VN COLLATION #26
by Suellen Stringer-Hye
Jean and Alexander Heard Library
Vanderbilt University
stringers@library.vanderbilt.edu

Along with all of the other offerings on Happy Birthday, Mr. Nabokov and the wonderful sonnet from John Morris, I too am honored to present VN Collation #26, a collection of Nabokov-related material from the world press. The taxonomy for this year’s collection falls into a similar classification scheme as in the past, with less Fashion and Music and more Theater, Film, Law, and Politics. I have tried to select items that have not appeared on NABOKV-L or are otherwise likely to have been missed.

Theater

Productions of Invitation to a Beheading, Lolita and The Event were staged in various places throughout the year. Russian director Victor Sobchak adapted both Invitation to a Beheading and Lolita at the Lion and Unicorn Fringe Theater in London.

Review of London production of Invitation to a Beheading

The protagonist of Vladimir Nabokov's 1938 novel doesn't know what the rules are. Cincinnatus is arrested, for no good reason--in the book it's 'gnostic turpitude'--and sentenced to die. While he waits in his cell, he's visited by family, jailers and a fellow prisoner, none of whom seems too concerned about his forthcoming beheading.

Is this a nightmare? Allegory? It's certainly not realism, but Victor Sobchak's adaptation is too approximate in its oppressiveness for the play to take on a life of its own. Another recent adaptation at Shunt's Arch confined the audience within an 18-foot by 18-foot white cell. Here, Sobchak uses the whole of the Lion & Unicorn's broad stage, so that even within a supposedly confined space the action is diffuse.

David Hannah gives welcome brio to the executioner--if he had a moustache, he'd twirl it, and Melissa Woodbridge injects some welcome comic edge into Cincinnatus's tarty wife. But too few of the cast seem to know what the game is. We don't have to know, Cincinnatus can't know, but they've got to look dangerously savvy. That they don't exposes Andy McQuade's central turn as the passive Cincinnatus.

Supposedly he's 'surrounded not by people but by spectres', but the setting isn't spooky, so his anguish plays as elegant acting rather than something with which to identify.

Time Out, December 04, 2002, Dominic Maxwell

Review of London production of Lolita

The challenges in adapting the story for the stage are great and varied. First, it's one thing to describe the seduction of a 12-year-old schoolgirl by a middle-aged professor, quite another to show it. Linked to this, though not in amoral sense, is the fact that it's no easy task to give a fantasy nymphette flesh without disappointing spectators' expectations.

Finally there's the problem that, even more so than most other novels, 'Lolita' is a book about words and wordplay; it's an extended soliloquy, not a dialogue.

Victor Sobchak's adaptation scores quite highly on these counts. It intersperses the scenes between Humbert, Lolita and the other principals with long passages of Nabokov's marvellous prose read in voiceover. These are a great pleasure to listen to. The seduction scenes though, voyeurs beware, are very chaste quite difficult to watch, and not necessarily in a way that is 'morally interesting', but the girlish Nika Khitrova, who performed the part on the night I saw it, is well cast as Lo. (The role is being shared with Shona McWilliams.) The decision to drop the character of Quilty and relocate the story to contemporary Britain is less successful. The novel is in part a satire on '50s US dating mores; it loses some of its particularity when Lolita is first seen dancing to Britney's 'Hit Me Baby One More Time'.

Time Out, January 29, 2003, Robert Shore

In Dublin, Clara Simpson won supporting actress as the sex-starved Mrs. Haze in the Corn Exchange/Peacock co-production of Lolita, adapted from Nabokov's screenplay and performed in commedia dell'arte style.

