Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026345, Sat, 8 Aug 2015 20:04:06 -0300

A. Sklyarenko: “In VN’s story Lik (1939) the eponymous hero is an actor who
plays Igor, a young Russian, in Suire’s play The Abyss. At the end of the
story Lik dies of a heart failure on the shoreline. In his poem K moryu (“To
the Sea,” 1824) Pushkin speaks of Byron’s death and mentions bezdny glas
(the voice of the abyss)- […] In Lik’s “dream of death” a fountain
appears [...] 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. In a letter of April 7, 1825,
(the first anniversary of Byron’s death) to Vyazemski Pushkin mentions his
poem Bakhchisarayskiy Fontan (“The Fountain of Bakhchisaray,” 1823).

JM: Brian Boyd, in Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years (p.493/4) brings up a
different interpretation from the one that A.S. has offered (see quote

“In November Nabokov completed another story he had conceived in the
Riviera: ‘Lik.’ A neurotic émigré with a bad heart, an actor on tour in a
Riviera town, Lik feels he has been shunned by life and hopes that death may
be his cue for entering into a truer reality. Perhaps if he dies on stage,
he muses, he may drift off through death into the world of the play and
enjoy the embraces of the heroine* [ ]As he buys new white shoes for his
last performance in the town, he encounters a former schoolmate[ ] At last
Lik tears himself away, his mind a blur, his heart near collapse. Just as
death seems inevitable, he remembers his shoes, takes a taxi back to
Koldunov’s – and finds Koldunov on the floor, his face blasted by a gunshot
he has fired into his mouth, his feet spread wide and shod in Lik’s new
shoes. Apparently assigned the central role of the hero about to die, Lik
finds that even death relegates him to the periphery.[ ] The story’s
seemingly inevitable ends turns into a surprise that rounds out better than
any other conclusion could have done the patterns of both Koldunov’s and
Lik’s own lives…”

In A.Sklyarenko’s perspective, strengthened by his argument related to what
he considers to be a non-existent public fountain where Koldunov’s wife and
child are placed (for the square where it stands had been mentioned before,
but not the fountain), it is Lik who dies, not his old school-mate. In Roy
Johnson’s view, like Brian Boyd’s, it is Koldunov who dies. However, in
R.J’s interpretation VN effected a sleight of hand by taking the two men as
“in fact alternative versions of each other – doubles in a very subtle
manner.”(2005) <http://www.mantex.co.uk/2009/09/26/lik/>

Lik and Koldunov are cousins, former school-mates and share the destiny of
many resourceless or untalented émigrés. On what grounds would VN have seen
them as traditional doubles, unlike Hermann/Felix in “Despair”? There’s
always a small detail that invites a new evaluation, in this case, the
information provided by A.Sklyarenko - to the List’s non-Russian speaking
readers - that “lik” means “face”. V.Nabokov chose to create the nickname
LIK by deriving it from the first letters of his character’s name (
Lavrentiy Ivanovich Kruzhevnitsyn) and the association “face” and an actor’s
“mask” must have been intentional. To what ends? ( I confess that, although
no Catholic myself, I’m still overwhelmed by the information concerning
Pushkin’s “Gavriliad”. It was not a “small detail” to me and I feel my
impulse to probe further into VN’s humor and irony has been punctured and


* ‘If death did not present him with an exit into true reality, he would
simply never come to know life’… “Lik might hope, one vague and lonely
night, in the midst of the usual performance, to tread…on a quick sandy
spot: something would give, and he would sink forever into a newborn
element…developing the play’s threadbare themes in a way altogether new”.

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