Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0000348, Fri, 30 Sep 1994 19:52:44 -0700

vncollation#8 (fwd)
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Date: Fri, 30 Sep 1994 14:17:26 -0500 (CDT)


Several books, recently published and reviewed in September, refer or in
some way relate to the life and/or works of Vladimir Nabokov.

_The Good Ship Venus, the Erotic Voyage of the Olympia Press_ by John de
St. Jorre, follows the career of Maurice Girodias, publisher of titles
such as White Thighs, Bottoms Up, The Loins of Amon, The Whipping Club or
Heaven, Hell and the Whore, and, of course, Lolita. One reviewer called it
"an intriguing (and tasteful) yarn ..of a publishing company battling the
censors and its own waywardness." There have been many reviews of this
book, all of them commenting on the importance of _Lolita_ and Nabokov to
the erratic fortunes of Girodias and the Olympia Press. Another and
related book _Paris Interzone: Richard Wright, Lolita, Boris Vian and
others on the Left Bank, 1946-60_ by James Campbell is favorably reviewed
in the September 6 _Guardian_by the poet Christopher Logue, who under the
alias Count Palmiro Vicarion was one of those struggling Parisian writers
who in the early Fifities was willing to supply Girodias with the erotic
drivel that was to drive the engine of his publishing activities until
Nabokov and others such as J.P. Donleavy redirected its course. Logue

...in many respects Maurice was the most
intriguing of us, Beckett, Wright, Gardiner-
Smith, Plimpton, Seaver, Wainhouse, et.al. He
was a constant thief (of royalties) sly,
vainglorious, nettled to hear sex described as
the most popular form of light entertainment,
anxious to be accepted by his fellow (French)
publishers, a brave brilliant publisher himself
who mocked the absurdly overrated Nabokov - I
gave her to hold in her awkward fist the sceptre
of my passion (well really)....

After the publication of Lolita, Girodias set up, using the royalties from
the sale of the book, a theatre-restaurant complex called Chez Lolita.
The restaurant was gutted by fire and the theater was closed down by

Another review of Saul Bellow's book of non-fiction essays _It All Adds
Up_ which I have quoted from in earlier columns, again points to Bellow's
love for Nabokov. James Wood in the September 6 Guardian observes:

Bellow's Jewish mysticism, his ancestral sensitivity
is ...only heretical or cranky in an age ruled by an
Inquisition of the literal. Though Bellow does not
seek to bolster himself in this way, most great
artists have been both literalists and mystics.

After citing such examples as Emily Dickinson and Rilke, Wood evokes

"...who, in the Gift, beautifully imagines that life is
perhaps ' only pocket money, farthings clinking in the
dark, and that somewhere is stocked the real wealth, from
which life should know how to get the dividends...and one
wants to offer thanks but there is no one to thank.
...Perhaps Nabokov represents the last moment [for Bellow]
at which apologies were not requested."

A current compilation with a "lineup" including Richard Brautigan, Mary
Mcarthy, Henry Miller, Fran Lebowitz and Vladimir Nabokov salutes what Bob
Shacochis, author of _Easy in the Islands_ calls "the mortal arts of
pleasure". Titled _Drinking Smoking and Screwing: Great Writers on Good
Times the September 11, _Seattle Times_ blurb did not indicate which
Nabokov excerpt had been selected for this seminal work.

Wood, Michael._The Magician's Doubts: Nabokov and the
Risks of Fiction_ London: Chatto & Windus. 1994

Described in what Gerry Dukes of the Irish Times calls a "fine and subtle
study", Nabokov appears in _The Magician's Doubts _ as a " connoisseur of
loss". Two reviews, one in the August 31 _ Irish Times_ and another in
the August 28 London _Times_ are notable. From the Dukes' review:

"Time degrades us all forcing us to jack it all in.
Nabokov"s fiction furnishes merry tunes for whistling as
we pass the graveyard, and part of the import of the tunes
is that their merriment is both necessary and futile."

"Wood's readings of the English novels are provocative
and rewarding,painstakingly and wittily exploring the finesses of
Nabokov's style and the problematics of his readers' responses. This
is a work of criticism to set beside Rick's on Beckett and
Citati's on Kafka.

