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Nabokov Studies 3 (1996) OLGA SKONECHNAIA (Moscow) "People of the Moonlight": Silver Age Parodies in Nabokov's The Eye and The Gift1 Homosexuals, or "people of the moonlight," as philosopher Vasilii Rozanov called them, are not infrequent in Nabokov's Russian work and later migrate into his English writings. Even there the homosexual theme remains shadowy and comes to the fore only in Pale Fire where Kinbote's uranic inclinations influence the creation of his fantastic world. In the Russian prose, homosexuality is much less explicit than in the English texts—existing mainly in muted allusion, conjecture, and obscure innuendo. Our focus here is primarily on the connections between Nabokov's "moonlit" protagonists and the Silver Age. Same-sex love, although embryonic and fleeting in Nabokov, was an important theme for writers of the Russian Symbolist tradition. Some Nabokov protagonists of dubious sexuality, The Gift's Yasha Chernyshevski, for example, find their origins in the literary heritage of Russian Decadence via hidden allusions to the Symbolist mystics Zinaida Gippius , Dmitri Merezhkovskii, et al. Others are parodies of well-known literary characters such as Smurov of Nabokov's Eye, who reflects Vanya Smurov, the homosexual protagonist of Mikhail Kuzmin's 1906 novella Wings. Still others are embodiments of ideas from the turn-of-the-century, such as philosopher-critic Vasilii Rozanov's sexually ambiguous portrayal of the utilitarian radical critic Nikolai Chernyshevski which influenced Nabokov's depiction of the martyred Chernyshevski in The Gift. Nabokov's allusions to homosexuality are also a response to Symbolist culture as a whole, echoes of motifs from the philosopher Solo vie ν, the poet Aleksandr Blok, and others. Equally so are Nabokov's allusions to the widespread Symbolist ideals of The Eternal Feminine and unbounded love as a means of surmounting death. Garish ideas and striking themes always drew Nabokov's attention. Although wincing at fashionable proposals and the tasteless vanity of 1. This essay was revised by D. Barton Johnson. 34 Nabokov Studies "timely" topics, the writer was nonetheless quick to respond to the loud and at times scandalous voice of the times. In his examination of the Silver Age's mystic eroticism, Nabokov could not have ignored the aloof figure of Rozanov nor those of Vladimir Soloviev, Aleksandr Blok, and Mikhail Kuzmin . In a lecture on Dostoevsky, Nabokov was later to remark that Rozanov was "an extraordinary writer combining moments of exceptional genius with manifestations of astounding naïveté" (Lectures 101). As one of the most important philosophers of the fin-de-siècle Russian Renaissance, Rozanov discussed the "instability" of sexual orientation and linked the history of Christian culture to the homosexual or "moonlit" essence of its creators. Had Nabokov not been provoked by Merezhkovskii's pontifications on "the moon of Sodom,"2 he would have scarcely bothered to enter into the Russian émigré community's lively discussion of Andre Gide's "adolescents merveilleux" or "moonlit Proustian heroes."3 Although Nabokov dismissed "Fashion, modish cliché, scandals (sodomy),* spiritual lamentations" with an off-hand "who cares?" (Dolinin and Timenchik 392), "sodoms" were not lacking in his own works. Although peripheral (the chance mask of a protagonist, an unrealized plot line, and so on), these motifs are often related to Nabokov's central theme of pseudodemiurgy or anti-creativity. They suggest the isolation (zakruglennosf) of a single gender, one of the metaphors for a gnoseological prison; Nabokov's "sexual lefty," refined and depraved, is enclosed in the immutable world of the self. Attempting to overcome the limitedness of human nature, he projects his philosophical and cultural stereotypes, his mythological and metaphysical schemata onto reality.5 For 2. In reference to a journal excerpt entitled "Evropa—Sodom" drawn from Merezhkovskii Atlantida—Evropa, Nabokov wrote: "A whole article on today's Sodom and the end of the world by a writer far gone in dubious mysticism recently appeared the second issue of the Paris journal Chisla" (RuV [Berlin], 28 Jan. 1931. Cited from Dolinin and Timenchik 191 and 523.) 3. In Merezhkovskii's Paris literary salon, "Hearing someone's phrase about Christ, Andrei Belyi, or Proust's moonlit heroes, he [Merezhkovskii] would hurl himself on it like a bird of prey on offal" (Ianovskii 127). 4. "Sodom...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9965
Print ISSN
1080-1219
Pages
pp. 33-52
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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