The terra cognita of Nabokov's Lolita provides Corn Exchange with the ideal vehicle for its latest stage venture. The precocious nymphette Dolores (Ruth Negga, above right, with Clara Simpson and Andrew Bennett) arouses more than just idle curiosity in the respectable but flawed Humbert Humbert (Bennett) and so unfolds the trail of destruction that accompanies his obsession. The commedia dell'arte style of this production plays more on the surface than on the darker, paedophilic depths of the situation. Performed in tandem with a predominantly percussive score, the cast displays excellent timing and dramatic execution, though Bennett's interpretation of the monster Humbert is unsatisfying, elucidating neither the character's psyche nor his struggle. Nonetheless, Kris Stone's superb set design enhances an engaging theatrical experience.

Sunday Times (London) September 8, 2002, Karina Buckley

Joseph Reichelhaus, the artistic director of the Modern Play School Theater in Moscow discusses the Francois Rocher (artistic director of the Geneva Carouge Theater) staging of An Event by Vladimir Nabokov.

What prompted your choice of Francois Rocher's staging of An Event for this year's first premiere?

I learned about Francois Rocher from two fantastic scenery designers, Maria Rybakova and Victoria Sevryukova, my friends of many years' standing. He was looking for a theater where he could stage An Event and negotiated the matter with the Mayakovsky Theater, the Moscow Arts Theater, the Culture Ministry, and various other officials. Francois offered very interesting material, and to me he sounded convincing. So I thought, why not? The theater has to spring a surprise on its audiences every season, doesn't it? Now, Francois has a most unorthodox view of Nabokov's play, and he knew precisely how he was going to stage it. This is very important. I have already seen the rough run-through of An Event. Francois' staging abounds in purely European symbolism, but what he has done is fascinating to watch.

Moscow News (Russia) August 28, 2002

Film

Nabokov’s influence was especially notable in the film Confessions of Dangerous Mind about Chuck Barris, television producer for The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game and The Gong Show. Gene Seymour of Newsday had this insight into the inclusion of the Nabokov theme in the movie.

If it's true, you wonder, why Chuck Barris? Well, you see, that's where the blithe and inspired Nabokovian conceit comes in. Barris, clearly, had newsstands of psychological "issues" going back to a sexually precocious childhood and a heedless yearning for risks of all kinds.

Rather than depicting such matters in a starkly dualistic framework such as the one that eventually emerged in last year's "A Beautiful Mind," Clooney and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (guess he didn't have trouble with this "Adaptation") allow the movie to get enraptured with a shadow world's sordid details, making them a seamless whole with Barris' crises of conscience over his life's work and his often desultory treatment of Penny. Somehow Clooney evokes the weirdness of real life and the reality in dreams with a seamless elegance and gimlet eye that the late Nabokov would have recognized--and appreciated.

True or Not, It's a Wonderful Life, Newsday (New York), December 31, 2002, Gene Seymour

David Ansen of Newsweek detected an echo of Charlotte Haze in the film About Schmidt starring Kathy Bates and Jack Nicholson.

Davis is pitch-perfect as [Warren Schmidt]'s resentful daughter, a tiny, tightly wound bundle of rage. [Dermot Mulroney] is hilarious without lapsing into caricature as her cloddish fiance. "About Schmidt" reaches its comic peak when Schmidt arrives in Denver, where [Randall Hertzel]'s divorced mother, Roberta (Kathy Bates), a libidinous bohemian, wants to lure the widower into her hot tub. (She's the run-to-seed descendant of Nabokov's Charlotte Haze.)

Newsweek, Dec 16, 2002, David Ansen

Obituary

JAMES Ferman, the former chief film censor who was often in conflict with "decency" campaigners, has died at the age of 72, his wife said yesterday.

As director of the British Board of Film Classification from 1974-98 Mr Ferman passed films such as Martin Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ, the "sex-and-wrecks" film Crash and a film version of Nabokov's Lolita.

Art

A review of an art show held in New York's East End in April of 2002 notes the inclusion of a profile of Nabokov amongst advertisments of the era.

Gareth Jones' installation comes at a time when big brand names have infiltrated every area of public life. His clever intervention explores, with style, the journey of a commodity.

