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Nabokov Studies, 1 (1994), 115-29. CHARLES NICOL (Terre Haute, IN, USA) NECESSARY INSTRUCTION OR FATAL FATUITY: NABOKOV'S INTRODUCTIONS AND BEND SINISTER' A Paradigm for Nabokov's Introductions With the exception of the re-written Laughter in the Dark, Nabokov wrote introductions to the English versions of all of his Russian novels (including the novella The Eye), and to the translation of the play The Waltz Invention. Among novels written in English, only two include commentary: Lolita has an Afterword (dated November 12, 1956, this is Nabokov's first attempt to explain one of his fictions to its readers), while Bend Sinister has an extraordinary, and extraordinarily long. Introduction, the subject of later sections of this essay. To demonstrate the uniqueness of the Bend Sinister introduction, we need to establish a basis of comparison with these others. I propose the following paradigm, which may prove useful: I. Personal and bibliographic (two-three paragraphs): A. Personal situation during the novel's composition B. Bibliographic information on its initial and subsequent publication C. Explanation of the title D. Statement concerning the translation, if applicable II. Miscellaneous comments prompted by this particular novel (one paragraph) III. Polemic statements (one paragraph): A. Rejection of comparisons and influences B. Denial of moral purpose and social commentary C. Rejection of "general ideas" and trashy authors D. Onesentence rejection of Freudian content IV. Elliptical commentary on the plot (one paragraph) 1. A shorter version of this essay was delivered under a similar title at the AATSEEL convention, December 1987. 116 Nabokov Studies Nabokov's first introduction to an English translation was to Invitation to a Beheading (June 25, 1959—dates given in this article are to writing rather than publication dates), only five paragraphs long. Brevity is achieved partially because unit IV, plot discussion, is virtually eliminated. Because Invitation and Bend Sinister have been considered sister works by Nabokov (Invitation 6)2 and others, it should be noted that his polemic section here is devoted primarily to rejecting comparisons with other authors, especially "H. C. Orwell" and the gifted Kafka; the same point is made again in the Bend Sinister introduction. Nabokov also denies that the events of his times had any influence on the book: I composed the Russian original exactly a quarter of a century ago in Berlin, some fifteen years after escaping from the Bolshevist regime, and just before the Nazi regime reached its full volume of welcome. The question whether or not my seeing both in terms of one dull beastly farce had any effect on this book, should concern the good reader as little as it does me. (5) Next came the rrrtroduction to The Gift (March 28", 1962), only six paragraphs long. Unit I consists of the first two paragraphs and the final one (on the translation); it contains no explanation of the title. Il (miscellaneous) consists of a reminiscence of the vanished worid of the emigration, one paragraph. IV (elliptic plot summary) also consists of a single paragraph; here as elsewhere, Nabokov's treats "plot" as being synonymous with "themes" and uses the term in unusual ways: "the plot of chapter 1 centers in Fyodor's poems." Entirely missing is III, the polemic section: an explanation that Fyodor is not Nabokov is, atypically, not coupled with a complaint against reviewers and readers who try to make such biographical connections—and of course, Nabokov cannot refuse comparisons and deny influences (III.A) when the novel intentionally invokes nineteenth-century Russian authors. The polemics are replaced by an interesting apology for not "[ruthlessly] recreating Berlin and its colony of expatriates": 2. All parenthetical page references to Nabokov's works in this article are to the US. cloth editions, which it seemed unnecessary to list individually. The Bend Sinister references are to the more recent cloth edition (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1973), which includes the Introduction that originally appeared in Time's subscription paperback. Necessary Instruction or Fatal Fatuity 117 Here and there history shows through artistry. Fyodor's attitude toward Germany reflects too typically perhaps the crude and irrational contempt that Russian émigrés had for the "natives" (in Berlin, Paris or Prague). My young man is moreover influenced by the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9965
Print ISSN
1080-1219
Pages
pp. 115-129
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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