NABOKV-L post 0010480, Sun, 31 Oct 2004 15:35:11 -0800

Fwd: Swan follow up
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Date: Sun, 31 Oct 2004 09:44:52 -0800
From: Carolyn <>
Reply-To: Carolyn <>

EDMusing. I wonder if the Slezak family anecdote occurs in the original
version. Easily determined by searching the on-line text. And what year did
Walter publish his book.

Original Russian version of . . . ?

Now I see - - Camera Obscura, of course. I don't think it matters. When
Jansy told me the swan joke from Laughter in the Dark, I recognized it
immediately, though I didn't recall that it was about Leo Slezak. At the
time I had not read Walter Slezak's autobiography but I knew the joke.

I don't know how I knew it & I suspect the same was true of Nabokov. He had
heard it somewhere from someone, & perhaps didn't even recall that he hadn't
invented it himself. That's why I brought it up at the time, when I thought
Michael Maar was being unfairly attacked by some who accused him of accusing
Nabokov plagiarism.

The anecdote is verified in the New Grove Dictionary of Music:

[Leo Sleazak's] irrepressible sense of fun comes out in his several volumes
of autobiographical books; the title of a similar volume by his son, the
actor Walter Slezak, alludes to the tenor's celebrated stage whisper on an
occasion when the swan in Logengrin started to move before he had stepped

Walter Slezak wrote his autobiogrphy in 1962. He does not state the time and
place of the incident, but I got the impression it came from the early part
of his father's career which had begun in 1896. After all, Walter was a
young boy when his father told him the story & Walter was born in 1902.

In any case, it is clear that the joke came before Nabokov's Laughter.


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