VN COLLATION #14
by Suellen Stringer-Hye
Jean and Alexander Heard Library
Vanderbilt University
stringers@library.vanderbilt.edu

It is now impossible to keep track of every time Nabokov is mentioned in a newspaper or magazine article. Although I have not conducted scientific experimentation, from my perspective, the number of quotes, allusions and references to Nabokov has expanded exponentially making what used to be a pleasant use of idle time now the grounds for intense and time consuming study. In this collation I have grouped the citations into categories of type; first to help control the amount of data and second to set off the commonplace from the unusual. Nabokov is one of the better vehicles for use in Cyberspace. In the world of exploding information, one can always count on a good ride while aboard his name.

PNIN

In this Collation the bumbling character of Timofey Pnin is employed in two dissimilar contexts:

From the September 9, London Times, Nigella Lawson uses Pnin in an article about traveling in Ireland to enhance her description of insomnia :

ONE OF THE best things that happened to me in Ireland was that I slept. I've been insomniac since I was about eight, although I was briefly cured when the baby was very small as I got so little chance to sleep that there wasn't any time in which not to be able to. Now I'm back to those long, chest-constricting hours lying awake, desperate, like Pnin, for a cool, fresh, soothing third side of the pillow.

The quote is from the September 1st Columbus Dispatch review of a series aired on Bravo called " Masters of American Music: The Story of Jazz."

''Jazz, jazz; they always must have their jazz, those youngsters,'' observed Timofey Pnin in 1953.

Tonight's show demonstrates the melancholy falsity of that statement. Jazz has always suffered neglect in the land of its birth.

NOBEL PRIZE

September and October were months in which discussion of the Nobel Prize for Literature were common. Last year the same phenomenon occurred--articles discussing the value and relevancy of the Nobel prize. Nabokov is often mentioned as one of the undeserving losers.

From the "Arts & Media" section of the October 16 London Times, Paul Gray, discussing Irish poet Seamus Heaneys' possible win of the Nobel Prize says:

... Heaney would one day win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Of course, people said the same thing about Vladimir Nabokov, Jorge Luis Borges and Graham Greene, illustrious authors and notorious nonwinners.

An article in the October 5 Guardian struck a similar note:

The Nobel Prize for Literature is famous for its extraordinary ability to avoid recognising the greatest writers of its...

Another writer comments on the political nature of the Academy's selection:

(were these writers, unknown outside Sweden, really more deserving than Borges or Nabokov?), But it's not just the fallibility of their choices that has diminished the reputation of the Nobel Prize for Literature. But the Academy's choices have frequently been compromised by non-literary considerations. The Nobel Prize for Literature has generally been something of a joke in English literary journalism.
Comments from the October 1 New York Times under the headline:

SO YOU WANT TO WIN A NOBEL PRIZE

included:

And then, aside from the alleged intrusion of extra-literary considerations, there's the matter of literary discrimination, or the lack of it...

Question 2: What do Tolstoy, Ibsen, Strindberg, Zola, Hardy, Gorky, Freud, Mandelstam, Akhmatova, Joyce, Conrad, D. H. Lawrence, Garcia Lorca, Rilke, Stevens, Brecht, Nabokov, Lowell and Calvino have in common? Answer: They all failed to win.

CONTEMPORARY AUTHORS

As noted in previous collations, comparison with Nabokov for new novels and novelists or contemporary authors is widespread. Below are selected excerpts that either cite the comparison and if meaningful provide essential quotes from the review. I have also included the note from Edward Albee because it didn't fit neatly into any other category.

From the October 15 The Boston Globe interview with Edward Albee--Albee says that :

Only once... has he seen producers savage his work, and that was with his 1981 version of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. "It was a shambles of a shame,"

Michael Didbin writing in the September 17, Independent negatively reviews Enigma by Robert Harris comparing Harris's inability to weave a detective story unfavorably to Nabokov's.

In the October 10 Village Voice review of Kazuo Ishiguro's new novel, Ishiguro is compared with Nabokov and Mann.

A reviewer of Signals of Distress, by Jim Crace. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, comments:

And there's more to this character: Smith is 42 and a virgin. He's an emancipationist. He's a religious skeptic. Aymer Smith is part Shakespearean buffoon, part batty Nabokovian intellectual, a Professor Pnin caught in the land of the pragmatic, but also well-meaning to the point of sainthood. And somehow, he's likeable as hell.

