Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0002413, Fri, 3 Oct 1997 14:47:08 -0700

VN mentions in Edmund White's THE BURNING LIBRARY (fwd)
From: Earl Sampson <esampson@cu.campus.mci.net>

8) In 1988 the PARIS REVIEW published an interview with White that includes
several mentions of Nabokov:
i) The first is a continuation of a passage I quoted in my 9/29 posting
(#4i): "...you have a desire to write with the same keen response to the
sensuous world. Nadine Gordimer once said to me she felt that one of the
things that goes out of writing as you become more mature is an attention
to sensuous detail. I thought that that was probably true, but a terrible
thing if it is true, and I've always tried to guard against what may be an
inevitable process by reading some of my touchstone writers who never lost
that love of sensuous detail, such as Colette, Nabokov and Knut Hamsun."
ii) In answer to the question "Can you talk a bit about the writers who
most helped to form you as a novelist?" he again mentions VN and Colette
and Hamsun in the same breath: "Vladimir Nabokov is my favorite writer, and
I like Colette a great deal - I've learned a lot from the way she uses
herself as a character in her own books and tantalizes the reader with the
question 'Is this autobiography or is it fiction?'... I read Knut Hamsun
all the time for inspiration, though he's so entirely different from me."

iii) The interviewer's next question was "And what is it about Nabokov
that so moves you?" "It wouldn't be his intellectual high jinks, but his
passion, his sensuous detail, the wonderful rendering of the
physical,visual, material world around us. It's almost a spiritual way he
has of describing the world; he makes it so glowing, so mouth-watering and
so precise that you feel it has been irradiated." (249)

iv) A bit further on, the interviewer (Jordan Elgrably) comments: "There
seem to be two distinct voices in your fiction, with NOCTURNES and
FORGETTING ELENA falling into a kind of Baroque, rather dreamlike reality,
register of possible autobiography you admire in the novels of Nabokov and
Colette." (251) It seems to me the interviewer has assumed from the earlier
answer, and I think incorrectly, that White admires Nabokov for the same
reasons he admires Colette. Is the good Nabokov reader (and I think White
shows himself in the Parody essay to be one) ever tantalized by the
question "Is this autobiography or is it fiction"? Of course we've all
laughed at the readers (and reviewers!) of LOLITA who have assumed a dark
pedophilic background or tendency in the author, and sorting out fiction
from autobiography in LATH is always a fun game, but is the phrase
"register of possible autobiography" generally applicable to Nabokov's
novels? The question is not entirely rhetorical; I would be interested in
any responses it might elicit.

More to come.

Earl Sampson
Boulder, CO