Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0000367, Wed, 9 Nov 1994 08:36:37 -0800

Re: Romantic novel (fwd)
EDITOR'S NOTE: In re Brian Walter's first point below, He misreads my
earlier comment. I cited DON QUIXOTE as an example of a "romaunce, "i.e., a
kind of Renaissance (and later) fanciful adventure tale, NOT as an
example of "romance" as in "Romanticism." DBJ

From: Brian D. Walter <bdwalter@artsci.wustl.edu>
To: Vladimir Nabokov Forum <NABOKV-L%UCSBVM.UCSB.EDU@WUVMD.Wustl.Edu>

Some thoughts regarding D. Zimmer's 'romantic novel' query and the responses:

1. To add to D. B. Johnson's justification of _Don Quixote_ as an example
of the romantic novel, there is this: for all we know, Hollander might
well have had Cervantes' work in mind when he made his famous statement,
because, at the time of the review, only students of his literature
classes would have known of VN's distaste for the novel; VN's disparaging
comments about _Quixote_ in _Strong Opinions_ and in his lectures would
not be published for several more years.

2. Seema Kurup's 'dictionary definition' actually corresponds quite
nicely with the fourth offering under 'romantic' in Webster's Ninth New
Collegiate: "marked by the imaginative or emotional appeal of what is
heroic, adventurous, remote, mysterious, or idealized." Other examples of
romantic novels: _Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus_; _Wuthering
Heights_; Merimee's novella _Carmen_ (an obvious choice in this context).

3. Although his question technically deals only with Hollander's
understanding of the romantic novel, D. Zimmer is undoubtedly aware of
Nabokov's extensive descriptions of 'the romantic' in his commentary to
_Eugene Onegin_--descriptions that shed helpful light on VN's
qualification/correction of Hollander's 'elegant formula' (in VN's
alternative, _Lolita_ is instead the record of his love affair w/ the
English language). Particularly useful are two references in vol. 3 of
the commentary (emboldened in the index), occurring on pages 32-37 and
290-291. Among other things, VN in these references offers several
examples of romantic poets and works, Byron especially prevalent.

4. One wonders whether the most interesting part of Hollander's
description is not the much-discussed 'romantic novel' phrase at the end,
but instead the idea of VN's 'love affair' with the genre. Although
Hollander may not have meant the metaphor so literally, the idea of a
brief, perhaps immature, dangerous fling with the works of Coleridge and
Byron, of Shelley and Poe, matches VN's own description in _Speak, Memory_
and _Strong Opinions_ of his indiscriminate teen-age imbibement of English
authors--a stage he was eventually to outgrow, a relation he was
eventually to give up (see also ch. 11 of _Speak, Memory_, where VN
describes his early attempts at poetry, emphasizing the immature poet's
inevitable theme of the lost lover--a romantic convention he rues in
Other aspects of _Lolita_ deepen the notion of VN's love affair(s)
with the romantic novel and/or with English--aspects too large to discuss
here, but which I take up in a dissertation chapter on the novel which I
hope will be published in some form or other in the not-too-distant

Brian Walter
6800 Vernon
St. Louis, MO 63130-2524
(314) 863-4041