Volume 1: The Shape of Nabokov's World
Lecturer in Russian
School of Slavonic and East European Studies
University College London
Professor of Russian
School of Slavonic and East European Studies
University College London
Professor of Russian
Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut
in association with
School of Slavonic and East
Dolorous Haze, Hazel Shade: Nabokov and the Spirits
'He is the bard of immortality'.
Since Vera Nabokov designated 'the otherworld' (potustoronnost')
as Nabokov's 'watermark' in 1979,2 there has been increasing dis-
cussion of its manifestations in his fiction. Nabokov had an 'intuition
of a transcendent realm',3 and called human life 'but a first installment
of the serial soul'; he believed that 'one's individual secret is not
lost in the process of earthly dissolution' (LL, 377). But what access
did Nabokov think there was to that other world? In Nabokov's
fiction, fairies and other spirits appear as messengers from it;
spiritualism is one means of contacting them. This subject is important
to both Lolita and Pale Fire, novels that can be read as a pair,
presenting negative and positive attitudes toward emanations from
Nabokov considers the existence of the hereafter in his private
notes. In his diary for 1951, he notes: 'the hereafter finds its beau-
tiful proof in the following series: 1. Time without consciousness.. j
2. Time with consciousness... and 3. Consciousness without
Time.. .'.4 Six years later, in the first index card relating to Pale
Fire, Nabokov wrote:
A wonderful point in favor of some kind of hereafter is this:
When the mind rejects as childishly absurd a paradise with mu-
sical angels or abstract colonnades with Horace and Milton in
togas conversing and walking together through the eternal twi-
light, or the protracted voluptas of the orient or any other eternity
Priscilla Meyer 89
- such as the one with devils and porcupines - we forget that if
we could have imagined life before living it would have seemed
more improbable than all our hereafters.5
Nabokov displays a detailed knowledge of the history of spiritu-
alism in 'The Vane Sisters', written in 1951. The sceptical and scornful
narrator gives a catalogue of its highlights while trying to resist
Cynthia as he falls asleep:
I reviewed in thought the modern era of raps and apparitions,
beginning with the knockings of 1848, at the hamlet of Hydesville,
New York, and ending with grotesque phenomena at Cambridge
Massachusetts; I evoked the ankle bones and other anatomical
castanets of the Fox sisters...; the mysteriously uniform type of
delicate adolescent in bleak Epworth or Tedworth ...; old Alfred
Russel Wallace, the naive naturalist, refusing to believe that the
white form with bare feet and unperforated earlobes before him...
could be prim Miss Cook whom he had just seen asleep...; two
other investigators... clinging with arms and legs about Eusapia,
a large, plump elderly female reeking of garlic, who still man-
aged to fool them; and the skeptical and embarrassed magician,
instructed by charming young Margery's 'control'... to follow
up the left stocking until he reached the bare thigh - upon the
warm skin of which he felt a 'teleplastic' mass.6
The catalogue sounds like a fabrication. But each person or place
alluded to has historical referents: the poltergeist occurrences in
the Wesley household in Epworth, England (1716-17); the Drummer
of Tedworth; the well-known telekinetic mediums - an Italian woman
Eusapia Palladino, and young Margery's 'control', Mrs Crandon. In an
earlier scene in the story, the narrator attends a seance with Cynthia
Vane in which Frederick Myers 'hammers out a piece of verse' (TD,
231). A Cambridge graduate of Trinity College, F.W.H. Myers (1843-
1901) was one of the founders of the Society for Psychical Research
(SPR) in 1882 that is the centre of spiritualist activity in England to
this day (see also Chapter 5 in this volume). He wrote several works
on spiritualism: Phantasms of the Living (1886), Science and a Future
Life (1893) and Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death
(1903), a book that William James described as 'the first attempt to
consider the phenomena of hallucination, hypnotism, atomatism, double personality and mediumship, as connected parts of one whole subject'.7
90 h'abokOV and the Spirits
'The hamlet at Hydesville' alludes to the event that launched the
spiritualist movement in 1848, when rappings were heard at the
home of the Fox sisters, Margaretta and Katherine, aged fourteen
and eleven, who lived in a two-room farmhouse in Hydesville, New
York. The sisters later confessed to using an apple on a string to
make thumping sounds and their ankle bones to communicate during
seances. But the Vane sisters' emanations from the spirit world are
genuine, and go unnoticed by everyone within the story. The reader
might well miss them, too, if not told to look for the acrostic in
the final paragraph. This is an appropriate way for Cynthia and
Sybil to communicate their presence: spirits are known to communi-
cate through anagrams, acrostics, sentences written backwards and
other verbal puzzles.8 By having Cynthia and Sybil send the nar-
rator his unaccustomed vision at the opening of the story and report
that they have done so through their acrostic at its close, Nabokov
rewrites the Fox sisters' fraud to affirm the survival of the person-
ality after death.
