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Nabokov Studies, 2 (1995), 62-86. BRIAN BOYD (Auckland, N.Z.) "EVEN HOMAIS NODS": NABOKOV'S FALLIBILM, OR, HOW TO REVISE LOLITA ... the New Yorker's wonderful research department several times saved Mr. Nabokov—who seems to combine a good deal of absentmindedness with his pedantism—from various blunders regarding names, numbers, book titles and the like.1 In Pnin Nabokov glances at one of the most famous mistakes in literature , when night after night Victor tries to induce sleep by sinking into fantasies of himself as a king about to flee, pacing, as he awaits rescue, a strand on the Bohemian Sea. Ben Jonson was the first to mock Shakespeare for having a ship wrecked on the coast of Bohemia in The Winter 's Tale; Samuel Johnson assumes Shakespeare is "little careful of geography "; Tristram Shandy turns the point to its own advantage.2 But Coleridge more than once talked of having often dismissed as a fault in Shakespeare what he later saw as a "beauty." Just as Victor knew what he was doing in choosing this impossible sea-coast—and this is probably Nabokov's particular point—so did Shakespeare in stressing the coast of Bohemia, since it would be hard to find a more landlocked region in Europe.3 Shakespeare rewrote geography in order to emphasize the fantastic nature of his plot—as he did also in choosing The Winter's Tale for a title, and in all the expressions of incredulity at the play's close—just as for instance he chose to violate history for other ends by fusing classical Rome and Renaissance Italy in Cymbeline. 1. From Nabokov's pseudo-review of Conclusive Evidence (LCNA, Box 5), intended at the time of writing to form a sixteenth chapter in the book version, but then omitted. 2. "'...and there happening through the whole kingdom of Bohemia, to be no sea-port town whatever" "'How the deuce could there-Trim?' cried my uncle Toby; 'for Bohemia being totally inland, it could have happened no otherwise' "-It might,' said Trim, 'if it had pleased God.'" (bk. VIII, ch. 19) 3. There were a couple of occasions when Bohemia had a brief toe-hold on the Adriatic , in the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries, and Shakespeare's source, Robert Greene's Pandosto, did once mention the coast of Bohemia. But Greene does not make it a turning point of the plot, as Johnson observes Shakespeare has made it. "Even Homais Nods": Nabokov's Fallibility, Or, How to Revise Lolita 63 In the twentieth century the professionalization of criticism and the ever-increasing prestige of Shakespeare have led critic after critic to resurrect as virtues in this or that play what had once seemed defects. This has yielded many valuable insights, but it has also led to a working principle that Shakespeare could not make a mistake. This of course, in the schizoid world of modern criticism, where some blithely combine Freud and Marx, is not incompatible with others insisting that Shakespeare always already contradicts himself. But the widespread assumption of Shakespeare's infallibility has often led to absurd consequences.4 In Nabokov's case, too, both the professionalization of criticism and the prestige of the author have encouraged critics to adopt as an article of faith that he also soars above error. He does of course let pass far fewer mistakes than Shakespeare. Where Shakespeare paid little if any attention to publishing works other than his poems, Nabokov kept meticulous control over his texts, in all the languages he knew. Aware that he was writing for an audience that would see a play only once, Shakespeare could distort the time-scale of his stories to combine a sense of rapid pace and gradual development, since the dual calendar would be noticed only by a careful rereader. But that careful rereader was precisely Nabokov's ideal audience. Besides, Nabokov was of a notoriously precise, even pedantic temperament , hard on anyone else's mistakes, exigent about particulars, insistent on an exactitude of detail and a delicacy of interconnection that make it natural to expect him to ensure the accuracy of all his work. Nearly always, the expectation is justified. Line 3...


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