Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0000408, Wed, 14 Dec 1994 10:06:30 -0800

VNCollation#10 (fwd)

This month, unrelated bits of Nabokoviana abound. Making no attempt to
thread them together, I simply present them as a random sampling.

Christopher Plummer, whom you will remember played Nabokov in the PBS
production based on Nabokov's lecture on Kafka as recorded in _Lectures
on Literature_ , recently performed a one man "tour de-force" to an
"adoring" crowd at the Centennial Theatre of Bishop's University of
Lennoxville in Montreal. Entitled "A Word or Two Before You Go" the
production displays Plummer,

"using a few simple props and occasionallly resorting to a
director's chair...he led a wayward, epigrammatic path through
children's rhymes, Lewis Carroll, Nabokov, Stephen Leacock, Shaw
and Shakespeare to name a few...Although A Word or Two is
vaguely autobiographical, its principal purpose is to convey a
lifelong love of literature."

Rumors about the remake of the Movie "Lolita" continue to ripple across
the pages of the press ever since "Swifty" Lazar resold "Lolita" to
Carolco for 1 million dollars. Before the sale, a studio executive was
considering a remake of "Lolita",

"arguing that the 1962 Stanley Kubrick adaptation did not fully
explore the obsessive pedophilia in Vladimir Nabokov's novel. But
in tackling the material more honestly, 'we would have made a
movie that could be seen as morally repugnant, so we passed."

Adrian Lyne, the director of Fatal Attraction, is now in line to make
the remake, but there have been several setbacks. Advice from a movie
critic--"if you are trying to recapture the magic, you are almost doomed
to fail...there has to be some overriding reason why it is [being]

Candia McWilliam, a critic at _the Independent_ lists Michael Wood's
"elegant" _The Magician's Doubts: Nabokov and the Risks of Fiction_ as
one of her favorite books of the year, saying,

"[it] is a triumph of imaginative reading over received criticism;
I was sad to finish it, not often the case with works of

The November 16 Evening standard reports this amusing anecdote. Everyman
press, for a new edition of "Lolita" has,

"...just made a textual error in a new edition for the Everyman
Library resulting in the abandonment of its first run. Such a
disaster was the last thing the firm had in mind when it
commissioned Martin Amis... to write a fresh introduction to the

So delighted was the publisher, David Campbell, with Amis's 19
pages that he substituted them for the book's foreward, written by
John Ray Jr, PhD."

Amis called it a "a naive editorial error", a fact that does not in any
way diminish its charm.

A new book from David Jouris entitled _All Over the Map_ takes map
readers on,

"a journey into the peculiar, poetic and downright puzzling world
of city and town names across the United States..."

one of which Lolita, Texas,

"...was named in 1910 for a local resident, Lolita Reese.
The name was almost changed in the 1950's, when the notoriety of
Vladimir Nabokov's satirical novel, "Lolita," scandalized the

Jonathan Schell, writing a poignant piece about the place of books, slow
travelers in an information age, describes their importance in the Radio
and Television Correspondents Room of today.

"As it happens, there ARE books in the Radio and Television
Correspondents Room. They are on a shelf behind the podium, adding a
dignifying touch, like the books behind a supposed doctor in an ad
for over-the-counter medicine. After a recent press conference, I
took some down from the shelf. They had been neatly sawed in half,
length wise, slicing every page down the center, the better to fit
them into the 3-inch-deep shelves. I saw, among other volumes the
"Yearbook of the UN, 1946-47," "Once an Eagle" by Anton Myrer,
"Diseases of the Stomach," by JohnC. Emmeter, "The Christ We Forget,"
by P.Whitewell Wilson, and --the unkindest cut--"King, Queen.,
Knave," by the immortal Vladimir Nabokov. Here were the jumbled ruins
of a literate age, now serving as wallpaper for the electronic
age.....I opened Nabokov and read: 'hand might notice something and
the c/ silky sparks coursing through her body/...' Even chopped in
half, Nabokov shines."

It has been roughly a year since I began this investigation and I would
say that the above sentiment is that expressed with the most frequency--
"Not since Nabokov...". "Traditional librarians" are the ones who still
discuss Nabokov, "new age" mumbo jumbo pales next to Nabokovian
metaphysics, a new book is good if it captures even a single element of
Nabokov's artistic wizardry. Rare is the snipe, rare, even in a world of
endless criticism, the rebuke. A speech given by Reed Hundt, chairman of
the US Federal Communications Commision, speaking on the subject of
"Personal Freedom and Telecommunications", to the Moscow Chamber of
Commerce in July of 1994, discusses the "future" of Russia and the
importance of the "information highway" to that future. He conveys this
generalized affection and admiration with particular eloquence,

"...Now, Russians all know that for many centuries in this great
country's long history, the spirit of liberalism and the dreams of
individual freedom were nurtured chiefly by the great
communicators of what we now call the Newtonburg(sp) Age. I refer
to the great writers of Russia, particularly to the immortal
Alexander Pushkin. Pushkin, the artist is identified with Russian
history and for many decades an example of the priamry way to
discuss the idea of liberty through art. Pushkin died as I'm sure
every Russian knows, and I recently looked up, in 1837 in a duel
fought a month after the publication of his great poem Eugene

At approximately the same time in North America, Samuel Morse was
inventing the telegraph. And this is one of the coincidences of
history that seems to form a pattern. The telegraph intiated the
communications revolution that is now reaching full crest, and
that communications revolution is now everywhere, making
individual freedom and self-expression inalienable rights not deniable by
government. That was Pushkin's dream. The many
cooincidnces and parallels between the United States and Russia
find perhaps their most magical incarnation in the life and work
of the person who is perhaps the greatest writer of both Russia
and the United States in this century, Vladimir Nabokov.
Nabokov's grandfather was intimately involved in the reforms of
1862 when Russia ended serfdom at, coincidentally, the same time
that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves in the United States. And
Nabokov's father was minister of justice at the turn of the
century and a valiant fighter for individual rights. Nabokov
himself expressed the possibilities of freedom of imagination in
all his writings, first in Russia while he lived in Russia and
while he lived in the emigre community in Berlin. And when he was
forced to leave by Hitler, he astonishingly continued his writing in
English. The single English work on which he spent the most
effort was his magnificent translation of Pushkin's Euggene
Onegin. And in this book and in many others, Nabokov seemed to be
able to fuse the two great countries and cultures of Russia and the
United States. It is the pursuit of that fusion of our cultures,
of our two countries, each in search of community, each prizing
the imaginative spirit, it is in the pursuit of that fusion that I
have come to Russia."

Whether you agree with Mr. Hundt that Pushkin's dream has been realized
through the wonders of telecommunications, it is nevertheless clear that
Nabokov's influence, which is evident in both the expression and the
content of the above excerpt, is far-reaching, penetrating to unlikely
and unpredictable corners of the culture. It has been a fascinating
year of study; a year in which it appears that Nabokov is, above all,
sorely missed.