Rachel Cusk of the New York Times reviews "The Chess Garden" on September 24:

Comparisons to Nabokov and Calvino are doubtless in order -- those sunny fabulists and dreamers of perfect dreams. But "The Chess Garden" stands by itself, a marvel of attention to the things of this world, and worlds beyond.

In the review appearing in the October 6, Independent, of Umberto Eco's new novel, The Island of the Day Before, Eco is compared unfavorably to Nabokov:

The problem with all this is that, encyclopaedic as Eco's knowledge of literature is, there is something he doesn't quite get. Sure, the writer is remote, sure, art lets you down, but there is a poignancy in those truths that you simply never get from reading his novels. Nabokov or Beckett can make hot tears spurt with their explorations of the limits of art. But in Eco there is no pressure, it's all smartly put together to tell you nothing. The result is not a higher consciousness but complacency. That's the trouble with Post-Modernism, you can't really get involved. It's not done. The Island of the Day Before is clearly not worth reading by page 50. He wears his learning too heavily, he lacks wit.

But never mind, the Humbert Echo show rolls on. The interviews come and go. Much work is to be done at the department of semiotics at Bologna. Eco rolls out of his chair, shakes my hand and ambles off to consult his publicist. It is all such a wonderful, effortless, Post-Modern whiz. Italian without tears.

NABOKOV THE CHARACTER

Related to works in which an author is compared to Nabokov are articles or books in which Nabokov the character is employed to lend atmosphere to the composition.

Milan Kundera's new book is reviewed in the Memphis Tennessee, Commercial Appeal :

In his concern with the evolution of the novel, Kundera returns time and again to his prime examples of artistic invention: Nabokov, Gombrowicz, Stravinsky, Hemingway, Musil, Janacek and especially Kafka.

The Blue Suit by Richard Rayner and published by Houghton Mifflin is reviewed in the October 8 Washington Post. Nabokov features structurally if not prominently in this book:

It is the mid-'70s, and Richard is a student at Cambridge. Soon after he, too, begins stealing - books. He likes first editions, and Nabokov, and Raymond Chandler. Not long before graduation the university sends him a little reminder: He owes L652.75, and if he doesn't pay he will not get his degree. He's broke.

Mr. Rayner wrote absolutely the best reportage about the 1992 Los Angeles riots--in the acclaimed literary magazine Granta--and it is an event during the second day of that upheaval that frames the narrative of "The Blue Suit." He is outside a convenience store with another girlfriend. (he went directly to L.A. after nipping out for that pint of milk) and they see a white couple dressed in matching track suits stealing cans of soup and toilet paper. "This is extraordinary," Mr. Rayner tells her. "They don't need the stuff."

"Yes, Richard," she replies. "But what if the store were filled with Nabokov first editions?"

NABOKOV AS AUTHOR

Reviewing The Faber Book of Science by John Carey Faber Anthony Gottlieb in the September 23, Independent says:

It is not by any means all by professional scientists. The contributors include Mark Twain (a killingly funny attack on the idea that the earth was made for man), Nabokov (on butterflies), Orwell (on toads) and Thoreau (unforgettably on ants). !

In the "40 Years Ago This Week" section of the September 24 Sunday Times a letter by Vladimir Nabokov to Pascal Covici, his editor at Viking Press, written on September 29, 1955 is quoted:

One more consideration. You seem to regret that the book (Pnin) is, as you put it, ''not a novel." I do not know if it is or not. According to popular definitions, the main thing it seems to lack is length. What is a novel? Is Sterne's Sentimental Journey Through France a novel? Is Proust's Sentimental Journey Through Time a novel? I do not know. All I know is that Pnin is not a collection of sketches. I do not write sketches. But must we pigeonhole him into any kind of category? I would like to have your reaction to this letter.

NABOKOV REVIEWED

In the October 8, issue of Newsday, The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov and Michael Wood's, The Magician's Doubts: Nabokov and the Risks of Fiction are reviewed simultaneously. I have included characteristic and potentially controversial excerpts from the review below. Both books were given favorable reviews.

Like all great novelists, Nabokov was a monomaniac and he persistently worked-over one big, complicated theme: fate's cruel capriciousness.

he also worked as an extra in German films, which might account for the shallow cinematic quality that occasionally mars his early fiction.

