Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025454, Mon, 16 Jun 2014 15:38:56 -0300

Lectures on Literature: time-space and Cinderella - retake
Vladimir Nabokov begins his “Lectures on Literature” speaking about Jane
Austen and her novel “Mansfield Park.”

“About thirty years ago...” So the novel begins. Miss Austen wrote it
between 1811 and 1813 so that “thirty years ago” would mean, when mentioned
at the beginning of the novel, 1781. About 1781, then, “Miss Maria Ward, of
Huntington…” [ ] Soon after that, he states: “But let us get rid of the
time-space element first. “About thirty years ago” – let us go back to that
opening sentence. Jane Austen is writing after her main characters, the
younger people of the book, have been dismissed…”
Next, many paragraphs later he states: “As we shall see the main action of
the novel takes place in 1808. The ball on Mansfield Park is held on
Thursday, the twenty-second of December and, if we look through our old
calendars, only in 1808 could 22 December fall on a Thursday…”
Then, after dealing with “time” he moves to the “space element” - but he
deals with it very quickly: He mentions that the story starts in Mansfield
Park at the Bertram estate, and that it is a fictitious place.

I’m not certain that I got VN’s points correctly. What does he mean by “Jane
Austen is writing after her main characters, the younger people of the book,
have been dismissed”… Who were those dismissed main character youngsters?
Not the Ward sisters, were they? 1781 carries us back to them and to their
marriages, not to young Fanny. Actual calendric information is called in for
the relatively “recent” fictitious ball in a fictitious place, but it is
there and then that the main action starts to develop: how are we supposed
to “get rid” of the time-space element to delve into the author’s world when
we depart from V.N’s introductory presentations?

Enlightenment shall be most welcome - because I think that V.Nabokov will
employ some of these tactics in the first part of “Ada, or Ardor,” a novel
that, in some ways, makes us travel through time under various guises. We
find Van Veen’s imprecise recollections and constant “flash backs” but these
remain tied to the present moment also because, once in a while, his sister
Ada intervenes with marginal comments and memories of her own.

I also wonder about the relation between Ada’s “Cinderella” theme (linked to
the promiscuous Blanche, pumpkin-like coaches, Ada’s or Lucette’s lost
slippers and “Glass” shoes) and how V.Nabokov introduces young Fanny: “The
prototype of these quiet maidens is, of course, Cinderella. Dependent,
helpless, friendless, neglected, forgotten – and then marrying the hero”.
Should I consider “prototype” a word to be reckoned with in Nabokov’s
lecture on Jane Austen? How is the “Cinderella prototype” applied or
parodied in “Ada”?*


* - Jane Austen: “Dr Krolik, our local naturalist, to whom you, Van, have
referred, as Jane Austen might have phrased it, for the sake of rapid
narrative information (you recall Brown, don’t you, Smith?), has determined
the example [ ] ‘Really, in comparison to the local girls…, Ada is a
Turgenevian maiden or even a Jane Austen miss.’ / ‘I’m Fanny Price,
actually,’ commented Ada./ ‘In the staircase scene,’ added Van. [ ] ‘I
declare we are satiated with moonlight and strawberry soufflé — the latter,
I fear, has not quite "risen" to the occasion,’ remarked Ada in her archest,
Austen-maidenish manner. “ (Vivian Darkbloom let us know that VV is always
indicating Austen’s “Mansfield Park”)

Compare with:

1. Blanche,Veens and Pumpkins

“ and a bluebird uttered a warning warble, and the lights were now stealing
back under a rugged dawn, the firefly signals were circumscribing the
reservoir, the dots of the carriage lamps became stars, wheels rasped on the
gravel, all the dogs returned well pleased with the night treat, the cook’s
niece Blanche jumped out of a pumpkin-hued police van in her stockinged feet
(long, long after midnight, alas) — and our two naked children, grabbing lap
robe and nightdress, and giving the couch a parting pat, pattered back with
their candlesticks to their innocent bedrooms./ …Ought to begin dating every
page of the manuscript: Should be kinder to my unknown dreamers.” [ ] “
Summers in Radugalet, the ‘other Ardis,’ were so much colder and duller than
those here in this, Ada’s, Ardis. Once he even spent both winter and summer
there; it must have been in 1878./…He was eight, she was six…They took, she
imagined, the train from Ladoga to Raduga, for she remembered the way the
station man with the whistle around his neck went along the platform, past
the coaches of the stopped local, banging shut door after door, all six
doors of every carriage, each of which consisted of six one-window carrosses
of pumpkin origin, fused together.”

2. Durmanov and Veen ladies and their vair slippers & glass shoes: diverse

“ By the time he went to fetch his new mistress in his jingling sleigh, the
last-act ballet of Caucasian generals and metamorphosed Cinderellas had come
to a sudden close, and Baron d’O., now in black tails and white gloves, was
kneeling in the middle of an empty stage, holding the glass slipper that his
fickle lady had left him when eluding his belated advances.”
[ ] “ Oh, of course! … — it was our little goose Blanche. Yes, she rushed
down the corridor and lost a miniver-trimmed slipper on the grand staircase,
like Ashette in the English version.”
[ ]” Our old friend, being quite as excited as the rest of the reunited
family, had scampered in after Marina with an old miniver-furred slipper in
his merry mouth. The slipper belonged to Blanche…Both children experienced a
chill of déjà-vu (a twofold déjà-vu, in fact, when contemplated in artistic
[ ] “He had prepared one of those phrases that sound right in dreams but
lame in lucid life: ‘I saw you circling above me on libelulla wings’; he
broke down on ‘...ulla,’ and fell at her feet — at her bare insteps in
glossy black Glass slippers — precisely in the same attitude, the same heap
of hopeless tenderness, self-immolation, denunciation of demoniac life, in
which he would drop in backthought, in the innermost bower of his brain
every time he remembered her impossible semi-smile as she adjusted her
shoulder blades to the trunk of the final tree.”
[ ] “He heard Ada Vinelander’s voice calling for her Glass bed slippers
(which, as in Cordulenka’s princessdom too, he found hard to distinguish
from dance footwear), and a minute later, without the least interruption in
the established tension, Van found himself, in a drunken dream, making
violent love…”
[ ] She did not see her whole life flash before her … the red rubber of a
favorite doll remained safely decomposed among the myosotes of an
unanalyzable brook; but she did see a few odds and ends as she swam like a
dilettante Tobakoff in a circle of brief panic and merciful torpor. She saw
a pair of new vair-furred bedroom slippers, which Brigitte had forgotten to
pack; she saw Van wiping his mouth …; and she saw a girl with long black
hair quickly bend in passing to clap her hands over a dackel in a half-tom

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