While advertisers increasingly gain control over the editorial pages of magazines, earlier ads offer images of luxury that sit uncomfortably with worthy pieces such as an article about the French Revolution or a profile of the novelist Vladimir Nabokov. Prior to the mid-'80s, when the concept of branding was born, these early experiments in lifestyle marketing capture a formative moment in the development of commodity fetishism.

Time Out, April 17, 2002, Jane Tynan

Law

NEW BILL WILL STOP CHILDREN PLAYING OUTSIDE WITH FRIENDS wrote David Wilson, Professor of Criminal Justice at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London.

Last week I debated the merits or otherwise of Nabokov's Lolita at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. And while many will find it difficult to get past the fact that the story concerns a repugnant, middleaged man fantasising about a 12-year-old girl, for me there can be no doubt that this is an extraordinary piece of great writing.

And while I have spent a great deal of my life fighting against adults who want to use and abuse children, the current problems facing young people do not come from Humbert Humbert, the main protagonist in Lolita, but in government legislation.

Birmingham Post, April 8, 2003, Pg. 11, DAVID WILSON

Literature

Nabokov as always, influences writers and their works. Michael Chabon, author of the Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is quoted about Nabokov in a review of the book.

"Nabokov's English combines aching lyricism with dispassionate precision in a way that seems to render every human emotion in all its intensity but never with an ounce of schmaltz or soggy language,"

Times Media Limited Financial Mail (South Africa) August 2, 2002, quoting Chabon at at the Nabokov Museum in St Petersburg, 2001

Chabon (as well as several other authors) was asked about his favorite book ending by The New York Times.

It depends how you want to be left feeling. There are certain paragraphs that leave you feeling totally devastated -- like ''One Hundred Years of Solitude'' (''. . . because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity upon the earth.'') You close the book and just say ''Wow!'' The end of ''Lolita'' is similar in its effect, you have the same feeling of devastation. Then there's another kind of ending that I love, which leaves you feeling giddy and buoyed up because it's just so right, like the final piece has just snapped into place. The last paragraph of Nabokov's ''Ada'' is a perfect example. It carries forth all the themes of the book in this parody of dustjacket writing, (''. . . butterflies and butterfly orchids in the margin of a romance . . . '').

Skipping to the Last Page, New York Times, July 16, 2002

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi and The Sewing Circles of Herat by Christina Lamb document the importance of Lolita and other works by Nabokov to womens' resistance to totalitarian regimes in Iran and Afghanistan. Several reviews of Reading Lolita in Tehran have been posted on NABOKV-L. Here is an excerpt from a review of The Sewing Circles of Herat.

The award-winning foreign correspondent Christina Lamb has written an inspiring and moving account of Afghanistan's plight. The Sewing Circles of Herat is her personal memoir but it is also a record of resistance. Despite the tyranny of the Taliban, there were many acts of courage: women taught girls in secret; librarians hid handfuls of books when the 25,000 volumes on the shelves were being burned; young men gathered intelligence to pass to the Americans

In the ancient Persian city of Herat, where the Taliban was detested, on any day 18 bodies might be swinging from lampposts. Yet poets still wrote scurrilous, defiant verses about the occupiers. A sewing class was a front for women's literature classes. Here a professor taught James Joyce and Nabokov to girls whose pens and notebooks were hidden beneath their needlework. He told Lamb: "If there wasn't so much illiteracy and lack of culture in Afghanistan then terrorism would never have found its cradle here." The Independent Pg. 16, Sergei Grits

Rotten Rejections, edited by Andre Bernard and published by Robson Books, records publishers' rejections of famous books.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955) "It is overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian. To the public, it will be revolting. It will not sell, and will do immeasurable harm to a growing reputation... I am most disturbed at the thought that the writer has asked that this be published. I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years." Mirror December 30, 2002, Andrea Henry

The founding editor of the dying Oxford, Mississippi quarterly The Oxford American, Mark Smirnoff, was profiled in the New York Times.

