NABOKV-L post 0024046, Wed, 24 Apr 2013 18:56:03 -0700

query re VN, SR & 3 virginals
Dear A. Bouzza,

I am one of the few devotees of the epistolary novel - I have all seven volumes
of the adorableClarissa (the first, unpruned edition - in her original bindings)
- but the quote from the Gift has me perplexed:

It [the street] rose at a barely perceptible angle, beginning with a post
office and ending with a church, like an epistolary novel. The Gift

How do you understand it?

The post office reference is clear enough. Perhaps he is thinking of that
miserable pornographic Pamela, which did end in a wedding?

By the way, the original editions have an engraved sheet of music bound in -
presumably music that Clarissa played on the harpsichord - as a sort of early
intrusion of reality into a work of fiction. Another Nabokovian element is the
contrast between the placid, some called him dull, happily married man that
Samuel Richardson was believed to be, and the fiction he wrote which borders on
the pornographic and with obvious elements of sadism. Interesting. Perhaps I've
answered my own question?

I don't believe the composer of the music has ever been identified and I haven't
as yet tried to play it myself. My own harpsichord is a lovely little virginal
(hmm) that I built from a Zuckerman kit nearly forty years ago.

From: A. Bouazza <mushtary@YAHOO.COM>
Sent: Tue, April 23, 2013 10:37:50 AM
Subject: [NABOKV-L] BIRTHDAY: Lessons in Comparative Fiction in VN

The following quotes offer what I would like to call “lessons in comparative
fiction” in VN. They not only serve to contrast his techniques from, or to
parody, those of his predecessors, but also to instruct the reader in the
evolution of fiction writing.

The chronological selection is of course far from exhaustive and owes more to
their memorable character than to a rereading of his entire oeuvre.
It is hardly surprising that most of these “lessons” are to be found in Ada, or

This pair of slippers…our lovers kept in the lower drawer of the corner chest,
for life not infrequently imitates the French novelists. King Queen Knave

She was the daughter of a well-known theatrical manager, a willowy, wispy,
fair-haired girl with colorless eyes and pathetic little pimples just above that
kind of small nose which English lady novelists call “retroussée” (note the
second “e” added for safety). Laughter in the Dark *

It [the street] rose at a barely perceptible angle, beginning with a post office
and ending with a church, like an epistolary novel. The Gift

“Eez eet zee verity,” said Beuret, suddenly shifting to English…and speaking it
like a Frenchman in an English book, “eez eet zee verity zat…zee disposed chef
of the state has been captured together with a couple of other blokes (when the
author gets bored by the process –or forgets)… Bend Sinister

At the next turning, the romantic mansion appeared on the gentle eminence of old
novels. Ada

[Rattner] seemed as dull as the rain that could be discerned slanting in
parallel pencil lines against the darker background of a larch plantation,
borrowed, Ada contended, from Mansfield Park.**

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?)

"C'est ma dernière nuit au château," she said softly, and rephrased it in her
quaint English, elegiac and stilted, as spoken only in obsolete novels. "'Tis my
last night with thee."

"I want to ask you," she said quite distinctly, but also quite beside herself
because his ramping palm had now worked its way through at the armpit, and his
thumb on a nipplet made her palate tingle: ringing for the maid in Georgian

That library had provided a raised stage for the unforgettable scene of the
Burning Barn; it had thrown open its glazed doors; it had promised a long idyll
of bibliolatry; it might have become a chapter in one of the old novels on its
own shelves; a touch
of parody gave its theme the comic relief of life.

She said: “Speaking as a character in an old novel, it seems so long, long ago,
davnïm davno, since I used to play word-games here with Grace and two other
lovely girls. 'Insect, incest, nicest.'”

What constricted his heart? Why did he pass his tongue over his thick lips?
Empty formulas befitting the solemn novelists of former days who thought they
could explain everything.

"I remember the cards," she said, "and the light and the noise of the rain, and
your blue cashmere pullover—but nothing else, nothing odd or improper, that came
later. Besides, only in French love stories les messieurs hument young ladies."

Only by identifying her with an unwritten, half-written, rewritten difficult
book could one hope to render at last what contemporary descriptions of
intercourse so seldom convey, because newborn and thus generalized, in the sense
of primitive organisms of art as opposed to the personal achievement of great
English poets dealing with an evening in the country, a bit of sky in a river,
the nostalgia of remote sounds—things utterly beyond the reach of Homer or
Horace. The Original of Laura

[S]he would bicycle through the Blue Fountain Forest to a romantic refuge where
a sparkle of broken glass or a lace-edged rag on the moss were the only signs of
an earlier period of literature.

*A quick search through 19th and early 20th century fiction and magazines shows
that male novelists were as much guilty of writing “retroussée” as lady
novelists - if not more so: “He moved just a trifle, then, so that he could see
more of her face; how her extraordinarily long lashes swept her cheek, and her
adorable nose, which was ever so slightly retroussée.” Francis Barton Fox, The
Heart of Arethusa (1918) chapter XXII.
**The name Rattner brings to mind Julius Ratner, a would-be novelist in Wyndham
Lewis’s The Apes of God (1930), “a dreadful dull and flat thing,” as described
by VN in his letter of July 23, 1944 to Edmund Wilson apropos his dream of
Khodasevich and Lewis and Wilson as a hybrid of Churchill and himself.

A. Bouazza
Google Search the archive Contact the Editors Visit "Nabokov Online Journal"
Visit Zembla View Nabokv-L Policies Manage subscription options Visit AdaOnline
View NSJ Ada Annotations Temporary L-Soft Search the archive

All private editorial communications are read by both co-editors.

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors:,
Visit Zembla:
View Nabokv-L policies:
Visit "Nabokov Online Journal:"

Manage subscription options: