Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0002409, Wed, 1 Oct 1997 08:24:42 -0700

Nabokov and du Perron (fwd)
EDITOR's NOTE. JOHN BURT FOSTER <jfoster@osf1.gmu.edu> is the author of
*Nabokov's Art of Memory and European Modernism* (Princeton UP, 1993), as
well as numerous other publications on 20th century writers.

Francis Bulhof, in his introduction to the Dutch
modernist Charles Edgar du Perron's novel COUNTRY OF ORIGIN
(Het land van herkomst, 1935), concludes (p. xxiii) by
suggesting a parallel between the book's manner of address
to an offstage woman and Nabokov's use of similar devices in
SPEAK, MEMORY: "Although COUNTRY OF ORIGIN is written for
Jane ... she hardly ever appears in it, but she is the
silent listener. Ducroo's notion of authenticity ultimately
originates, not in himself, but in his companion. ... Why
not once more trespass the borderline between fiction and
the real world and say that Du Perron, like Nabokov in exile
from himself, asked his memory to speak and create a
monument to Elisabeth de Roos?" (Jane is the fictional
counterpart in the novel to de Roos.)
It is interesting to note that du Perron was also born
in 1899, lived exclusively in Java before coming to Europe
after World War I, and cultivated close ties with modern
French literature though he wrote in Dutch. COUNTRY OF
ORIGIN, like SPEAK, MEMORY, alternates between vignettes of
interwar Europe and more richly detailed memories of an
"exotic" prewar world, though Du Perron shuttles back and
forth between the two levels of time from the beginning
rather than following Nabokov's more generally chronological
approach (despite the occasional "fast forwards" and the
thematic rather than rigidly chronological focus of the
individual chapters).
If we needed any further proof that Nabokov was a lucky
survivor, Bulhof points out that du Perron and his close
associate as a defender of Dutch literary modernism, Menno
ter Braak, both died on May 14, 1940, the day the Dutch army
surrendered to the Nazi German invaders, du Perron of a
heart attack and ter Braak as a suicide. Somewhat later
that month, of course, Nabokov and his family were able to
board a boat in Saint Nazaire and cross the Atlantic.
See E. du Perron, COUNTRY OF ORIGIN, trans. Francis
Bulhof and Elizabeth Daverman, intro. and notes Francis
Bulhof, ed. E. M. Beekman (Amherst: U of Massachusetts P,

John Foster
English / George Mason University
Email Address: "jfoster@gmu.edu"