Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0002510, Mon, 27 Oct 1997 07:55:21 -0800

Re: nature and fusion
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EDITOR's NOTE. Didier Machu's <didier.machu@univ-pau.fr> enlighteng reply
below prompts a thought. As I suggested before, VN uses a poem with this
image as his "first poem" in Chapter 11 of Sp,M. I have not checked but if
memory serves this poem (given in full in Russ. & Eng. in _Poems &
Problems_) is in fact not his first poem. So why does VN present it as
such? Perhaps it has to do with the recurrent imagery discussed by Gill
and Machu. Might be worth pursuing.

To Kamni Gill

One of the thoughts V ascribes to Sebastian in Cambridge is about 'he
terrific weight of a dewdrop' (The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, p. 50).
Why terrific? A clue may be found in another book: Krug's jotting in the
margin of a book reads: 'Attraction of death: physical growth considered
upside down as the lengthening of a suspended drop; at last falling into
nothing' (Bend Sinister, p. 177).

In Speak, Memory (p. 217), the leaf is 'cordate', i.e. heart-shaped, and
the globule of quicksilver deserts it down its 'center vein'. The end of
the passage makes clear that 'for a moment heart and leaf had been one' (a
moment that corresponds to a 'missed hearbeat'). Incidentally another poet
connects inspiration with similar images, experiencing 'the expansion and
contraction of the heart, now as vast as the starry sky and now as small as
a droplet of mercury' (The Gift, p. 143 in the Penguin edition): the
epiphany is clearly Nabokov's and so is Fyodor's premature haste and
confidence in 'the faded ribbon of tradition'.

Sebastian's father is abandoned by his wife 'as suddenly as a raindrop
starts to slide tipwards down a syringa leaf' (p. 9). We imagine the
'upward jerk of the forsaken leaf' is also what Sebastian experiences years
later. Intriguingly the succession of a 'jerk' and a 'glide' is, according
to Nabokov, Gogol's way of rendering 'the sudden slanting of the rational
plane of life' (Nicolai Gogol, p. 140).

If I am not mistaken, the leaf (in Speak, Memory) is also a (white) siringa
leaf. Lilac leaves and siringa leaves are indeed 'cordate' and Proust,
remembering the lilacs of his childhood, observes that 'les gouttes se
plaisent aux feuillages' (raindrops enjoy tarrying on leaves) and 'plus
d'une s'attardait =E0 jouer sur les nervures d'une feuille et, suspendue a =
pointe, reposee, brillant au soleil, tout d'un coup se laissait glisser de
toute la hauteur de la branche' (many a drop would linger and play on the
veins of a leaf and, suspended from the tip, rest and shine in the sun, and
suddenly glide all the way from the branch to the ground). (La Recherche,
Pleiade, vol. I, p. 150)

And then, speaking of hearts and pains, I have a question. Is there
actually such a thing as Lehmann's disease? If it is Nabokov's coinage,
what does it refer to? Hermann Lehmann, a blood specialist lecturing in
Cambridge in 1936? To Lake Leman?? Or to the unidentified victim of some
private joke?