Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0000317, Fri, 12 Aug 1994 09:47:49 -0700

RJ:Chance (fwd)
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 12 Aug 1994 11:35:37 -0400 (EDT)
From: Jeff Edmunds <JHE@psulias.psu.edu>

A few desultory comments on RJ's analysis of "A Matter of Chance":

While I don't find the story's chain of coincidences and near-misses quite
as tiresome or Hardyesque as Brian Boyd, I do think it's a rather
unsatisfying little tale. RJ's analysis struck me as being vague [and
truncated--did all of it make it to the list? My version was chopped after
mention of Anna Karenina's suicide...]. To say the story is written in a
"spare and understated style with carefully selected details" doesn't
amount to much--unless I missed the references to said details. The young
VN's comparing the waiter Max to a fox twice in five pages seems to me
overdone rather than understated, and the conversation between Lena and
the Princess ("See, here's the ad I placed", "Could it be Lev Sergeich's son
?" sort of thing) seems the kind of belabored and over-obvious exposition the
mature Nabokov would certainly have disdained. The revelation of the
inscription on Elena's dropped ring (pocketed by foxy Max Fuchs) is
clumsily provided by an intrusive authorial voice: "Actually, the inscription
read 'I-VIII-1915'". Nabokov handled a non-Russian-speaking German's
decipherment of a Cyrillic text much better six years later in _Zashchita
Luzhina_ when he has one of the drunken revelers who stumble upon the
unconscious Luzhin read "Bac becepom" in puzzling out the postcard half
found in the grandmaster's waistcoat pocket.

Speaking of Luzhins and chess, it is interesting to note that the hero of
"Chance" is Luzhin's precursor not only in name but also in his calculating
"every little detail" of his death, "as if he were composing a chess

Jeff Edmunds

P.S. I have a theory that the original title of "A Matter of Chance" was
not "Sluchaynost'", but "Povest s kokainom", and was in fact written by
a certian M. Agieev....