Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025443, Mon, 9 Jun 2014 12:45:03 -0300

Nabokov's sexual style: M.Couturier
The secret of Nabokov's sexual style

Lolita was a taboo-breaker, but Nabokov always denied it was pornographic. David Lodge on how poetry and humour come together in his writing about sex

* <http://www.theguardian.com/profile/david-lodge> David Lodge

* <http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian> The Guardian, Saturday 7 June 2014

“ A new book, Nabokov's Eros, written by Maurice Couturier, the leading authority on the novelist in France (and, I should declare, the translator of several of my own novels) handles this issue, and similar ones raised by Nabokov's oeuvre, frankly and with discrimination. There is little doubt that sexual attraction to a certain kind of prepubescent girl was an important element in Nabokov's sexuality, whether or not he ever acted on it, and the novelist was well aware of the risks he was running in giving imaginative expression to this kind of sexual desire.[ ] Couturier exposes flaws and an element of self-deception in these arguments and in the obiter dicta on the subject that Nabokov uttered subsequently, and wishes he had adopted a different stance: No matter how hard he tried to find an appropriate line of defence for his novel, he refused to admit that this novel, eminently poetic to be sure, was still highly erotic. This word, with its obvious etymology, simply means "of or pertaining to sexual love; amatory, esp tending to arouse sexual desire or excitement" (Shorter Oxford Dictionary). Nabokov would have been well advised to use it for it perfectly fits the general tone of his writing [ ]. Though the stories he tells are immoral, the aesthetic eminence of the scenes he describes transcends their sexual and ethical dimension.

The poetic quality of Nabokov's prose in his rendering of transgressive erotic experience is certainly crucial in assessing his achievement. How to defamiliarise the limited repertoire of sexual acts was never a problem for him, because of his extraordinary stylistic virtuosity, his metaphorical inventiveness and mastery of an entire thesaurus of other rhetorical devices, which make other novelists (this one anyway) gape in admiration and feel inadequate, whatever his subject. Couturier is surely right to trace in Nabokov's style the influence of French libertine fiction, in which elegant variation and metaphorical figures of speech were applied lavishly to sexual parts and acts [ ] Nabokov did not always write about sex in heightened language. The intercourse of characters whose sensibilities are coarse and selfish is described in an appropriate style – for example, Martha and Franz copulating in the early novel King, Queen, Knave: "baring her thighs, and not bothering to lie down, and revelling in his ineptitude, she directed his upward thrusts until they drove home, whereupon, her face working, she threw her head back and dug her 10 nails in his nates". This is explicit, but not erotic: both the diction and the syntax distance readers from the action, rather than drawing them into an imaginative involvement in it. [Couturier’s] book escorts us through the novels and stories with a mixture of quotation and summary, not in chronological order but grouped together in various sets: for example, fictions in which sex is linked to sadism and cruelty, fictions that demonise women, fictions in which the main character is signally lacking in sexual desire, and so on. This has the effect of postponing the extended consideration of Nabokov's major works till the latter part of the book, so that it does not end anticlimactically with minor ones such as Look at the Harlequins! and The Original of Laura, but with Pale Fire, Lolita and Ada. (Readers who were disappointed by the last of that trio may be persuaded by Couturier's enthusiasm to give it another chance.) The result is both enjoyable and revelatory [ ] Nabokov's Eros and the Poetics of Desire is published by Macmillan.

vladimir nabokov

Daily update ⋅ June 7, 2014


The Guardian

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The Guardian

Vladimir Nabokov played a crucial role in the cultural shift I have described. Lolita was a taboo-breaking book, which caused great controversy when it ...




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