Less reverent, Tom Shone in the London Times ridicules both Wood, who
admits that Nabokov , still in 1994, "moves me close to tears" as well as
Brian Boyd, who he claims Nabokov might have swept away in gales of
laughter for sympathizing with those who are moved to tears by Hazel
Shade's suicide. Derided for his discussion of _The Real Life of Sebastian
Knight_ Shone sees Wood,

"...doing his utmost to avoid the word "symbolic",
opting instead for "implicitely represents","is associated with"
and (my favorite) "is delicately, metonymically connected to"
which to me at least, sounds like a symbol on its best behaviour,
shuffling its feet and hoping nobody notices it."

Shaping up in the latter part of the book and 'risking the professor's
scorn' Wood is able to convince the reviewer that,

"Nabokov has more sympathy for these dupes than is
commonly supposed...It takes a booby to fall into his traps,
but there is often a booby-prize waiting for them . Wood puts it
better, and makes an interesting pairing in the process:
'Even paranoids have enemies, as the old joke goes, and
Nabokov and Hitchcock make art out of this joke.' Wood
has fashioned a demanding work of criticism
from this insight."

More pleas for better books using Nabokov as the standard, Alan Massie in
the September 10, Daily Telegraph agrees with the chairman of the Booker
Prize judges who a week before publication of the Booker Prize short list
complained of the shortage of novels that might be described as a "good
read". Massie writes:

"All art is seductive and every worthwhile artist a
seducer setting out to persuade the reader that his life
may be enriched by the experience the artist offers.
Nabokov wrote that every great novelist was "a great
enchanter" and to call a novel " a good read" may seem
a tepid response to this demand yet, unless it is first
of all a "a good read", unless that is, the story entrances,
the characters interest, delight and force themselves
upon us, the seduction cannot take place; the
enchantment will fail.

Harold Bloom's _Western Canon_ due out in October is a list of authors in
Western Civilization worthy of preservation, protection and study. Leaks
from the press indicate that:

"Saul Bellow has made his list with three works, but
odd character Gertrude Stein has four. Don DeLillo made it
with four, but Vladimir Nabokov just two. Phillip
Roth is cited for six works, but John Updike for just
_The Witches of Eastwick_."

Lolita continues to haunt the runways of designers and hover around the
debate about women and the politics of fashion. From an article examining
the negative influence of the so called "baby doll" look embodied in the
singer Courtney Love's and the model Naomi Campbell's waifish style, Joan
Smith in the September 24 _Guardian_ comments:

"Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita is the key text for
understanding the intellectual games which paedophiles play,
a novel of startling ambiguity in which Humbert Humbert's
self-flagellation for his uncontrollable desires is also a
form of self- exculpation. ...Lolita and its fashion counterpart
Kinderwhore, involves a special kind of dishonesty which allows
men to indulge a fantasy not just of defloration but of defilement.

Nabokov's opinion was solicited on the 12th century Igor of Novgorod
-Seversk who will appear in operatic form this season at the New York City
Opera. Richard Taruskin in a September 4, New York Times article warning
of the ethnic stereotyping that lurks unnoticed around the alluring
melodies of this 19th century piece reminds us that Igor was,

"in Vladimir Nabokov's inimitable words, 'an
insignificant, shifty and pugnacious prince'."

who was known for, again in Nabokov's,

"deliberately archaic English, 'entoiling the falconet
by means of a fair maiden'."

Governor Bill Weld, as incumbent candidate for the governor of
Massachusetts, escapes no profile in which his esteem for Nabokov does not
help to color the contours of his personality. Nabokov is trotted out to
defend a journalist's taste for Rush Limbaugh's vulgarity and to condemn
what John Banville , the Literary Editor of the Irish Times calls the
"neo-fascism" of the leader of the IRA and Sinn Fein.

"Gerry Adams is obviously a clever and able man, but as
a writer I think it behoves (sic) those people dealing
with him to read his short stories, where one sees the
streak of sentimentality that marks the totalitarian mind:
the kind of thing that Nabokov called poshlost."

Nabokov's voice continues to resound in newspapers and
magazines around the world. Along with Saul Bellow, he has come for
many to represent "...the last time for which apologies were not requested."

Suellen Stringer-Hye
Texas A&M University