Nabokov's interest in spiritual phenomena is already clear in The
Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941).9 The heart problem that carries
off Sebastian, 'Lehmann's disease', is named after Alfred Georg
Lehmann (1858-1921), a Dane who wrote about coloured hearing,
and who compiled a detailed history of the occult, witchcraft and
spiritualism, the German translation of which, Aberglaube und Zauberei
(Superstition and Witchcraft), published in 1908, contains material
about the materialization and photographing of spirits, and cites,
among many others, A.R. Wallace, F.W.H. Myers and the SPR.10
Sebastian is the first in a series of Nabokov's artists who die of
some unspecified affliction of the heart, and each death, physical
or metaphorical, is associated with a set of three motifs: first, the
transition from 999 to 1000; second, a lake or sea; third, indica-
tions of the uncanny. When Sebastian's diagnosis is made, he and
Clare sense a gnome, a brownie and eerieness in the German
beechwood on the coast by a 'steely grey sea' (RLSK, 88-9). The
novel begins with Sebastian's birth in 1899 together with the record
of the day's weather kept by Olga Olegovna Orlova (OOO), and is
written by V. in nearly invisible collaboration with the spirit world.
Pnin too suffers from heart problems. During his first seizure an
uncanny prophesy is fulfilled: his current position on the bench
had already been depicted on the screen that stood in his child-
hood bedroom, which showed 'a lily pond, an old man hunched
up on a bench, and a squirrel holding a reddish object in its front
Prise ilia Meyer 91
paws',11 the riddle of which is now solved by the squirrel in front
of Pnin's American bench who is holding a 'peach stone' (Pnin, 25).
Pnin's memory of his nursery 'interfered less with his surroundings
than would the reflection of an inside object in a windowpane with
the outside scenery perceived through the same glass' (Pnin, 24).
His attack places him briefly in both worlds simultaneously. Victor's
art teacher Lake teaches that to immortalize man-made things, you
should show their reflections, a process Lake calls the 'necessary
"naturalization"' of them (Pnin, 97); the analogy is with naturalized
Pnin in his American world that he departs from his final address,
999 Todd (cf. German Tod, death) Road, heading up a 'shining
road' into the mist (Pnin, 191). Pnin's heart problem is thus
accompanied by the 999 motif, a lake indicated by the art teacher's
surname and the uncanny predictive pyrograph with its squirrel
In Pale Fire, the quest for the otherworld by author and charac-
ters is carried on in a web of references to spiritualism that appear
in both Shade's and Kinbote's writing. Nabokov alludes to at least
five men who participated in the spiritualist movement: James Coates,
A.R. Wallace, Charles Kingsley, Andrew Lang and Sir Arthur Conan
James Coates wrote books on photographing the spirits: Photo-
graphing the Invisible: Practical Studies in Spirit Photography, Spirit
Portraiture, and Other Rare but Allied Phenomena (1911) and The Case
for Spirit Photography (1923).12 In Pale Fire, Nabokov gives his name
to the reporter, 'Jim Coates', who had interviewed Mrs Z. The name
points to the historical Coates' faith in the spirit world; by using it
Nabokov suggests that the fictional Coates is too quick to dismiss
Mrs Z.'s near-death vision and the misprint that transformed it from
'mountain' to 'fountain'.
