VN COLLATION #15
by Suellen Stringer-Hye
Jean and Alexander Heard Library
Vanderbilt University
stringers@library.vanderbilt.edu

Most of the recent articles written about Nabokov concern either The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov or Adrian Lyne's upcoming film version of Lolita. Additionally, Nabokov is mentioned or employed in several unrelated books, the citations to which are indicated below. I have thrown in a few oddities for flavor but have "winnowed" (to use a current favorite) the many many articles in which the use of Nabokov's name appears to me insignificant.

For the record, here is the Washington Post, December 31, list of Best Sellers. Without researching the post-New Year rise and fall of the book's fortunes, one can be sure only that The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov made the Top 10 on December 31 of 1995.

    HARDCOVER FICTION
  1. The Lost World, by Michael Crichton.
  2. Five Days in Paris, by Danielle Steel.
  3. Hide and Seek, by James Patterson.
  4. The Christmas Box, by Richard Paul Evans.
  5. Silent Night, by Mary Higgins Clark.
  6. The Horse Whisperer, by Nicholas Evans.
  7. Shock Wave, by Clive Cussler.
  8. Mr. Ives' Christmas, by Oscar Hijuelos.
  9. The Island of the Day Before, by Umberto Eco.
  10. The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov, edited by Dmitri Nabokov.

Needless to say, the book was reviewed extensively. From a cross- section of American newspapers, here is a collection of the opening paragraphs to these reviews, demonstrating the timbre and/or tone of the national response.

The Washington Times. January 7, 1996, Sunday, Final Edition

Bruce Allen writes: The late Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977) has been praised frequently as one of the most sophisticated craftsmen among all great modern writers - and reviled almost as often as a frigid aesthete whose self-congratulatory concoctions bear no relationship to real life and offer little to interest that possibly mythical creature, the general reader.

The Columbus Dispatch. December 24, 1995

Sixty-five stories, mainly from the Russian master's European period between the world wars. ''Shows Nabokov as a genius in the making.'' (George Meyers., Jr.)

The Times-Picayune. December 24, 1995

Melanie McKay writes: Imagine a handsome display case, where rare specimens of vivid butterflies and velvety moths lie, perfect and serene between softly layered cotton and bright, clear glass. Each is unique, though the markings, shapes and brilliant colors show a family resemblance here, a deliberate mimicry there. You linger over each specimen, marveling at the subtle patterns and delicate coloration. Then, enchanted, you step back to take it all in and find the whole even more dazzling than its parts.

So it is with the "Stories of Vladimir Nabokov,"...

The Commercial Appeal (Memphis). December 24, 1995

Frederick Koeppel comments: And as good as these books were, they and every other book I read this year are put to shame by The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov. Among the wonders that will never cease is the wonder that Nabokov never won the Nobel Prize for Literature while relative pipsqueaks walked away with the honor. Well, never mind; we have his novels, including the unclouded brilliance of Lolita, which I reread this year; his memorial monument of clarity, Speak, Memory; and this new compilation, which gathers not only all the stories published in book form during his lifetime but a number of early works never seen outside expatriate magazines in the 1920s. Few writers besides Nabokov bring such inventive, almost perversely insightful sharpness and quickness to the physical and psychological kingdom. Readers feel, even comprehend, snow on a road, a bracelet on a lamp-lit wrist, a phrase of opera sung in a dingy courtyard. The book ferments with the glory (dubious though it might be) and mortality of all objects and endeavors in the world. True, Nabokov sometimes manipulates his characters and situations, and his occasional insouciant glee at their failures can be distasteful. Yet he is clearly one of the supreme masters of 20th Century literature, and the myriad esthetic and emotional thrills he presents on almost every page of this nearly 650-page volume must be an essential part of our lives.

Austin American-Statesman. December 24, 1995

Don McLeese: The literary reputation of Vladimir Nabokov rests mainly with his novels: the one that saddled him with popular notoriety as a writer of dirty books (a notoriety soon to be renewed with another film adaption of Lolita, directed by noted panderer Adrian Lyne), the others (Ada, Pale Fire) with which graduate students continue to grapple. Though the Russian émigré and American professor abandoned the short form in the '50s to concentrate on longer works, this monumental collection confirms that he would rank with the masters of modern fiction even if he had written nothing but these stories.

Reviewed as well in the January 6, 1996 Irish Times , The Real Life of Sebastian Knight: This was Nabokov's first novel in English, published in 1941, and might be defined as a character (the narrator) in charge of an author, his dead half brother who had been a novelist. Though short, it is intricate and slightly surreal, even deliberately mystifying, the kind of double or multiple identity story whose ancestry probably lies in Kafka and Pirandello. While the book is scarcely a masterpiece, it is witty, characteristically odd, and stylishly cynical, in a way which looks forward to the Absurdist writers of the postwar era.

