Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0003280, Sun, 9 Aug 1998 17:16:21 -0700

Re: Nabokv's story "Krasavitsa" [A Russian Beauty] (fwd)
EDITOR's NOTE. Galya Diment, is co-editor of NABOKV-L and author of many
studies on Nabokov and other figures in Russian and English literature.
Her latest book is PNINNIAD: Vladimir Nabokov and Marc Szeftel. Galya
responds to Igor Fridman's question posted at the end.
From: Galya Diment <galya@u.washington.edu>

I think the comparison with the DUBLINERS is right on since the nature of
KRASAVITSA is also that of an epiphany. It is, on the surface, about a
trivial and increasingly meaningless life of a young woman uprooted by
events beyond her control but Olga is obviously a metaphor for the whole
generation of uprooted Russian emigres finding themselves in the 1930s no
longer able to entertain hopes of eventual return to Russia, and thus
being forever stuck in alien lands and cultures. In some ways, the story
is almost reminiscent of Nadezhda Teffi, who was wildly popular in the
emigre press at the time (having established her potent satirist
credentials back in Russia prior to her emigration).

Where Teffi is usually loudly sarcastic, Nabokov is just mildly
ironic, yet they both appear to refuse to endorse the stereotype by
melodramatizing the fate of many Russian emigres who, they believed, would
have led equally meaningless -- but probably better "masked" -- lives if
the revolution had never happened and they had remained in Russia.

There is probably some symbolism in the story as well -- Olga is
born in 1900, new century, new era; she marries a Russian German, whom she
apparently cannot stand -- as many Russian could not stand being
surrounded by Germans in Berlin yet had to endure that uneasy "marriage."
Finally, she dies in childbirth: being a member of the "lost" generation
her only constructive function may be, in fact, to produce a better, more
adjusted, breed of citizenry.

The end? I think it is about how perfect the epiphany really is -- it
does, for Nabokov, hit its mark, so nothing else is needed to clarify it
further. He may have known someone like Olga in emigration -- just like
Joyce based his Dubliners on some of the real-life "epiphanies" that he
dutifully recorded in his notebooks and scraps of paper. That VN brings up
a fairy tale at the end is also deeply ironic, of course, for, unlike
heroines in fairy tales, Olga is obviously not destined for "happily ever

Galya Diment

On Fri, 7 Aug 1998, Donald Barton Johnson wrote:

> EDITOR's NOTE. Like Mr. Fridman, I have pondered this story without much
> success. The final line comes from a well-known Russian fairy tale, but
> its significance for the whole escapes. Both Igor Frid and i would welcome
> any insights on the story.
> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
> From: Igor Fridman <igorvf@wam.umd.edu>
> I'd like to know if anyone is familiar with the story "Krasavitsa" (or "A
> Russian Beauty"). This reads almost like "The Sisters" from Dubliners,
> and I fear it is just as complex.. Yet after several hours, I've end up
> right back where I started. Can someone point me in the right direction,
> or perhaps tell me what this "unexpected solution" is (as the editor of
> the book puts it).
> - Igor Fridman
> U. of Maryland, undergrad.