Alfred Russel Wallace, the 'naive naturalist' mentioned in 'The
Vane Sisters', arrived at a theory of survival of the fittest simulta-
neously with Charles Darwin. He was a regular frequenter of seances.
His faith in a spirit world is affirmed in his books The Scientific
Aspect of the Supernatural (1866) and Miracles and Modern Spiritual-
ism: A Defence of Modem Spiritualism (1874). In Pale Fire, Charles
the Beloved's mother had talked with Wallace on the ouija board.
But Nabokov balances Queen Blenda's potentially interesting com-
munication with a negative example: after the Queen's death, the
Countess de Fyler uses the ouija board for propaganda purposes:
'Charles take take cherish love flower flower flower'.13 Wallace's
92 h'abokOV and the Spirits
interest in lepidoptery and rejection of Darwin's materialist under-
standing of human development are close to Nabokov's.14
The Kingsley-Lang-Doyle line represents three generations of
Victorian spiritualists. Charles Kingsley (1819-75), an English clergy-
man, poet and novelist, chaplain to Queen Victoria and tutor to
her son, is smuggled into Pale Fire through the name of Sylvia
O'Donnell's British chauffeur, ' an old and absolutely faithful re-
tainer', who picks up King Charles when he parachutes into America
(PF, 247). Although Kingsley's bust stands in Westminster Abbey's
chapel of the minor poets, most people know him for his chil-
dren's book, The Water Babies (1862). In it Tom, a poor chimney
sweep, drowns himself in despair, whereupon 'his whole husk and
shell had been washed quite off him' and he is turned from a land-
baby into a water-baby by the fairies.15 Tom forgets all the ugly
sorrows of his life on land. 'That is not strange, for... when you
came into this world, and became a land-baby, you remembered
nothing. So why should he, when he became a water-baby?' (Water
Babies, p. 84). Kingsley addresses his reader (the book was written
for his youngest son):
till you know a great deal more about nature than Professor Owen
and Professor Huxley put together, don't tell me about what cannot
be, or fancy that anything is too wonderful to be true. 'We are
fearfully and wonderfully made,' said old David, and so we are;
and so is everything around us, down to the very deal table.
(Water Babies, p. 76)
Furthermore, he writes:
The most wonderful and the strongest things in the world...
are just the things which no one can see... and so there may
be fairies in the world (Water Babies, pp. 59-60).
The wise men of old say that everything on earth had its double
in the water (Water Babies, p. 73).
Does not each of us, coming into this world, go through a
transformation as wonderful as that of a sea-egg or a butterfly?
And do not reason and analogy, as well as Scripture, tell us that
that transformation is not the last? And that, though what we
shall be, we know not, yet we are here but as the crawling cat-
erpillar, and shall be hereafter as but the perfect fly. (Water Babies,
Priscilla Meyer 93
Kinbote's transition from Zembia to America is analogous (but in-
verse) to Tom's from land to water; confirmation that Nabokov
thinks this way appears in Pnin where Victor's land-father (Wind)
and water-father (Pnin) also represent real/ideal domains. Kinbote's
Zemblan fantasy is his fairy-tale realm which allows him to '[peel)
off a drab and unhappy past', as Shade says (PF, 238).
Kingsley also has some personal traits in common with Kinbote;
he was eccentric, unpopular at school, tall and spare, completely
unworldly, thin-skinned when reading his often hostile critics, given
to nervous attacks and a misfit at Trinity College, Cambridge, where
he taught history rather unconventionally for nine years (1860-9).
