Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026989, Tue, 10 May 2016 16:21:31 +0000

The Gift II: from Andrei Babikov

ED-note: We post this message on behalf of Andrei Babikov, thanks to whose scholarly efforts we have a number of excellent publications of VN’s creative heritage, including, but not limited to, his indispensable collection of VN’s drama (see Vladimir Nabokov. Tragediia Gospodina Morna. P’esy. Lektsii o drame. St. Petersburg, Azbuka, 2008). The message below concerns Babikov’s recent publication of VN’s drafts for his sequel to The Gift (see Zvezda 4, 2015). The following message is a latest installment in an illuminating and heated polemical exchange between Babikov and Aleksandr Dolinin, a prominent scholar with an impressive track record of interpretative and editorial work on VN. Those interested in learning more about this polemic may consult Babikov’s essay presenting his vision of this “sequel” to The Gift here:


as well as Dolinin’s response to Babikov’s publication and interpretation here: http://zvezdaspb.ru/index.php?page=8&nput=2580

followed by Babikov’s counter-response here:


Those with access to the latest issue of NOJ, will find Dolinin’s latest contribution to the debate there. Babikov’s ensuing message focuses on one specific point raised in the course of this polemic.

As moderators of NABOKV-L, we urge all parties interested in contributing to this ongoing debate to stay civil and focused on the issues at hand and will work to ensure that this forum continues to be an amicable venue for discussions pertaining to all things related to Vladimir Nabokov.

Dana Dragunoiu, Stanislav Shvabrin

From Andrei Babikov

In his recently published response to my Letter to Editor (see Nabokov Online Journal, vol. X-XI, 2016/2017), Aleksandr Dolinin disputes my reading of one sentence in the draft of Nabokov's sequel of The Gift. In my message below I lay out my reasoning behind the conjecture in question.

I published the entire text of Nabokov’s sequel for the first time a year ago (see Vladimir Nabokov. Dar. II chast’. Publikatsiia, podgotovka teksta i primechaniia A. Babikova in Zvezda 2015/4). The sentence (in the scene with Fyodor and the prostitute in the Paris hotel) in my reading is as follows (see attached image below):

Удобства жизни: прямо с улицы дверь, желтенькая прихожая с загородкой, кивнула служащему, номер двенадцать, - и под завет<н>ый звук длинного звонка [...] (not finished in the manuscript).

Dolinin has rejected my deciphering "завет<н>ый звук" (hidden sound) insisting on the absolutely different meaning: "завитый звук" (curled sound).

This sequel is written in the old (pre-1917) Russian orthography, so the word "заветный" is written with the letter "yat" (ять) – завѣтный (the modern/contemporary Russian orthography spells this word with an "e" instead of a “yat”). The word "заветный" has three main meanings. The second one is "скрываемый, известный немногим, секретный" (see Ushakov’s dictionary of the Russian language, 1935-1940). Dolinin contends that this letter is not a "yat", but an "и" and also that the word in question contains no omitted letters, such as the letter "н": завитый (I think that "завитый звук" sounds rather pointless). He thinks that the letter "yat" in the word only looks like "yat" but actually is an "и".

The problem with Dolinin's reading of this word is that it doesn't take into account some important details, disregards peculiarities of Nabokov's handwriting, and sometimes ignores the meaning of old or rare Russian words.

My arguments for "заветный" can be summarized as follows:

1. It is clear on the page of the manuscript that this letter does not simply look like a "yat," but in fact is a “yat”. Nabokov's handwritten “yat” is noticeably different from his "и". On this page we can find "yat" in the words "тѣсно" and "двѣнадцать", written entirely identical to the way it is done in the word "завѣт<н>ый". We can compare it with "и" in the words: "наискось", "улицу", "кивнула" and so on.

2. There are many words with missed letters in the manuscript, not only in the word "завет<н>ый", we can notice several on the same page: отворач<ив>аясь, каблучк<а>м<и>, служащ<е>му.

3. We can find such a collocation in other Nabokov works - in Invitation to a Beheading: "Потом ему показалось, что осторожно возобновились заветные звуки за стеной..." (Ch. XIV). On the other hand, we cannot find in his works "завитый звук".

4. Finally, in a similar scene in Lolita where Humbert has intercourse with a young prostitute at a Paris hotel, we find an explanation for the "заветный звук длинного звонка" in Nabokov’s own Russian version of the English passage cited below:

She led me up the usual steep stairs, with the usual bell clearing the way for the monsieur who might not care to meet another monsieur... (Part 1, ch. 6).

Like Humbert Humbert during his hotel tryst with a prostitute, Fyodor noticed the same warning bell at an almost identical hotel, the sound of that special bell - заветный звонок.

As follows from this brief analysis of the word’s contemporary usage and also from my survey of the details of Nabokov’s handwriting (corroborated by the other instances of his use of this same word in similar and identical contexts), I believe my reading of the word in question as “zavetnyi” to be correct.

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