Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0000339, Wed, 14 Sep 1994 14:10:12 -0700

Vol. I of Rowohlt VN (fwd)
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Rowohlt, Nabokov's German publisher, is now nearly halfway through
its 24 volume edition of Nabokov's collected works. Superbly edited by
Dieter E. Zimmer, these volumes are splendid examples of the book-
maker's art. Each compact, beautifully printed volume is bound in
mouse-gray boards with a silver butterfly logo and silver lettering on
the spine against a black background. There is a matching gray place
marker ribbon. The dust jackets are no less attractive with their
matte, textured, plum-colored paper, and silver lettering.
This set is an aesthetic delight in itself, but there is yet
another reason why the German volumes should be consulted by all
Nabokov scholars. Editor Zimmer, author of the first Nabokov biblio-
graphy, German translator of several Nabokov works, and author of an
invaluable work on VN's lepidoptera, has included an "Editor's After-
word" to the contents of each volume. In addition to the usual bibli-
ographic details, these Nachworte often contain substantial amounts of
information that is either new or gathered from diverse, sometimes
obscure sources. Even in the case of information that is available
elsewhere, the reader will find it conveniently together here.
Although these "Afterwords" are quite varied in their contents, there
is a basic plan. In illustration, I shall summarize the kinds of
information to be found in the first volume which includes MASHENKA
and KING, QUEEN, KNAVE. Before doing so, I might remark that only the
most modest grasp of German is needed.

MASHENKA. The first section sets forth the biographic circum-
stances of the novel's inspiration and composition: addresses where N.
was living; whether the houses still stand; how the novel reflects
N.'s temporal and physical environment; a description of the Russian
emigre colony in Berlin. Bibliographic sources are provided for all
information. A second section gives publication data for the ear-
liest serial and book appearances of the work in Russian, German, and
also English. A third and final section probes MASHENKA's biographical
subtext--VN's youthful romance with Valentina Shulgina, the "Tamara"
of SpM. Much of this can, of course, be found in SpM and in Boyd, but
Boyd (and VN) stop with the separation of the lovers and the end of
their correspondence. Zimmer takes the story much further. Relying on
information from Nabokovians in St. Petersburg, he follows the fate of
Valentina through her marriage to a high-ranking secret police offi-
cial, her life through the years of the terror, and then that of her
daughter, and a granddaughter now living in Moscow.

KING, QUEEN, KNAVE. The opening section again describes the biographic
circumstances of the novel's conception and composition and provides
publication information and a comment on the book's title. Next comes an
account of the geographic locale of the novel's events in 1927-28 Berlin
and in the Ostsee resort. Another section is devoted to a discussion of
the novel's cinema motif which is considerably enhanced in the English
version. This leads to a discussion of the theme of Nabokov's insertion of
himself and Vera into the novel in various guises which in turn segues into
the theme of Character meeting his Creator which will become evermore
prominent in later works. Editor Zimmer gives parallel texts from the 1928
Russian and 1968 English version (both in German translation) showing how
VN made this theme more prominent in the English revision. KQKn is seen as
marking a stage in which VN freed himself of the burden of "real" life in
his fiction and gave rein to a more fantastical patterned art. KQKn's
automaton theme illustrates this. A final, long section is devoted to an
detailed examination of Nabokov's alterations and expansions in the 1968
English version which is 20% longer than the original Russian text. This
topic has previously been examined by Carl Proffer and Jane Grayson, but
Zimmer goes much further both in detailing the changes and assessing the
reasons and impact. Here again, long sections of the two texts are given
in parallel, followed by commentary. The whole of the final chapter of the
Russian version is adduced for comparison with the revised version. In
all, Editor Zimmer provides 46 pages of notes and commentary to Nabokov's
second novel.

Any Nabokov scholar who neglects these materials is overlooking a
valuable resource.

D. Barton Johnson, Editor