A contemporary said of him: 'despite his rough voice and vigorous
manner he was ... feminine in his likes and dislikes, his impulses
and prejudices', having a disproportionate amount of the female
in his make-up.16
Kingsley, too, was a passionate naturalist who had long talks with
'his dear and honored master' Darwin17 and studied A.R. Wallace's
work. He saw every scientific discovery as a message from God and,
unlike most of his contemporaries, had no difficulty reconciling
Scripture with the theory of evolution. He wrote that he was un-
able to 'give up the ... conclusion arrived at over twenty-five years
of study of geology and believe that God has written in the rocks
an enormous and superfluous lie'.18 After witnessing a great meteor
shower, he preached a chapel sermon on 'the pitiless laws of nature':
Horrible ... to the man of sound reason... must the scientific
aspect of Nature become, if a mere abstraction called law is to
be the sole ruler of the universe... if instead of the Divine Eye,
there must glare on us an empty, black, bottomless eye-socket...
Is there a Living God in the universe or is there none? That is
the greatest of all questions.19
Charles Kinbote, a fervent Zemblan Protestant, voices similar ideas:
'once we deny a Higher Intelligence that plans and administrates
our individual hereafters we are bound to accept the unspeakably
dreadful notion of Chance reaching into eternity' (PF, 225).
The Scottish romantic writer Andrew Lang (1844-1912) is best
known today for his Blue, Red, Green and Yellow Fairy Tale books,
but wrote prodigiously on myth, religion and folklore and published
works on Scottish and French history as well as poetry and transla-
tions from Greek and French; the Dictionary of National Biography
Nabokov and the Spirits
called him 'the greatest bookman of his age'.20 Like Kingsley, whose
fiction he read as a boy, he was highly sensitive and shy. This led
to a certain brusqueness, as in the incident in the library of the
House of Lords, where Lang was visiting his friend the librarian:
Presently the Duke of Northumberland came in, and, recognizing
Lang, bowed and smiled. Lang glared at him like a basilisk through
his eye-glasses, and the Duke, abashed, presently went out. I
said: The Duke bowed to you.' 'What Duke?' said Lang. 'North-
umberland.' 'Oh, was that he? I never recognize anybody.'21
The anecdote recalls Alfin the Vague's mot, 'What emperor?' But
Lang's name comes up in Shade's poem, not Kinbote's commen-
tary. In Canto Two, Shade, addressing his wife, recalls that some
unidentified Lang 'made your portrait', in a literal sense, in the
period following Hazel's death. The overarching importance of the
supernatural theme that embraces both Shade and Kinbote is in
Lang was interested in psychical phenomena. 'I do firmly believe
that there are human faculties, as yet unexplained, as yet incon-
sistent with popular scientific "materialism"'.22 Lang linked psychical
research with his anthropological studies, and wrote a volume of
essays on it, Cock Lane and Common Sense (1894), as well as The
Book of Dreams and Ghosts (1897), a compendium of psychical
stories from classical times to the contemporary. He was a member
of the SPR, president of it in 1911, and wrote the article on 'pol-
tergeists' for the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Like
Nabokov, Lang felt that the undoubted existence of fraud in some
cases did not disqualify the possibility of the truth of the unex-
plained residue. The Shades should have had Hazel sit for him rather
A sybil, a go-between from this world to the next, should be a
likely sitter for a portrait by Lang. But Sybil Shade plays an anti-
supernatural role in Kinbote's commentary, scoffing at Hazel's attempt
to commune with the spirits, and Shade remains a materialist,
albeit with a 'faint hope' of future life, throughout his poem.
