Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0022145, Sun, 6 Nov 2011 13:01:42 -0200

EM Forster's and Lawrence's bathing scenes and Sebastian's
blossoming candles
V. Nabokov, interviewed by Herbert Gold, replies to the latter's question about EMForster [Paris Review - The Art of Fiction No. 40, Vladimir Nabokov www.theparisreview.org/.../the-art-of-fiction-no-..]
HG- E. M. Forster speaks of his major characters sometimes taking over and dictating the course of his novels. Has this ever been a problem for you, or are you in complete command?
VN- My knowledge of Mr. Forster's works is limited to one novel, which I dislike; and anyway, it was not he who fathered that trite little whimsy about characters getting out of hand*; it is as old as the quills, although of course one sympathizes with his people if they try to wriggle out of that trip to India or wherever he takes them. My characters are galley slaves.

I wonder what novel by E M Forster Nabokov read and, if "limited to one novel.," "A Passage to India" is the most obvious choice. However, there's another novel that might fit the bill. Sexually charged bathing scenes were not uncommon in England during the early days of the twentieth century and there's one particular scene in "The Real Life of Sebastian Knight" in which a passing reference to this bucolic practice could have been made, with more irony than eroticism. In this scene Sebastian seems as surprised as the ladies pictured by E M Forster in his novel "A Room with a View.," when they accidentaly saw a naked trio - that included a wet frolicsome priest, a Mr. Beebe. Another similar scene surfaces a few years later in D H Lawrence's "The White Peacock" (1911). The naiad that turned into a long-haired naked priest in connection to Sebastian's "last dark love," if related to Forster's and Lawrence's homoerotic scenes, may be quite a revelation! (Should V stop to "chercher la femme"?).

"...I collected one of the most precious pages of Sebastian's life [...] There seems to have been a law of some strange harmony in the placing of a meeting relating to Sebastian's first adolescent romance in such close proximity to the echoes of his last dark love. Two modes of his life question each other and the answer is his life itself, and that is the nearest one ever can approach a human truth. He was sixteen and so was she...a Russian summer landscape is disclosed; the bend of a river half in the shade ...Sebastian is lustily rowing in a boat ...A girl is sitting at the helm.[...] The picture changes: another bend of that river...Sebastian is sitting upon the bench and reading aloud some English verse from a black copybook. Then he stops suddenly: a little to the left a naiad's head with auburn hair is seen just above the water, receding slowly, the long tresses floating behind. Then the nude bather emerges on the opposite bank, blowing his nose with the aid of his thumb; it is the long-haired village priest. Sebastian goes on reading to the girl beside him." (RLSK,Ch.14)

There's another similarity bt. Lawrence (thru Forster,rainbows and nude bathers) and RLSK. It's equally slight but still rather significant in my eyes: it's a masculine image of blossoming chestnut candles set close to fluvial adventures:

Cf.ch.VIII "A poem of friendship" (The white peacock by DHLawrence)
"The horse-chestnuts bravely kept their white candles erect in the socket of every bough, though no sun came to light them. Drearily a cold swan swept up the water, trailing its black feet, clacking its great hollow wings, rocking the frightened water-hens, and insulting the staid black-necked geese. What did I want that I turned thus from one thing to another?"

RLSK: Ch 4. "...In those days, he wrote far better than he spoke, but still there was something vaguely un-English about his poems. None of them have reached me. True, his friend thought that perhaps one or two....'By the way,' I said, 'the past you recall seems dismally wet meteorologically speaking - as dismal, in fact, as today's weather [it was a bleak day in February]. Tell me, was it never warm and sunny? Does not Sebastian himself refer somewhere to the "pink candlesticks of great chestnut trees" along the bank of some beautiful little river?'...Yes, I was right, spring and summer did happen in Cambridge almost every year (that mysterious 'almost' was singularly pleasing). Yes, Sebastian quite liked to loll in a punt on the Cam."

* - VN's words on this "trite little whimsy" may be profitably contrasted to a character's destiny in the reader's world, with the "literary hero losing gradually contact with the book that bore him; leaving his fatherland, leaving his creator's desk and roaming space after roaming Spain. ...He has ridden for three hundred and fifty years through the jungles and tundras of human thought-and he has gained in vitality and stature" (Lectures on Don Quixote, recently quoted in a N-List posting)

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