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Vladimir Nabokov - Speak, Memory (Discussion)

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Also on p. 29 toward the bottom Nabokov speaks of the joy with which the village greeted his father when he returned home from his 3 month incarceration. I found a picture of the bluebottles he speaks of that were part of the decorations that lined the path from the railway station to home.

4bqb29l.jpg

They were his father's favorite flowers.

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And the "Confessions of a synesthete" that are so beautifully described. What a wonderful gift! Obviously it runs in the family as his mother and son at least have it, plus Vera his wife does too.

 

You know dogmatix, after this you must read Vera by Stacy Schiff, it is Vera's bio, but Vladimir is always with her, so it's the same difference, but a different perspective. Plus of course, it continues to his death and afterward as Vera outlived him by 15 years.

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One passage that I enjoyed is his description of Mademoiselle's arrival. He's speaking of creating a memory from a non-experience. To do this he describes himself as an invisible spy present at her arrival, since in actuality he was not there at the station nor in the carriage. It's a beautiful descriptive passage and without his admission of creative license it is indistinguishable from his "true" memory

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You know dogmatix, after this you must read Vera by Stacy Schiff, it is Vera's bio, but Vladimir is always with her, so it's the same difference, but a different perspective. Plus of course, it continues to his death and afterward as Vera outlived him by 15 years.

Perhaps I will;) but right now I'm getting excited about Russian history so I'll be reading Ten Days..... and re-reading Nicholas and Alexandria.

 

Then there's the BOTM, Frankenstein and I promised Sophia I'd read Seeing and then there's......... well you get the idea:lol:

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I can't place where it is right now, but there is a similar scene with his mother when they are in St. Petersburg, and she is shopping for something for him.

Oh! I just found it...p.37, when he was ill, he pictured her buying a pencil, but in his mind it was an ordinary pencil, when it was the four foot pencil in the window of Treumann's.

Now that was a neat trick.....:D

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Perhaps I will;) but right now I'm getting excited about Russian history so I'll be reading Ten Days..... and re-reading Nicholas and Alexandria.

 

Then there's the BOTM, Frankenstein and I promised Sophia I'd read Seeing and then there's......... well you get the idea:lol:

 

We don't speak of TBR lists around here.....it is too embarrasing. :D :D

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In fact I must admit to 19 or 20 books sitting right here to my left that are all started........maybe 21(ish)

 

Just put it on your list. You won't be sorry.

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I can't place where it is right now, but there is a similar scene with his mother when they are in St. Petersburg, and she is shopping for something for him.

Oh! I just found it...p.37, when he was ill, he pictured her buying a pencil, but in his mind it was an ordinary pencil, when it was the four foot pencil in the window of Treumann's.

Now that was a neat trick.....:D

 

Loved that. Particularly liked that he felt the need to drill into the pencil to see if the lead went all the way. I soooo would have done that!

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Loved that. Particularly liked that he felt the need to drill into the pencil to see if the lead went all the way. I soooo would have done that!

LOL Shows the exploring spirit! Yes!

I agree, I'd have to know!

 

Just Nabokov's description of summer dusk! or Summer soomerki.

There is no skimming or skating through a Nabokov...each word must be savored.

Other authors may be "twisty" or layered to an extent, but the painterly manner of VN's writing is a true feast.

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Painterly - what a great word to describe his writing.

Reminds me of Charles Russell...........put er down Charlie before she's gone.

 

the great western painter.

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Painterly - what a great word to describe his writing.

I wish I could take credit for it, but I can't, but I also can't remember where I read it. I have er, several :D , yeah, lets say several research tools for Nabokov. It just struck me as the most apt description of his writing.

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Nabokov's love of nature comes through in all of his books, but he allows himself full rein in Speak, Memory, showing even more his own vunerability. His mother taught him the value of remembering his surroundings....