Lang was loathed by the more sophisticated writers of his time
(Henry James, George Moore, Max Beerbohm), but loved by others
tor his generosity to young writers, among them Conan Doyle, whose
early work he promoted. Sir Arthur was a well-known spiritualist,
and a member of the SPR for thirty-six years. He inherited his interest
Priscilla Meyer 95
in the occult from his father Charles Altamont Doyle (1832-93)
and his uncle Richard ('Dickie') Doyle (1824-83) who were both
well-known painters of fairy pictures and illustrators of fairy sub-
jects.23 Shade's poem mentions Arthur Conan Doyle only as author
of the Sherlock Holmes stories, but during the 1920s Doyle toured
the United States and South Africa, addressing thousands as a self-
appointed missionary for spiritualism. He and his wife regularly
participated in seances and many times talked with the spirit of
their son, also named Kingsley, who had died in the First World
War. Doyle wrote a two-page newspaper article on 'Life After Death'
in 1918,24 and his spiritualist activities were much written about in
the British press while Nabokov was at Cambridge. The case of the
Cottingley fairies made a particular splash: two girls in Yorkshire
photographed themselves with a gnome and groups of fairies. Doyle
was sufficiently impressed that he went to meet them, took their
plates to Kodak for verification and wrote a book, The Coming of
the Fairies (1922), insisting that the photographs were genuine.25
But as one biographer says, 'before long articles appeared that pointed
out a suspicious similarity between the Cottingley fairies and the
images in an advertisement for a brand of night light'.26 Shade's
poem describes just such a mundane fairy in a TV soap advertise-
ment, the only kind he can recognize.
Hazel Shade is a medium for poltergeists and supernatural com-
munications, according to the evidence in Shade's poem and Kinbote's
more sympathetic interpretation of that evidence. Her name derives
from Walter Scott's 'Lady of the Lake', set in the Scottish highlands
'in lone Glenartney's hazel shade',27 whence emerges the Huntsman,
'advancing from the hazel shade'.28 The Huntsman, meeting the
heroine Ellen Douglas, exclaims 'I found a fairy in fairy land!'.29
He becomes the heroine's benefactor, and at the climax of the tale
reveals himself to be none other than Scotland's king, incognito.
Zembla's incognito king cannot be Hazel's benefactor since she is
in another world, but he identifies with her.
In Pale Fire, Hazel Shade becomes the lady of a lake, her choice
of final abode on that fateful March night.30 Her character is lo-
cated at a boundary: between the human world and the spirit world,
as well as between human being and poem. Nabokov uses haze as
a motif to indicate the boundary between two worlds: in Shade's
poem Mrs Z. glimpses her white fountain/mountain beyond a 'hazy
orchard' (PF, 61), and in Kinbote's commentary, as he escapes over
the Bera mountains he sees distant ridges in a 'tender haze' (PF,
Priscilla Meyer 97
144).31 Hazel steps into one of the three lakes, Omega, Ozero, or
Zero; the subject of Shade's 999-line poem, Hazel's suicide and the
possibility of another world, is emblematized by the three Os or
zeros - the lakes' three names represent alphabet, lake and number
in that order, indicating the boundary between this world and the
otherworld, its infinitude and unknowability.32 Again Nabokov uses
the motif cluster uncanny-lake-three Os. Only Kinbote negotiates
the two: he writes a commentary to line one thousand (itself a
kind of zero since it may or may not exist) in which he describes
John Shade's transition from this world to the other.
Shade's poem 'The Nature of Electricity' makes a joke about the
existence of spirits using 999:
Streetlamps are numbered, and maybe
(So brightly gleaming through a tree
So green) is an old friend of mine.
Shade's investigations of the hereafter at the I.P.H. (which parodies
the SPR) leave him with a 'faint hope' of existence after death, but
he is a materialist despite his art, and never wonders about Hazel's
psychic abilities.33 He laments her failure to be a normal, attractive
girl in the here and now:
But let's be fair: while children of her age
Were cast as elves and fairies on the stage
That she'd help paint for the school pantomime,
My gentle girl appeared as Mother Time,
A bent charwoman with slop pail and broom
Hazel cannot dress up as a Disney-style fairy from TV advertise-
ments, but she is actually the real thing, from another world. She
returns to the world she came from by entering the three Os, the
natural habitat of the spirits. Hazel may turn from ugly duckling
in this life into swan on the other shore. But Shade would 'turn
down eternity' unless it contains the features of mortal life, This
index card, this slender rubber band/Which always forms, when
dropped, an ampersand' (PF, 53). He 'knows' no spirit will rap out
98 h'abokOV and the Spirits
Hazel's pet name (PF, 57) and has Hentzner's barn demolished be-
cause of the stir over its psychic phenomena, but Kinbote tells us
that Hazel had taken a message from Aunt Maude's spirit in that
barn. Like Kinbote, Hazel 'twisted words' (PF, 45): both come from
the other side; they are grotesque mirror versions of their ideal
selves. Like the nonnons in Invitation to a Beheading they require
the mirror of the other world to show them in their ideal guise,
one that normal mortals fail to recognize.
