Jansy Mello: I’ve always been surprised at the famous bouts of criticism V.Nabokov directed against “Dom Quixote,” because his “Lecture on Quixote” was lovingly researched and presented [  ]A few months ago I found a statement relating VN’s criticism about this “cruel and crude …book” to the way in which Cervantes treated his character and not to any other kind of cruelty pertaining to its action nor in relation to the readers. [  ]Is VN demonstrating, through his rejection of Cervantes’s writing that, in any novel, life’s destructiveness and evil are to be portrayed only as aspects of the real cruelty of the external world and its inhabitants?  That an author should never be an accomplice of the world’s evil to remain, at most, an impartial observer? [   ]quote:  “we do not laugh at [Don Quixote] any longer. His blazon is pity, his banner is beauty. He stands for everything that is gentle, forlorn, pure, unselfish and gallant.”

Present posting: My initial query related to VN’s indignation at the ways in which Cervantes tortured his unhappy knight has been amply explored by scholars, * although my sweeping supposition about how VN seemed to recommend that authors avoid becoming accomplices of the evil & cruelty presented in a novel hasn’t been considered under the same light. Before examining more deeply the articles available to me, or returning to VN’s original lecture, I allowed myself to imagine that an artist’s pursuit of beauty and pity must belong to a different dimension as that of an artwork’s materiality (should VN have extended the same discipline of attention to detail and neutrality of science to the art of creating a work of fiction that his words about science and art attest).  V.Nabokov’s words on Dom Quixote: “His blazon is pity, his banner is beauty” are the same ones that  he chose for his definition of Art:  Beauty plus pity-that is the closest we can get to a definition of art. Where there is beauty there is pity for the simple reason that beauty must die: beauty always dies, the manner dies with the matter, the world dies with the individual.” (Lecture on Kafka,LL,251). I wonder what’s the fictional status of Dom Quixote after being alienated from his creator’s work, or granted “immortality”.  

The need to reexamine VN’s various choices for first-person narrators, confessions and diaries in relation to his keeping an authorial distance from the narrated events was clear to me, as well as the importance of distinguishing them from his interventions and from his play with extradiegetic levels. Nevertheless, I fear I’ll have to abandon my projects because… “Vladimir Nabokov, with typical fastidiousness, squabbled that seldom has an author been as cruel to his character, although he also recommended that we ‘do our best to avoid the fatal error of looking for so-called ‘real life’ in novels.’ Nabokov added: ‘Let us not try and reconcile the fiction of facts with the facts of fiction. Don Quixote is a fairy tale, so is Bleak House, so is Dead SoulsMadame Bovary and Anna Karenin are supreme fairy tales. But without these fairy tales the world would not be real’.” (Ilan Stavans http://www.neh.gov/humanities/2008/septemberoctober/feature/one-master-many-cervantes ). Even after we leave out what’s habitually described as “ the facts of the world” from fiction and fairy tale, the world of fantasy still retains important links with the human mind. And did VN equally isolate “pity” from “compassion”?  It’s so very confusing.



*-quoting and indicating a few texts:

Don Quixote Restored by Guy Davenport (1983)
''I REMEMBER with delight,'' Vladimir Nabokov said in 1966 to Herbert Gold, who had traveled to Montreux to interview him, ''tearing apart 'Don Quixote,' a cruel and crude old book, before 600 students in Memorial Hall, much to the horror and embarrassment of some of my more conservative colleagues.'' [  ] What Nabokov's eyes kept seeing as he prepared his lectures was the accurately perceived fact that the book elicits cruel laughter. Cervantes' old man who had read himself into insanity and his smelly squire were created to be the butt of mockery.”

“Cruel and Crude”: Nabokov Reading Cervantes by Catherine Kunce

Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America   13.2 (1993): 93-104.
“The late Stephen Gilman, however, caustically protests that Nabokov, ‘the author of that most painfully méchant of novels, Bend Sinister, . . . professed to be shocked both by the cruelty of Cervantes' treatment of his hero and by the gales of laughter that that cruelty supposedly provoked’… But Gilman reminds us that Cervantes' “two supremely naive protagonists are used in order to illuminate ironically a society, swollen with self-importance, that refused to make a place for him despite his past heroism”(44). Gilman places Cervantes in the larger tradition of the novel, concluding that “it was Fielding's conscious adaptation of Cervantine irony that opened the way to the future of the novel”... To the degree, then, that Nabokov refuses Cervantes his irony, he impugns the tenor of his own novels.[  ] There is a further irony to consider, this time, in Nabokov's disdain for the “violence” in Don Quixote. The word requires some scrutiny. Nabokov's complaints of the innumerable beatings and the duchess and duke's “playful” inhumanity towards Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are well taken, but this “violence” is not for the mindless amusement of cloddish readers, as Nabokov suggests: rather, it carries a psychological message.” ( “Cruel and Crude”: Nabokov Reading Cervantes by Catherine Kunce)


The Imitation of Our Lord Don Quixote, by Simon Leys(1998) . http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1998/jun/11/the-imitation-of-our-lord-don-quixote/ The New York Review of Books

“he was appalled by the crudeness and the savagery of Cervantes’ narrative. In the words of Brian Boyd, his biographer, “He detested the belly-laughs Cervantes wanted his readers to derive from his hero’s discomfiture, and he repeatedly compared the vicious ‘fun’ of the book with Christ’s humiliation and crucifixion, with the Spanish Inquisition, with modern bullfighting.” [  ] His distaste for Cervantes’ sadistic treatment of Don Quixote reached such a point that he eventually excluded the book from his regular lectures on foreign literature at Cornell: he could not bear to dwell on the subject any further. But the corollary of his virulent hostility toward the writer was a loving admiration for his creature” Simon Leys  

One Master Many Cervantes  Don Quixote in Translation  By Ilan Stavans | HUMANITIES, September/October 2008 | Volume 29, Number 5 http://www.neh.gov/humanities/2008/septemberoctober/feature/one-master-many-cervantes


The Cambridge Companion to Nabokov: edited by Julian W. Connolly 
Nabokov’s Worldview, by Leona Toker.


Style Is Matter - The Moral Art of Vladimir Nabokov

Leland de la Durantaye Cornell University Press,2007






Google Search
the archive
the Editors
NOJ Zembla Nabokv-L
Subscription options AdaOnline NSJ Ada Annotations L-Soft Search the archive VN Bibliography Blog

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