NABOKV-L post 0000524, Mon, 27 Mar 1995 13:04:13 -0800

A Dashing Fellow (fwd)
EDITOR'S NOTE: Each week NABOKV-L presents a discussion of a Nabokov
short story drawn from Roy Johnson's book manuscript. These discussions
are intended to stimultae interest in and discussion of Nabokov's short
fiction--a relatively neglected subject. Please direct your comments to

This week's story - A DASHING FELLOW

In 'A Dashing Fellow' (early 1930s) Nabokov uses a similar
character to the vulgar Smurov (of 'The Eye') but he employs a
different narrative approach by depicting him using the form of
the Russian *Skaz* which had been popularised by Leskov in the
nineteenth century. *Skaz* is a form of narrative one part of
which "creates the possibility of characterising the fictitious
narrator through speech peculiarities [and] the use of sub-
standard expressions" (*Dictionary of Russian Literature*,
p.360). However, a vulgar narrator will think in a vulgar manner,
and the risk in such an approach is that the author imprisons his
story *in* that vulgarity: after all, vulgar minds do not create
graceful works of art. Nabokov surmounts this problem by having
his narrative shifting very subtly between first and third person
modes and by oscillating between omniscient narrator and interior
monologue - along with some delicately shaded transitional
statements which could be either.

The story begins in a type of mock-intimate first person *plural*
mode: "We are alone in a third-class compartment - alone and
therefore bored" (DS, p.131). This simultaneously implies a
proximity between author and character ("we") whilst the implied
criticism in the semantic content does just the opposite,
creating an ironically generated distance. The narrative then
moves into the indirectly reported thought of the character, who
is speculating on amorous adventures: "Even more delicious,
however, might be the elegancies of a chance encounter" (p.131).

>From this it then switches directly into conversations he
imagines himself having with a girl he picks up: "your profile
reminded me of the girl for whose sake years ago..." (p.131).

Following this there are brief passages of normal third person
omniscient mode - "Ten minutes later he was deep in conversation
with the passenger in the opposite window seat" (p.133) - after
which the narrative moves fluently between all of these modes.

The story concerns one of his most nauseating characters,
Konstantin, a commercial traveller who is obsessed with thoughts
of seduction and picks up a somewhat disreputable woman on the
train. He trots out cliches - "Yes, we Russians ... can love with
the passion of a Rasputin" (p.137) - to which she responds by
showing him some holiday photographs. He breaks his journey to
stay overnight with her, and on arrival it is debateable which
of them behaves worse: "What's that on your lip" she asks. "Just
a cold sore. Hurry up." he replies (p.139).

Whilst she is out buying something for them to eat a neighbour
calls to say that the woman's father is dying, but when she
returns Konstantin withholds the information so as to make the
sexual connexion with her as quickly as possible. This is done,
but in a completely ineffectual manner, whereupon he immediately
goes out himself on the pretence of buying a cigar, gets back
onto the train, and sits back wondering how much the encounter
has cost him. He feels out of sorts, but comforts himself: "When
we have fed and slept, life will regain its looks" (p.143) - and
the story ends with a stunning last line - "And then, sometime
later, we die" (p.143).

Andrew Field assumes that this "nonchalant" use of the first
person plural automatically means that Konstantin is himself the
narrator (LA, p.334) - and it must be said that Field was reading
these stories in their earlier, unrevised versions. Nevertheless,
he quotes this ending to suggest that it is Konstantin's point
of view. But the opening of the story has Nabokov's critical
point of view hiding behind the plural pronoun. Konstantin would
not say *of himself* "We breathe hard through our nose as we try
to solve a crossword puzzle" (p.131). The startling last sentence
therefore clearly carries Nabokov's damning suggestion - 'Such
is the sum total of this creature's life'.

Next week's story - PERFECTION