Nabokov conducts an argument with himself from book to book
by answering negative versions of his ideas with positive ones. An
example is the pair of novels, Despair and The Real Life of Sebastian
Knight, which are mirror images whose motif systems oppose death
to eternal life.34 Sceptical materialism is pitted against faith in sur-
vival of the personality. A similar opposition exists between Lolita
and Pale Fire: while fairies and spirits are active forces in Pale Fire,
they are only part of Humbert's romantic solipsism in Lolita.
Humbert the would-be artist projects literary images of fairy lore
onto a very real Dolly Haze but the poet Shade fails to discern the
fairy in Hazel, and instead grieves over Hazel's physical embodi-
ment.35 Literary models play inverse roles in the fates of the two
girls: Humbert's psycho-sexual perversity has him impose Poe's heroine
Annabel Leigh onto real-life Dolores Haze; he sees his version of
the poem, not the child. Hazel Shade's parents are blind to the
accuracy of their own 'Lady of the Lake' allusion, distressed for
their child but unsusceptible to occult prophetic potential. The plot
is inverted, too: Lolita loses her parents and is abducted by a rap-
ist; the Shades lose their daughter who dies virginal.
In Lolita, the motifs that in Nabokov's other novels indicate the
uncanny transition to another world connote bodily death for
Humbert, whose memoir is materialist: his heart condition is asso-
ciated with alcoholism and psychological breakdown, not with an
ability to glimpse the beyond. He uses mythology and enchant-
ment to elevate his obsession with Lolita's sexual aspect (e.g.
'enchanted voyage' as euphemism for sexual intercourse), and projects
them onto mundane objects. Of the clothing store where he buys
Lo a new wardrobe, Humbert says:
There is a touch of the mythological and enchanted in those
large stores where according to ads a career girl can get a com-
plete desk-to-date wardrobe, and her little sister can dream of
Priscilla Meyer 99
the day when her wool jersey will make the boys in the back
row of the classroom drool.36
This device governs his entire narrative, just as he calls normal
American Dolly Haze a 'fey' child. The meaning of her name is
hinted at in the poem Frederick Myers raps out in 'The Vane Sisters':
What is this - a conjurer's rabbit,
Or a flawy but genuine gleam -
Which can check the perilous habit
And dispel the dolorous dream?
The 'dolorous dream' is this life, and Dolores lives on the mun-
dane side of the haze. Hazel Shade goes in search of beings akin to
herself via the lake; for Humbert, Hourglass lake is not a potential
entry to the otherworld, but a place to drown the 'mediocre mer-
maid' Charlotte in order to pursue Lolita.
There are three lakes whose names end in 'x' at Lolita's camp -
Onyx, Eryx, and Climax. Unlike Pale Fire's three lakes ending in 'o'
where Hazel moves to the otherworld, Lolita's lakes are associated
with 'the "ks ks" catcall' of the word "sex".37 At Lake Climax Lolita
loses her virginity to 'impish' Charlie Holmes. Conan Doyle's spir-
itualism explains why Nabokov named the camp mistress Shirley
Holmes: when Humbert arrives at Camp Climax he hears Charlie
playing horseshoes; it is the beginning of the Erlkonig's abduction
of Lolita. Humbert casts himself as elf king by taking Lolita on the
thousand-mile ride from Kasbeam to Elphinstone (AnL, 247), yet at
the same time feels pursued by a 'heterosexual Erlkonig' as he brings
her to Dr Blue and the Elphinstone hospital (AnL, 240). His evil
double Quilty reveals the sexual truth that Humbert attempts to
disguise using Goethe's poem, as he had disguised his lust for Lolita
Humbert echoes Goethe's 'Erlkonig' when he anticipates possess-
ing Lo for the first time; he writes that 'by nine... she would be
dead in his arms' (AnL, 116). On their second journey across the
United States Lolita exclaims that all the nines on the odometer
are changing into the next thousand (AnL, 219). The nines-lake-
uncanny motif here shows Humbert to be a travesty of the magical,
invisible king of the elves. As rapist, not 'therapist' (AnL, 150) or
100 h'abokOV and the Spirits
even an enchanted hunter, Humbert kills the child and potential
nymph in Lolita by forcing the physical world to dominate her life.
