Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0001147, Wed, 12 Jun 1996 14:18:52 -0700

EDITOR'S NOTE: Swedish Slavist Svetlana Polsky, author of several articles
on Nabokv's short stories, has uncovered a long lost Nabokov story. She is
now preparing an article about it.

NABOKOV (p. 644) mention a short-story "Easter Rain" ("Paskhal'nyj dozhd'")
that was published in 1925 in RUSSKOE EKHO. Both claim that no copies of
this Berlin newspaper in which "Easter Rain" was published (on April 12,
1925) seem to have survived.

Actually, one copy - at least - has survived: I was fascinated to see a copy
of the story arriving after a long search on April 12, 1996 (Orthodox
Easter Eve this year - talk of the coincidences!) So the story re-appeared
exactly 71 years after its first - and last - publication.

Now some words about "Easter Rain". It is a great story with a very
interesting double ending. The heroine, an elderly woman, lives in her
hometown, Lausanne, where she has returned after many years in St.
Petersburg as a governess. She is very nostalgic about her Russian past,
although when she lived in Russia she always felt miserable and
misunderstood. The story opens on Easter Eve. She feels that she is falling
ill, but still wants to celebrate the Orthodox Easter the way the family she
worked for in Russia used to do. After quite a sad and dissappointing visit
to a Russian family (emigrants that also live in Lausanne) she returns home
and becomes seriously ill. It seems like she is dying (that's the first
ending), but after six days, quite unexpectedly, she recovers; this recovery
looks like returning from "the other side" (resurrection).

It's amazing that after 25 years Nabokov recreated very specific details
from the story in his autobiographical SPEAK, MEMORY. The whole of chapter
5 is dedicated to Mademoiselle, Nabokov's Swiss governess who
returned to Lausanne after 10 years spent in Russia. Mademoiselle's (the
heroine of the story is called by her Russian friends 'Mademoiselle' as
well) appearance (skin on her hands, "the black-rimmed pince-nez"), her
sentiments - everything is there. One of the most important moments (or
images) in "Easter Rain" - maybe the turning point - is when Mademoiselle
on her way home from the Russian couple sees a large old swan trying to
climb into a boat. That is the last thing she sees before getting ill. This
episode is repeated almost literally in the end of chapter 5 of SPEAK,
MEMORY, where Nabokov speaks about his visit to Lausanne and his meeting
with Mademoiselle. Before leaving he "happened to be walking along the lake
in the cold, misty night. (...) Below, a wide ripple, almost a wave, and
something vaguely white attracted my eye. As I came quite close to the
lapping water, I saw what it was - an aged swan, a large, uncouth, dodo-like
creature, making ridiculous efforts to hoist himself into a moored boat. He
could not do it. The heavy, impotent flapping of his wings, their slippery
sound against the rocking and plashing boat, the gluey glistening of the
dark swell where it caught the light - all seemed for a moment laden with
(...) strange significance (...). But although I soon forgot that dismal
night, it was, oddly enough, that night, that compound image - shudder and
swan and swell - which first came to my mind when a couple of years later I
learned that Mademoiselle died." It's interesting to note, that just after
the identical episode in the story Mademoiselle is catching pneumonia and
going to die (at one point it seems that she actually dies) but suddenly