Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0000342, Mon, 19 Sep 1994 11:28:58 -0700

RJ:Christmas (fwd)
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 15 Sep 1994 13:46:28 -0500 (EST)
From: Jeff Edmunds <JHE@psulias.psu.edu>

As "Christmas" is a personal favorite, I wanted to add a few thoughts to
what Roy Johnson has already said.

First, on the moth. It seems an understatement to call it "large". Attacus
atlas Linnaeus is possibly the biggest moth in the world with a wingspan
often exceeding eight inches. Its emergence and the swelling of its wings (
the eyespots of which, I note in passing, are triangular and could be made
to interlock in a way that would closely resemble the neat VN motif found
on the jacket of Brian Boyd's biography of VN) would indeed present an awesome
and humbling sight. Sleptsov (cf. Russian "slepets" [blind man]) has his (
spiritual) sight restored by the moth's magnificent display.

Next, on the title. The original is "Rozhdestvo", and while this does mean
"Christmas", it is etymologically related to "rozhdenie" (birth, and, by
extension, rebirth) and lacks the "Christ mass" roots of "Christmas". I
can't think of a better rendering for the Russian title, but it is
unfortunate that the English tends to carry with it somewhat overly festive
connotations (Santa Claus, reindeer, etc.) that the Russian does not.

Dr. Johnson writes that Nabokov was perhaps "fictionalising ... his
youthful self as the butterfly collecting son...". In one of the examples
of life mimicking art of which Nabokov was so fond, his fictionalizing in
this case seems to have taken on a supernatural, or at least super-temporal
dimension. Immediately before his death, Sleptsov's son "babbled in his
delirium ... about some great Oriental moth." And later Sleptsov recalls
how "His son had remembered it during his sickness, regretting that he had
left it behind." Sixty-five years later Nabokov's own son described his and his
father's penultimate farewell:

"... after I had kissed his still-warm forehead -- as I had for years when
saying goodnight or goodbye -- tears suddenly welled in Father's eyes. I
asked him why. He replied that a certain butterfly was already on the wing;
and his eyes told me he no longer hoped that he would live to pursue it

Jeff Edmunds