Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0001432, Thu, 14 Nov 1996 15:24:50 -0800

Re: Introduction to VN for early teens (fwd)
From: Ryan Asmussen <rra@bu.edu>

In response to Bob Foster's query below:

>Can anyone else relate stories about introducing VN's work
>to the younger reader??

Having not too long ago, myself, passed the teenage years (if not the
pre-teen), I'd like to offer up my own early Nabokov experiences; hopefully
they'll be somewhat relevant and helpful. All three of the following
pieces served to foster within me a very real love of VN's writings,
however undefinably they went about their work, at about the age of 15 or
16, or so:

(1) The short story "Signs and Symbols", read on the advice of a good
friend, though completely mystifying, was a revelation of the highest
order. Suffice to say, it was through this tale that, as a youth, I first
became aware of a literature beyond the schoolroom's definitions, one that
didn't necessarily deal with the tangible and concrete, the answerable or
knowable. With what wonderful irony, I thought, does this story, whose
title plainly refers to "symbols", dispense with, and almost mock those
tiresome pastimes of so many high school English teachers.

(2) I asked for "Lolita" for Christmas, was fortunate enough to receive it,
and, again, was, obviously enough, even more mystified by it than I had
been by "Signs and Symbols"... but the introduction to such a masterly
sustainment of such gorgeous prose was ample return for my unsteady
investments. Once more, I wasn't quite sure exactly what I had read (this
was no "Crime and Punishment" - VN would, no doubt, be the first to agree),
but it didn't really matter. The song was heard and thrilled to, regardless
of the lack of notational understanding.

(3) What finalized my soon-to-be passion for VN's writings was actually the
book Mr. Foster mentions in his query: "Speak, Memory". Your son may, in
fact, be a bit young (I wouldn't want to judge or presume), but I can tell
you it was the turning-point for my own burgeoning respect and
appreciation. Here, at last, I could revel in the content, as well as the
style. Naturally, much of the autobiography's subtle shadings escaped me;
I had, however, grasped enough to feel well and truly gratified. I can
remember putting my battered copy down by my bedside table, placing my
hands behind my pillowed head, and lifting my eyes to the strangely lamplit
ceiling, lost to my thoughts of the great in art and life. And that, I
think, is VN's real contribution: the fusing of art and life as a combined
endeavor, as one in the same, as the almost celestially-elevated path along
which the higher minds must tread, conscious all the while of the detail
ignored by the obvious, mundane, or ignorant. Certainly, this is a concept
which is of the utmost importance for the precious and precocious young
mind to grasp, not yet in league with the unfortunately, but necessarily
inflated world of adults.

It doesn't, I think, take too much psychological insight to see how, with
this example, children can be compelled by material they may not, however,
fully comprehend, compelled to greater levels of intellectual and aesthetic
maturity, and I compliment you, Mr. Foster, on your efforts to instill in
your own children a similiar appreciation. Best of luck...

Ryan Asmussen
Administrative Assistant, Faculty Services
Boston University School of Law
765 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
email: rra@acs.bu.edu