...
To love with all one's soul and leave the rest to fate, was the simple rule she heeded. "Vot zapomni [now remember]" , she would say in conspiratorial tones as she drew my attention to this or that loved thing in Vyra--a lark ascending the curds-and-whey sky of a dull spring day, heat lightning taking pictures of a distant line of trees in the night, the palette of maple leaves on brown sand, a small bird's cuneate footprints on new snow. As if feeling that in a few years the tangible part of her world would perish, she cultivated an extraordinary consciousness of the various time marks distributed throughout our country place. She cherished her own past with the same retrospective fevor that I now do her image and my past. Thus, in a way, I inherited an exquisite simulacrum--the beauty of intangible property, unreal estate--and this proved a splendid training for the endurance of later losses.[/QUOTE]

(underlining mine)

What a wonderful legacy his mother made for him. Unreal estate. Marvelous.

 

She had to sense what was coming, the terrible wrench that would take place, so she gave her son the things that really mattered. Memories. You know a friend of our family was a concentration camp survivor, and he said that the one thing the guards could not take from the prisoners was their thoughts. And memories fit right into that scheme of things.

 

Anyhow I started this post with the intention of talking about nature, and VN's love of same. :D In all of his books he describes the flowering shrubs and trees and in general the natural surroundings in his stories so beautifully that most of the time I am impelled to find a picture of whatever he is talking about.

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His childhood is a precious jewel, isn't it?

 

I'd like to talk a little bit about Mademoiselle and Switzerland. I just finished up chapter five (1st read - I'll reread tonight). Am I reading his distaste for Switzerland correctly? Am I missing something here?

 

Oh by the way I love how he finishes up the chapter with a comment on memories and how age and history can completely remodel them:

 

"Huddled together in a constant seething of competitive reminiscences, they formed a small island in an environment that had grown alien to them....One is always at home in one's past, which partly explains those pathetic ladie's posthumous love for a remote and, to be perfectly frank, rather appalling country, which they never had really known and in which none of them had been very content.

 

 

Talking nature Pontalba; how about the description o the swan near the end of the chapter? So poignant.

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His childhood is a precious jewel, isn't it?

 

I'd like to talk a little bit about Mademoiselle and Switzerland. I just finished up chapter five (1st read - I'll reread tonight). Am I reading his distaste for Switzerland correctly? Am I missing something here?

Why do you say he dislikes Switzerland? I must have missed something along the line. You know he lived the last 16 (ish) years of his life in Switzerland.

I thought he was unhappy about the way Mademoiselle and the other governesses ended up beautifying or idealizing a past that for most of them (Mademoiselle at least) was anything but idealistic. Her unfortunate partial deafness and her behaviour at the dinner table and what almost seemed like a persecution complex...especially with Lenski made her miserable.

She seemed to remember things far differently than VN did. The bit about her remembering his little confidences was more than likely wishful thinking, as he in the aside says "Never!". And frankly I cannot imagine that she was correct in that. Even as a child that was not in his nature.

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he and his brother remind me a little of my brother and myself when we were kids. Unwrapping the Christmas presents and looking and then re-wrapping them.......unsuccessfully. My brother and I found where our Christmas toys were hid and had the toys worn out before Christmas and then re-wrapped them....unsuccessfully. :D

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Very belatedly, I offer a post that goes way back to the very beginning of Speak Memory. I hope it is only a pebble in the roadway of this glorious discussion, which is showing me so much of the book through your all's eyes, and that the pebble is easily circumvented or rode over to get on with the discussion.

 

I've been bogged down in the the other world from this forum (namely the Real World) and haven't made it past the end of Chapter 1. However, the upside is that I have been staring hard at the Chapter and rereading, over and over, VN's opening remarks about his interest in time, before and after our lives. At first they seem like a loose collection of assorted thoughts.

 

The memorable opening metaphor is of course:

1. "The cradle rocks above an abyss and . . . our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness;"

2. Followed by VN's observation that he rebels against that state of affairs and, "short of suicide" [/gasp/, oh no!], has sought diligently and unsuccessfully to find an exit;

3. Which he then follows with his memory of his first realization of time when walking along between his parents.

 

It occurs to me that if one unrolls those memories backward, and replays them in chronological order, one has

A. His first memory of his realization of time when out walking with his parents;

B. His strenuous subsequent attempts throughout his entire life to solve the puzzle and find an answer;

C. And finally, his summary of his mature thoughts in the striking metaphor that opens the book.

 

So, one might see that opening metaphor as a brilliant summary of his thoughts, rather than merely an introduction to his book! But, even more fascinating to me, is that we may have here, before our very eyes, one of the few detailed glimpses into VN's actual thought processes as he assembles various events and thoughts from his life, and collects them finally into a sublimely brilliant passage such as we have seen flow from his pen so many times.