Since Nabokov's memory was in Russian, English liberated him into an imaginative niche outside memory, making it all the easier to play deft games with time.

Written for a cultured, harried, embittered, frequently-impoverished émigré audience, they travel an unnervingly thin line between hatred of cruelty and pleasure i capturing it. Yet that emotional rawness makes them more potent than the cool mandarin puzzles devised in English, which often disdainfully gesture toward life through the steel haze of a concept about life.

An aging emigre "beauty" marries out of loneliness and desperation and dies the next summer in childbirth (in general, Nabokov cannot imagine women characters without a sneer or a sob)

Nabokov's lifelong effort to have his revenge on fate by outdoing it in all its wild brutality. And then he slays the tyrant in himself and exalts the artist. That is why art-making itself becomes more and more his subject as he grows older. Unfortunately, in the English stories, Nabokov identifies himself with both art and fate, and readers making their way through these claustrophobic masterpieces might find themselves gasping for emotional air.

As for the portrayal of cruelty, however, the harsh complexities of ancient Greek tragedy, Shakespeare's tragedies, Dante, Cervantes and, in their lesser way, Nabokov's Russian stories make a stronger case for human kindness than does "The Bridges of Madison County."

NABOKOV AND POPULAR CULTURE

Below are excepts from a wide range of articles representing popular mediums which in some way feature Nabokov or his works as a part of the mix.

A new television series was credited with having...

... some surprisingly sophisticated moments (including a Vladimir Nabokov reference that allows one of Danza's precinct mates to crack a string of venial sex crimes).

in People Magazine, October 9, 1995.

Other reviews of the show also thought the Nabokov reference made this show a hopeful "pick."

THE GOOD NEWS: Hudson Street (ABC) stars Tony Danza as a divorced father and police detective. And, yes, his ex-wife, young son and colleagues all encourage him to start dating again. He does. His date is Lori Loughlin, a genuinely pert newspaper reporter who has a brain (!) and a tart tongue. While it may not be Tracy and Hepburn, the dialogue on this show is sassy--a sitcom with references to Nabokov and a Rastafarian pool hall can't be all bad. And it isn't. This one is promising.

A third review again mentions the Nabokov joke:

She and Tony's colleagues down at the station house urge him to date again. The cops love to quip, but a joke about Vladimir Nabokov stops the show cold. Danza has a tender relationship with Frankie J. Galasso, the young actor who plays his son, Mickey, 10.
Many, many articles have been written about the remake of the film Lolita, now in production and directed by Adrian Lynne. Most of them simply report on the casting and production of the film. Another, discussing Kubrick's collaboration with Nabokov had this line:
The script, largely different from the novel, but Nabokov's own, is a translation, not a version, and if the details differ, the mood (however you define it: slyly comic, darkly skittish; you know, "Nabokovian") certainly does not....
The director of the Folger Shakespeare Library, Werner Gundersheimer, is profiled in the October 3 Washington Times. The profile is of the variety which asks questions in shorthand such as IDEAL DINNER PARTNER (the answer was Wallace Shawn) and of course FAVORITE BOOKS. To this question Mr. Gundersheimer replied, The Essays Michel de Montaigne; Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov. The obituary for Phillipe Thomas artist: born 7 July 1951; died Paris 2 September 1995, in the September 30, Independent describes the artist's career and comments:
Thomas's most impressive exhibition took place at Bordeaux in 1990. Called "Feux pâles" (after Nabokov's detective story told through footnotes) it included 16th-century wunderkammern and 17th- century portraits of collectors with their walls full of paintings, as well as Thomas's own (or rather not his own) creations. His name appeared only once in the exhaustive catalogue, as a tiny footnote.

Discussing the state of fashion journalism on the internet, Sally Brampton comments in the September 22, Guardian:

Me, I'm a fashion professional. Yes, yes, I know it sounds like an oxymoron but that's what I do. I look at frocks. I've been doing it for years. . . But, and it's a big but, for the most part they're not written by trained journalists - so most of them make Hello! look like literature. 'Skirts are anywhere from thigh--length to knee-length; hems have been dropped by about six inches. Hurrah! Now you can walk down the street without wondering if you're showing anything you shouldn't.' We are not talking Nabokov.

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