Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0001299, Fri, 13 Sep 1996 14:53:30 -0700

Query: "An Affair of Honor" (Podlets) (fwd)
From: Vitaly Kupisk <104361.1700@CompuServe.COM>

L. P. Kramer <kkram@netroute.net> wrote:

I am interested in views on Nabokov's short story "An Affair of Honor",
(published under the title of "Podlets" - 1927). I find it strangely
incomplete and would enjoy hearing other views and criticisms of this
In this forum, I have seen such invitations extended only to vanish unanswered,
so I'd like to pick this up (without much homework, I am afraid) and then ask
something else.

"Podlets" (I only read it in Russian) is, probably, my favorite N's story of
that period. The incompleteness itself is not unlike many Chehov's stories, but
the impetus of events here is so intense that it propels the reader beyond the
end of the story with so much more force -- only to find darkness there, just
like the darkness of the dim awareness of the protagonist, unlike the end of
"Gift", where the book, lucid with Fyodor's consciousness, shines beyond it's
last line.

But I find the artistic strokes that create the characters and events here are
closer to his mature Russian fiction than this early period -- whether the way
our hero is addressing his wife in his mind's monologue, or barfing past the
ashtray, or his whole semiconscious flight through these two(?) days. Or his
drunkard pals (how did the translator manage "pyan v stel'ku"? "Drunk as a
skunk"? You can tell I was too lazy to look things up and am writing from memory
of years ago.)

And, of course the title asks us to look at who's "podlets" (scoundrel) or just
what is honorable about this affair.

Now, my invitation:
In a preface to "King, queen, knave" VN mentions that by the time of writing KQK
he was less than satisfied with the description of the Russian emigre life in
Berlin that he created in "Mashen'ka" ("Mary") and not until "Dar" ("Gift") he
found new, better ways to do it. Do you think that it is possible to discuss
the specifics of this comparison, or is "Dar" just so incomparably artistically
richer and more spacious that simply everything in it is in another universe?

Vitaly Kupisk
Berkeley, CA