Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0004662, Thu, 6 Jan 2000 10:14:12 -0800

VN and Galsworthy's _FORSYTE Saga_
This note is to spare any soul the boredom of reading the first three
volumes of 1932 Nobel Laureate John Galsworthy's nine-volume _Forsyte
Although VN professed that his Cambridge years there were devoted almost
entirely to "becoming a Russian writer," it seem improbable that he
completely isolated himself from the contemporary English literary scene.
And, indeed, he did not. I have devoted two recent articles showing his
interest in poet Rupert Brooke and poet/novelist Walter de la Mare.

I have been casually reading authors that VN mentions in his writings and
interviews, and particularly those that were making a splash around the
time Nabokov was at Cambridge (1919-1922). The first volume of Galsworthy's
_Forsyte Saga_, _The Man of Property_came out in 1906 but due to WW-I,
the second and third volumes (_In Chancery_ and_To Let), appeared in 1920
& 1921. I was prompted to look into Galsworthy by Nabokov's remark:

"Ever since the days when such formidable mediocrities as Galsworthy,
Dreiser, a person named Tagore, another called Maxim Gorky, a third called
Romain Rolland, used to be accepted as geniuses, I have been perplexed and
amused by fabricated notions about so-called 'great books" (SO 57).

The Nabokov reader will realize that he is as apt, if not more so, to
allude to pet dislikes as well as to favorite authors. This is perhaps
especially true with reference to the quoted passage. A Gorky story was
rudely included in VN's Cornell lectures; he translated Romain Rolland's
_Colas Breugnon_ on a bet; and Brian Boyd has pointed out that bits of
Dreiser's _An American Tragedy_ pop up in _King, Queen, Knave_.

Since _The Forsyte Saga_ is a family epic, I thought Nabokov's fat, family
saga ADA might contain echoes. Like ADA, it opens with a complicated
family tree and follows the haute bourgeoisie family through three
generations. Critics have called it "Tolstoyan" and Galsworthy is often
cited as the first British novelist to follow in Turgenev's footsteps. The
early volumes of the saga center around a hushed up family scandal but it
is mild indeed compared to ADA's. One brother has married the ex-wife of
the other and has a son. The deserted brother subsequently remarries and
has a daughter. Since the divorce and remarriage were a scandal it was
hushed up with the result that the young lovers cannot understand why the
family is set against their romance. Rather tame stuff.

Nabokov's ADA is, inter alia, a parody of "family novel" with
many allusions to its literary ancestors, starting on page one with
Tolstoy's work, the Aksakov saga, and so on. So far as I can see, the
Galsworthy saga is not among its ancestors except perhaps in a vague
generic sense.

D. Barton Johnson
Department of Germanic, Slavic and Semitic Studies
Phelps Hall
University of California at Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, CA 93106
Phone and Fax: (805) 687-1825
Home Phone: (805) 682-4618