Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0008597, Wed, 17 Sep 2003 13:02:42 -0700

on gratuitous word play

----- Original Message -----
From: Gabriel White
To: Vladimir Nabokov Forum
Sent: Wednesday, September 17, 2003 12:43 PM
Subject: Re: EDnote on gratuitous word play

Re. the search for gratuitous virtuousity and hidden meanings and so forth, I would suggest VN's own play with the possibility: in PNIN, chap. 1, there appear both Mme Roux, "the concierge of the squalid apartment house...where Pnin...had spent fifteen years" and the obviously Bolshevik author of Russia Awakes (1922), "Old Miss Herring." One would usually suspect hidden treasures to be found related to characters of such names in VN's works: but best I can tell, these are both "red herrings," and there is not much more here than gratuitous (in some sense of the word) play on that phrase.

Gabriel White
----- Original Message -----
From: D. Barton Johnson
Sent: Tuesday, September 16, 2003 12:49 PM
Subject: EDnote on gratuitous word play


Nick Grundy has challenged me to find a good example of Gratuitous Virtuosity in VN's work. In general, I am not persuaded that GV is a sin (and even sometimes a mitzvah---GV, GV!) but, if pushed, I would nominate ADA, I-26 which explicates the code used by Van & Ada during their 1884-88 separation. The three-page chapter would seem to be all in aid of permitting the reader to decode a short, inconsequential phrase in the preceding chapter:

Van plunged into the dense undergrowth. He wore a silk shirt, a velvet jacket, black breeches, riding boots with star spurs - and this attire was hardly convenient for making klv zdB AoyvBno wkh gwzxm dqg kzwAAqvo a gwttp vq wjfhm Ada in a natural bower of aspens; xliC mujzikml..... .

The "decrypt" (as we ex-cryptanalysists racily put it): is "[making] his way through the brush and crossing the brook to reach Ada"......., they embraced." At the end of I-26 Ada herself suggests "omitting this little chapter altogether." Boyd in the Cyberedition of his book on ADA points out that the coded passage calls attention to surrounding textual allusions to Marvell and Rimbaud poems. Yes, but such would be the case even if I-26 is omitted. Nor can the chapter can be justified on structural grounds---nothing in the book would be affected if the chapter were not there. In closing, I remark my opening comment that GV is not necessarily a mortal sin. A close look at Ada shows that there are other "gratuitous" chapters.