To be sure, Mr. Smirnoff is not your average Mississippian, even for a transplant, and he sticks out even in a place where fiction reading is a close second to football in the firmament of pastimes. He prefers Nabokov to Faulkner and dotes on Stanley Kubrick's film version of ''Lolita.'' To Mr. Smirnoff, The Oxford American is his young love, and it pains him to wrestle with the idea that it will die at the age of 10.
Marc Smirnoff, editor of The Oxford American, in Oxford, Miss. He's not from around there, his detractors point out. But that has not stopped him from being an insistent voice of the literary South. Not yet. New York Times, May 14, 2002, David M. Halbfinger

Leopards in the Temple; The Transformation of American Fiction 1945-1970 by Morris Dickstein. Harvard UP. 242 pp. Paperback, $15.95

The 1950s, John Updike argued in a recent essay in Newsweek, "got a bad rap from their successor decade, as conformist, politically apathetic, sexually timid." Morris Dickstein's bracing new book, Leopards in the Temple, should go a long way toward changing all that. In his convincing analysis, the '50s seem less like the dialectical opposite of the revolutionary '60s and more like the fertile ground from which the '60s grew.

For instance, Dickstein makes much of Norman Mailer's turn, after The Naked and the Dead, from social realist to flamboyant autobiographical journalist. In effect, he interprets this turn as an emblem for the entire period. Hence the Mailer of Advertisements for Myself and The Armies of the Night is of a piece with Ellison's nameless autobiographical hero in Invisible Man, Bellow's numerous fictional alter-egos (Mr. Sammler, Moses Herzog), and ultimately Roth's scabrous Alexander Portnoy. Nevertheless, the book's most impressive section is an elegant work of theme-and-variations entitled "On and Off the Road: The Outsider as Young Rebel." In this beautifully constructed essay, Dickstein considers a half-dozen or so writers all linked by the metaphor of "the road." He begins with Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, then moves to Kerouac's On the Road and its bourgeois brother, Updike's Rabbit, Run, which in turn leads him to consider Updike's fussy forebear, Vladimir Nabokov, whose Great American Road Novel, Lolita, gets contrasted with John Barth's self-reflexive existential novel... Spontaneous Generation, The Washington Post, Jul 28, 2002, Marshall Boswell

Humor

Letter to the Editor:

In support of Henry Miller (Not so easy, Letters, March 25) concerning humanities subjects being "much more open to interpretation", I was studying for the European module of a history BA, and could not seem to write essays to satisfy the (brilliant) lecturer.

Then one day, one was returned with, in bright red ink in the margin, the comment: "THIS IS HISTORY!!!" Which left me no wiser, since "THIS", underlined two or three times, was a quotation I had taken from a Nabokov novel (and acknowledged as such) about a drop of water finding its way down, and off, a leaf.

I abandoned the course and later gained an honours degree in modern languages.

Frederick Robinson, Bexhill-on-Sea
The Guardian (London), April 1, 2003, Guardian Education Pages, Pg. 8

Even the TV crowd likes Nabokov.

When I was at university, the spring midterm break was formally known as Reading Week. In theory, you used this time to catch up on your reading. Informally Reading Week was known as Breeding Week, Sleeping Week, and Skiing Week. Very little got read.

Still, one had one's pretensions--I did, anyway--and every spring I began Reading Week with the intention of reading one book that wasn't assigned or required. For four years, this book was Vladmir Nabokov's Lolita--the infamous, and infamously banned, novel about Humbert Humbert who has a passionate and illegal love affair with his 12-year-old stepdaughter. I never made it past page 40, and I still haven't, though I try incessantly.

I would have the damn book in my hands, open, and then the next thing I knew I was doing something else. The first time it was a girl, and my desire to take her to a Bond movie. I remember thinking: right, Lolita, tonight, 100 pages. The next thing I knew I was whistling the crashing crescendo of the theme song to Live and Let Die.

The next year I went skiing.