In Pale Fire, the Erlkonig theme is used by both Shade and Kinbote
to accompany transitions to an otherworld; Shade interlards his
account of Hazel drowning herself while her parents watch TV with
echoes of the Erlkonig and Kinbote repeats Goethe's poem as he
crosses the Bera range leaving Zembla for the mirror of exile. Mis-
fits in New Wye, Hazel and Kinbote move to the otherworld of
their own volition, lured by invisible alderkings. By contrast, Dolores
Haze is well adapted to the mundane, and her abductor has noth-
ing of the supernatural.
The gradual emergence through three novels of the character
'Starover Blue' is at the heart of the matter. Sebastian Knight's
Dr Starov signals that Sebastian's process of dying involves a return
to his Russian self, a passage to the other shore. Lolita's Dr Blue,
having calmed Humbert in the Elphinstone hospital, exclaims 'Now
who is nevrotic, I ask?', the V revealing his Russian origins, like
Dr Starov's Russian spelling of Sebastian's name as 'Sevastian' in
The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (RLSK, 190-1). In Pale Fire, Knight's
'Dr Starov' and Humbert's 'Dr Blue' are combined in Wordsmith's
astronomer Starover Blue. Kinbote says that Blue's grandfather was
an Old Believer; thus the Russian Old Believer meaning is finally
revealed to the Russianless reader who has waited from 1941 until
1962 to see the light. Blue's mother's name, Stella Lazurchik (PF,
236), links the doctor to the stars and the azure motif emblematic of
the next world; the name functions as Nabokov's declaration of faith.
In Pale Fire Nabokov affirms his spiritualism. Humbert is right
about one thing, at least in terms of Nabokov's Hegelian synthesis
of humour: one has to be a poet and a madman to recognize the
nymphet. Shade (poet) or Kinbote (madman) alone cannot recog-
nize the spirit in Hazel, only the reader and writer of the book can
because they have access to both visions, which they must hold in
balance. Nabokov's faith in emanations of the beloved dead from
the spirit world must have stemmed from his own encounter with
his father as described in The Gift, as V6ra Nabokov hints in her
foreword to Nabokov's verse. In his art, Nabokov's faith in the
possibility of the survival of the spirit after death is only subtly
perceptible, like the spirits themselves whom it is his gift to see.
Priscilla Meyer 101
1 Andrei Bitov, 'Death as Text', Life Without Us (New York, 1998), pp.
103-13 (p. 103).
2 Vera Nabokov, 'Predislovie' (Foreword), Vladimir Nabokov, Stikhi (Ann
Arbor, MI, 1979), pp. 3-4.
3 Vladimir E. Alexandrov, Nabokov's Otherworld (Princeton, NJ, 1991), p. 3.
4 Christine Raguet-Bouvart, 'riverrunning acrostically through "The Vane
Sisters" and "A.L.P.", or "genealogy on its head"', Cycnos, 12, 2 (1995),
pp. 21-8 (p. 27).
5 Quoted in Priscilla Meyer and Jeff Hoffman, 'Infinite Reflections in
Nabokov's Pale Fire: The Danish Connection (Hans Andersen and Isak
Dinesen)', Russian Literature, 41 (1997), pp. 197-222 (pp. 201-2).
6 Vladimir Nabokov, 'The Vane Sisters', Tyrants Destroyed and Other Stories
(New York and London, 1975) (hereafter, TD ), pp. 219-38 (pp. 236-7).
