Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0001471, Thu, 21 Nov 1996 09:17:34 -0800

Small Dutch biography (fwd)
EDITOR's NOTE. NABOKV-L thanks Bart Eeckhout <Bart.Eeckhout@rug.ac.be>
for his review of the new Dutch book on VN and the current Belgian scene.
Following the request for more publication data, here is a very short review
of a small Nabokov biography in Dutch which has just come out in the
Netherlands and Flanders (Belgium). The review bears as a title "Nabokov in
Throwaway Packaging," was written by August Thiry, and appeared in _De
Morgen_, the only liberal quality newspaper in Flanders.

"_De Bezige Bij_ (literally: _The Busy Bee_, a major Dutch literary
publisher) is starting a new series in less-than-pocket format under the
overall heading *The Small Biography*. Between 1991 and 1996, the
translations of the complete works of Vladimir Nabokov appeared with this
publisher, which probably explains why the first volume in the series is
devoted to Nabokov. Biographer-for-the-occasion Guus Luijters sets his teeth
in Nabokov's autobiography, _Speak, Memory_, and throws light on the private
world created by this writer: the timeless paradise of childhood; the
sensuous bliss of butterflies; the discovery of the artistic gift; the gift
of metamorphosis. All in all a relaxed stroll through Nabokov's gardens,
that unique literary Versailles. In the 'real' backyard that Luijters
visited south of Saint Petersburg, he however had to make do with the
neglected or disappeared estates of the Nabokov family. That is only as it
should be. In Nabokov's case, truth-seekers usually wind up in the wrong
place at the wrong time.
Luijters completes his picture with an actual biographical portrait,
illustrated by beautiful black-and-white photographs: the family, Nabokov as
a student at Cambridge, the skinny writer in Berlin and in France, the
American professor, the more corpulent, chuckling gentleman at Montreux in
the post-Lolita era.
Luijters claims that the international fame this nymphet brought to her
inventor was especially the result of one positive review by Graham Greene.
That is an odd claim. Is there any other writer who played more inventively
with narrative technique as a decoy for luring the more sophisticated reader
into his fiction's magical house of mirrors? And has there been anybody who
managed to pull reviewers' and critics' legs more than he did?
Luijters's essay is what it is, a small biography. But why this ghastly,
garish cover? That painfully blue sky, that silver-lettered author's name on
a green foil, and that halved Nabokov with cape and net in the clouds,
attacked by tacky red butterflies? _De Bezige Bij_ could surely have rounded
off its twenty-volume edition of Nabokov's works with a more decently
packaged gadget."

Note: I have been able to throw only a short glance at the booklet myself
and can only confirm the unspeakable quality of its packaging. Actually, the
"beautiful black-and-white photographs" inside are not nearly as
well-reproduced as the pictures we all know from English-language editions.
Note 2: Given the fact that pedophilia has been *the* hot topic in Belgium
for nearly two months now--with our vice-prime minister (what's in a name?)
just in the process of being accused of pedophilia himself (probably
unjustly)--references to Lolita in the media have obviously been too many to
keep track of, or to report to this list. Lately, an eleven-year-old girl
was reported at a newsstand asking for childporn, believing the genre to be
on a par with children's books. It is a very symptomatic story for a nation
that has never been as collectively bewildered as it is today.

Bart Eeckhout
Research Assistant
English Department
University of Ghent
Rozier 44
B-9000 Ghent
+32-9-264-3793 (office)
+32-9-264-4184 (fax)
+32-9-222-9592 (home)