NABOKV-L post 0001482, Mon, 25 Nov 1996 09:03:32 -0800

Harington review of Library of America VN
EDITOR'S NOTE. Thanks to the courtesy of novelist Don Harington and the
Fayetteville "Arkansas Democrat-Gazette," NABOKV-L offers the following
review of the three-volume Library of America VN set. As NABOKV-L
subscribers know, Harington himself, is a distinguished American novelist
who has paid tribute to Nabokov in his inverted Lolitesque EKATERINA. (The
first chapters of that novel may be read on the Nabokov Web Site
Harington's latest novel, BUTTERFLY WEED, continues his multi-volume saga of
the legendary Arkansas hamlet of Stay More.

"Novels and Memoirs 1941-1951," "Novels 1955-1962," "Novels 1969-1974," by
Vladimir Nabokov, The Library of America, three volumes, each over 800
pages, $35.00 each.

Review by Donald Harington:
Special to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

"Paradise," John Updike calls The Library of America, the nonprofit
publishing program reprinting America's best literature in handsome,
permanent volumes, ninety of them so far.
Updike's own novels will be included eventually, inevitably, and
meanwhile he can exclaim, "I'm thrilled that Nabokov, the writer that
meant so much to my own literary formation, is entering the textual
paradise of The Library of America."
Ditto from Harington. The simultaneous publication of these three
volumes, each in gilt-stamped forest-green cloth and just the right size
for the hand, is final confirmation of my long-held belief that Nabokov is
the greatest American writer of this century, never mind his Russian
background. His influence may be seen in every one of my novels, not just
"Ekaterina," which was written in homage to him.
Of the great American writers included in The Library of America
collection, only two, Henry James with nine volumes and Mark Twain with
five, have more volumes than Nabokov now does, while six others have the
same number, three (Henry Adams, James Fenim ore Cooper, Faulkner,
Melville, O'Neill, and Francis Parkman).
That pantheon is distinguished company, and doubtless will further
enhance the stature of the writer who was once famous only for his
scandalous novel about an older man's infatuation with a 12-year-old girl
nicknamed Lolita.
Best of all, The Library of America editions are newly researched
and edited, their texts correcting long-standing errors and incorporating
Nabokov's penciled corrections in his own copies of the books, supplied to
the Library's research staff by the author's son, Dmitri Nabokov. And with
further editing and extensive annotations by Brian Boyd, Nabokov's
brilliant and indefatigable biographer, the resulting texts are the most
authoritative versions available and can replace the earlier edit ions in
any Nabokov collector's library.
For example, my own copy of "Pale Fire," which I consider
Nabokov's best novel, is the 1963 Lancer paperback (50 cents), which is
yellowed, falling apart and punctured from my own annotations, especially
those questioning the typographical errors and such obscurities as "the
complexities of Zemblan ingledom" (since my novels are overrun with
Ingledews). Not only are all the mistakes corrected, but Brian Boyd
explains that the latter word is from "ingle, 'catamite,'" which is handy
but disturbing to know.
There are two ways to read Nabokov (both of them requiring the
heeding of his own rule: anything worth reading is worth reading twice):
it is quite possible to enjoy his clever plots and his masterful wordplay
in English without knowing a single one of his esoteric or abstruse
allusions; and it is possible to be infinitely rewarded by knowing, or
taking the trouble to find out, just what he means...and means...and
In a tireless effort to annotate the eight novels in these
volumes, Professor Boyd, a Senior Lecturer in English at the University of
New Zealand, not only searched out the most recondite references and
allusions in Latin, French, Russian, German and "Zemblan," but also
solicited help with some puzzling words and expressions from members of
NABOKV-L, the Internet discussion group devoted to the master's work.
Lest there be howls of protest at the Library of America's
omission of such great Nabokov novels as "Laughter in the Dark," "The
Defense," and "Invitation to a Beheading," it should be kept in mind that
the three Library of America volumes must perforce be limited to only what
Nabokov wrote after coming to America in 1940, or, rather, his beginning
in 1938 his first novel in English (after nine in Russian), "The Real Life
of Sebastian Knight," that intriguing literary mystery about a famous
novelist the same age as Nabokov, the first novel in this collection.
It is followed, in Volume One, by his political novel of a
philosophy professor mired in the bureaucracy of a police state, "Bend
Sinister," and by Nabokov's third-person autobiography of his early years,
"Speak, Memory."
Volume One is the slenderest of the three, so, if the
casual reader can afford only one of the three $35 volumes, Volume Two
would be best: it contains, in addition to the comic masterpiece "Pnin"
and the truly brilliant tour de force "Pale Fire," which Mary McCarthy
accurately called "one of the great works of art of this century," not
only "Lolita" in all her glory but also the screenplay that Nabokov wrote
of "Lolita" for director Stanley Kubrick. (Timely, if we're ever given the
chance to compare it with the recently filmed - and still seeking a
distributor - version which Stephen Schiff wrote for Adrian Lyne, starring
Jeremy Irons as Humbert and the funny Dominique Swain in the title role.)
Volume Three (1969-1974) completes the set with "Ada or Ardor: A
Family Chronicle," the pastoral blockbuster which Nabokov liked to think
of as his greatest book but, alas, has found few people willing to give it
the requisite second reading; "Transparent Things," a slight novella, and
his last major novel, quasi-autobiographical, "Look at the Harlequins!"
Space permits only mention of all these novels, rather than actual
review of them. For the reader who already knows and loves this master's
work, the set offers the satisfactions of permanence, elegance, and
completeness. For the reader who has not yet discovered Nabokov, the set
offers an excellent chance to watch in constant action the supreme expert
of literary invention, deception, narrative and unforgettable
If there is a defect to the set, it is that none of Nabokov's short
stories could be included. He is unsurpassed in his command of shorter
fiction, and no collection of his work is complete without the brilliant
stories he wrote in America. But after all, Knopf published last fall his
collected stories in a 655-page edition (which I reviewed here), and the
Library of America has had to exclude short stories from its compendia of
even such great storytellers as Faulkner.