"The cradle rocks above an abyss and our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness."

Bravo! Bravo! Author! Author!

A lifetime of events and mature reflection is summarized in that brilliant passage.

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So, one might see that opening metaphor as a brilliant summary of his thoughts, rather than merely an introduction to his book! But, even more fascinating to me, is that we may have here, before our very eyes, one of the few detailed glimpses into VN's actual thought processes as he assembles various events and thoughts from his life, and collects them finally into a sublimely brilliant passage such as we have seen flow from his pen so many times.

 

Bravo! Bravo! Author! Author!

A lifetime of events and mature reflection is summarized in that brilliant passage.

Yes! He did tend to play it close to the vest and not elaborate on his own....beliefs. Just as in the way he is so open about his life, but otoh closed-mouthed as far as the really private moments go. But this coded opening into his true thoughts is a summary. I just didn't think of it in that way before.

And yes, the bit about walking between his parents, and realizing that time was actually a living thing so to speak was telling.

 

It's funny but children take their surroundings so for granted. But I remember my father building onto our house when I was 5 or 6 and how shocked, but interested I was in the walls actually being something other than solid blanks. They had more wood, wires and all sorts of interesting components hidden. A bit like life. :D

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It's funny but children take their surroundings so for granted. But I remember my father building onto our house when I was 5 or 6 and how shocked, but interested I was in the walls actually being something other than solid blanks. They had more wood, wires and all sorts of interesting components hidden. A bit like life. :D

Pontalba,

I do think children start out thinking that the world they know is the way the world is, and always has been. I remember having a similar realization to your own, that the world can change and that it must not have always been the way I thought it to be. I forget the occasion (sorry VN, /groan/) but I do remember having that realization. :D It's fascinating that VN also remembered such an event and that he chose to describe it so vividly. And that he remembered it started such a chain of speculation in his life. Interesting also that he chose so explicitly to mine his memory so deeply for its recollections. All fascinating insights into his creative process. (Which sparks the thought for another post, actually, in a bit).

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Pontalba,

I do think children start out thinking that the world they know is the way the world is, and always has been.

 

And if their parents are the insular sort, the child never realizes the differences, and all sorts of bigotry stems from that tunnel vision generation after generation. Nabokov was as far as I can tell an extremely....how to put it...broad minded doesn't exactly fit, but in the same ballpark. He was not prejudiced against anything but prejudice itself, or tyranny of any sort.

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Nabokov was as far as I can tell an extremely....how to put it...broad minded doesn't exactly fit, but in the same ballpark. He was not prejudiced against anything but prejudice itself, or tyranny of any sort.

Pontalba,

He was definitely a very unusual man for his aristocratic background. (And in that way, he took after his father). I think I remember a very telling remark from the famous ancestry Chapter 3, from my first read of Speak Memory some time ago. I seem to remember one of his aunts(?) telling him that if his democratic Kadet ideas for government succeeded, then the end result would work against his personal benefit, meaning against his wealthy position in society.

As it turns out, that came to pass in its own way, even if it was the Bolshevik Revolution and not the Kadet government that brought about his loss and drove him from Russia.

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Pontalba,

He was definitely a very unusual man for his aristocratic background. (And in that way, he took after his father). I think I remember a very telling remark from the famous ancestry Chapter 3, from my first read of Speak Memory some time ago. I seem to remember one of his aunts(?) telling him that if his democratic Kadet ideas for government succeeded, then the end result would work against his personal benefit, meaning against his wealthy position in society.

As it turns out, that came to pass in its own way, even if it was the Bolshevik Revolution and not the Kadet government that brought about his loss and drove him from Russia.

I remember something along those lines, but can't put my eyes on it yet. But a couple of things stand out in that chapter that bring out VN's personality perfectly. One being the bit on p.73 regarding nostalgia...

My old (since 1917) quarrel with the Soviet dictatorship is wholly unrelated to any question of property. My contempt for the

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