The seventh, eighth, and ninth times I set out to read Lolita, long after I graduated, I simply got distracted by other, less demanding books.

Now this puling confession is likely to cause one of two reactions: either 1) "Lolita? You couldn't even bring yourself to read one of the most salacious sex books ever written?"; or 2) "Lolita? Why on Earth would you ever feel guilty about not reading postmodern claptrap like that?"

The answer to both is the same: because Lolita is a great book. I can say this because people I know and respect say it's a fantastic book. Lolita is one of the greatest works of modernist fiction ever written. Until Lolita came along--this is my theory, anyway, one I believe in passionately despite not having read the damn book--common readers (as opposed to intellectuals) didn't take modernism all that seriously.

After Lolita they had no choice.

Of course, I don't know any of that for sure: it's just what I've picked up trying to read Lolita, reading about Lolita, or listening to Lolita on tape.

The only thing I won't do is watch the movie versions: they ignore Humbert Humbert's inner life in favour of the nymphettishness of the girl, which is

really not the point of the story. But then, books have always been better at revealing the inner workings of the mind, and movies have always been more efficient about getting us hot under the collar, and elsewhere.

Please do not misunderstand me. I'm not bragging. I am in no way proud of my lack of resolve, my failure of nerve and conscience on the matter of Lolita, even though I realize it's fashionable these days to pooh-pooh reading. I know all those arguments: that it's life and action, not books, that teach us best; that reading is escapism; that television and movies are where most people get their culture and their sense of connection now.

And anyway, there's no time to read these days. Yet I know that if I wanted to read more, I could find the time. I could turn off the cell, and the computer, and the TV.

But reading requires discipline and patience. You can't just click a book on, and let it wash you away from yourself. You have to wade in, fight the current, and bide your time until--if it happens at all--you are rewarded for your perseverance by the exquisite, deeply personal, but most of all private pleasure of dissolving your mind in the mind-expanding drug of great fiction.

While reading is more private, it is also lonelier; when you turn the pages, you're reminded of time passing; which in turns makes you realize how fast your life is getting shorter. And so Lolita stays on the shelf, where she doesn't belong.

Ottawa Citizen, March 9, 2003 SECTION: Pg. C16, Ian Brown
Originally published:TVOntario magazine

Special Thanks

This selection comes with a special thanks to the NABOKV-L subscriber who sent it to me. It turns out we attended the same high school at the same time and remembered each other's shadows acoss the distance. A later version of this high school was portrayed by Dave Eggers in his novel, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Manhattan Humberts, Watch It!

On a recent Friday evening at Tao, the cavernous Pan-Asian restaurant on 58th Street, Alexis (not her real name) met eight men before she got one

The men flirted with Alexis, and Alexis flirted back. The guys were cocky; the lady was confident. The fellows talked about their jobs and cars; Alexis told her smart little adult stories, too.

It all seemed innocent: a bunch of ambitious, attractive New Yorkers having fun. Nobody had to know Alexis’ little secret:

She’s 16.

Listen up, fellows: Rich, bored teenage girls in New York City are on the prowl for twentysomething (and in some cases, thirtysomething) men. And this time, they’re not just arming themselves with fake ID’s. Young women barely past puberty—and before, ahem, the age of consent—are sashaying onto the Internet, researching adult life, and constructing elaborate alter egos designed to dupe men all too willing to believe their lies.......

Alexis was talking about books, and she went to her shelf and pulled down her favorite.

"I’ve read it so many times I can practically recite each line," Alexis declared.

What book was it? "Lolita," she said, not missing a beat.

Manhattan Humberts, Watch It! Mallory Stuchin, NY Observer, July 28 '02

[ previous | index | next ]


Zembla depends on frames for navigation. If you have been referred to this page without the surrounding frame, click here.

THE LOLITA EFFECT | VN COLLATIONS | BUTTERFLIES AFTER VN | EVENTS | SEE ALSO CONTACT THE EDITOR