Caroloco, the production company who originally bought the rights and hired Adrian Lyne to make the film version of Lolita is now no longer in business. Its co-founder, however, Mario Kassar will continue as the executive producer of Lolita even though Caroloco no longer owns the film. Founded in 1976, Carolco, is described in newspapers as a "major force" among independent production companies, introducing, for better or worse, John Rambo to American popular culture. Kassar served as the executive producer for the Rambo films as well as Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Basic Instinct, and Total Recall.

From the press release about Kassar's relocation to Paramount :

In 1989, Kassar became the sole chairman of Carolco. He subsequently executive produced such films as Rambling Rose, The Doors and L.A. Story. With Sir Richard Attenborough, Kassar also produced Chaplin. More recently served as executive producer of the science- fiction hit Stargate, which was named 1994's Best Science Fiction Movie by the Academy of Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy; Paul Verhoeven's Showgirls; and Cutthroat Island.

BOOKS

Davis, Natalie Zemon, Women on the Margins : Three Seventeenth-Century Lives (Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press) 1995.

One of the three lives is that of Maria Sybilla Merian, 1647-1717. A German painter and naturalist, she produced an innovative work on tropical insects based on lore gathered from the Carib, Arawak, and African women of Suriname. Nabokov, according to Davis, came upon her butterfly books in an attic when he was a small boy.

In 1992, cartoon artist Art Spiegelman (Maus) and poet Bob Callahan initiated a series of graphic novels or pop art "picture paperbacks" called Neon Lit. The January 3, 1994, Detroit News reports:

The Neon Lit motto: "Where, in crime's shadow, art and literature meet." The series takes modern or postmodern crime fiction and, drawing on the talents of comics writers and illustrators, adapts it to a black and white graphic format (the mood's inspired, say the blurbs, by hard-boiled crime stories and classic film noir). Last year Neon Lit adapted Auster's metaphysical mystery City of Glass. This year's entry is Barry Gifford's Perdita Durango (adapted by Bob Callahan, art by Scott Gillis, Avon, $ 12.50) -- a tale of the Texas-to-Los-Angeles adventures of a dangerous demimondaine. Scheduled for future Neon Lit editions: Doris Lessing's The Fifth Child, Vladimir Nabokov's Laughter in the Dark and William Lindsay Gresham's Nightmare Alley. Fascinating stuff for both lovers of art and fiction.

SIX HOURS OF REMEMBERING AND FORGETTING

Harold Pinter's dramatisation of Marcel Proust's Remembrance Of Things Past was one of the features included in Radio 3's six hour piece "Remembering and Forgetting," a themed evening of music, discussion, readings and drama exploring the whys and wherefores of Memory. The January 6, Guardian notes Christopher Hope's contribution:

Considerably more rewarding was Christopher Hope's "Now Remember," an incisive essay, both witty and melancholy, that linked his own experiences of life as an exile with those of the writer Vladimir Nabokov. "For some of us, remembering may be a form of revenge, a way of getting our own back, making good the unacceptable loss of something precious, like a childhood or a country or of someone," suggested Hope. Nabokov's memoir Speak Memory, he argued, "is a kind of guerrilla manual for those who relish his strategies of retrospective attacks."

"WHITHER MIRTH?"

A recent issue of the Paris Review , devoted to the subject of "humor," includes an essay by Melvin Jules Bukiet entitled "Squeak Memory." From the Washington Post review:

Bukiet's affectionate, slyly humorous story describes a down-at-heels young man who secretly follows Vladimir Nabokov to a second-rate New York hotel. I won't say what happens, but it's fun just to pick out phrases like "the sinister bend of his path" and "as warily as if I had been invited to a beheading."

Also of Nabokovian note is a new novel called The End of Alice by A.M. Homes (Scribner). As reviewed by Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times of Feb. 23, 1996 (B15), Ms. Holmes novel is "a kind of updated Lolita, borrowing from Nabokov superficial motifs. images and narrative strategies. The novel she has writtern, however, has nothing else in common with Lolita and everything in common with Nabokov's definition of pornography, namely, a lubricious and single-minded pursuit of sensationalism and sensation."

In a publisher's statement Ms. Homes makes several references to Lolita "repeatedly referring to Nabokov's Humbert Humbert as 'Humpert.'"

And in ye olde category of "last but not least," in the style of "Jeopardy," drawn from the Washington Post book section the,

Answer to Book Bag #867 (Dec. 17, 1995) : The famous hotels are: (1) Montreux-Palace Hotel (where Nabokov stayed during his later years, in Switzerland), (2) Plaza Hotel (where Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald frolicked in the fountain outside this New York hotel); (3) Cadogan Hotel (where Oscar Wilde was arrested in London), and (4) Chelsea Hotel (in New York where composer Virgil Thomson lived).

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