘the Russian character’. But ‘Lik’ as a story is itself melodramatic on the surface, so the play parallels the story, whose own ‘young man’ is Russian – though the play is a paler parodic version of the story. For ‘Lik’ is Russian in a manner which goes straight back to Dostoyevski, who is even acknowledged in the text. The other instance of Nabokov misleading the reader occurs at the end of the story when Lik has escaped from the importunate demands of Koldunov. He is agitated, ill, and he senses an attack coming on: ‘everything began to spin; his heart was reflected as a terrifying globe on the dark inner side of his eyelids. It continued to swell agonisingly’ (p.97). The reader is given every reason to believe that Lik will die. But he does not: Koldunov dies instead. The justification for the sleight of hand in this instance is that the two men are in fact alternative versions of each other – doubles in a very subtle manner. Lik is a twofold outsider – an émigré, and a man alone. He is described in a manner which echoes many characters from Russian nineteenth century fiction: ‘he had…the feeling of being superfluous, of having usurped somebody else’s place’ (p.75). He lives on his own, has no friends, and feels a painful sense of separation from his fellow men – even his fellow actors – which borders on paranoia.” Roy Johnson (2005)

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