7 Quoted in 'Frederick Myers', Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, London
and Toronto, 1946), 24 vols, 16, pp. 41-2 (p. 42). See also 'Psychical
Research', 18, pp. 668-72 and Daniel Stashower, Teller of Tales (New
York, 1999) (hereafter, Teller of Tales).
8 See Fremont Rider, Are the Dead Alive? (London, 1909), p. 330.
9 Vladimir Nabokov, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (Norfolk, CT, 1959)
10 Alfred Lehman, Aberglaube und Zauberei (Stuttgart, 1908).
11 Vladimir Nabokov, Pnin (New York, 1989), p. 23.
12 I am grateful to the photographer Hilda Bijur, curator of the exhibit
'The Case for Spirit Photography' (Neikrug Gallery, New York, Decem-
ber 1987) for sharing her materials, which include a spirit photograph
of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as well as correspondence with both the
American and British branches of the SPR.
13 Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire (London, 1962) (hereafter, PF), p. 109 (note
to line 80).
14 For more on A.R. Wallace and Pale Fire, see Priscilla Meyer, Find What
the Sailor Has Hidden: Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire (Middletown, CT,
1988), pp. 170-4.
15 Charles Kingsley, The Water Babies (London, 1966) (hereafter, Water
Babies), p. 76.
16 Una Pope-Hennessy, Canon Charles Kingsley (New York, 1949) (here-
after, Canon Charles), pp. 3-4.
17 Pope-Hennessy, Canon Charles, p. 243.
18 Ibid., p. 184.
19 Ibid., pp. 242-3.
20 Quoted in 'Andrew Lang', Encyclopedia Britannica, 13, pp. 690-1 (p. 691).
21 Roger Lancelyn Green, Andrew Lang, A Critical Biography (Leicester, 1946),
22 Ibid., p. 72.
23 See Jane Martineau (ed.), Victorian Fairy Painting (London, Toronto and
New York, 1998-9), especially 'Richard Doyle', pp. 126-34 and 'Charles
Doyle', pp. 138-9.
24 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 'Life After Death', The Daily Chronicle, 5,
102 h'abokOV and the Spirits
25 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Coming of the Fairies (London and New
26 Stashower, Teller of Tales, p. 356.
27 Sir Walter Scott, The Poetical Works of Sir Walter Scott (London and
New York, 1891) (hereafter, Poetical Works), pp. 121-203 (Canto First, I)
(p. 123). Mary McCarthy was the first to identify this source in 'A Bolt
from the Blue' (New Republic, 4 June 1962), pp. 21-7. Others have taken
it up in discussing Hazel's distance from Scott's heroine, e.g. David
Galef, 'The Self-Annihilating Artists of Pale Fire', Twentieth Century Literature,
31, 4 (1985) (hereafter, 'Self-Annihilating Artists'), pp. 421-37 (p. 421)
and Shoshanna Knapp, 'Hazel Ablaze: Literary License in Nabokov's Pale
Fire', Essays in Literature, 14, 1 (1987) (hereafter, 'Hazel Ablaze'), pp.
105-15 (p. 110).
28 Scott, Poetical Works (Canto First, XX), p. 128.
29 Ibid. (Canto First, XXII), p. 128.
30 Galef makes this point as part of a psychological analysis of Hazel, but
notes that she has become 'a spirit at last'. See 'Self-Annihilating Art-
ists', p. 426. Knapp reads her as a witch. See 'Hazel Ablaze', p. 110.
31 Knapp makes the connection between Hazel, haze and the afterlife based
on lines 580 and 756 of Shade's poem, concluding that 'Hazel is magic'.
Ibid., pp. 110-11.
32 Phyllis Roth, 'The Psychology of the Double in Nabokov's Pale Fire',
Essays in Literature, 2, 1975, pp. 209-29 (p. 212), writes that all three,
Nabokov, Shade and Kinbote, 'are concerned with mortality and ques-
tions of the survival of consciousness'.
33 William Monroe, 'The Sequestered Imagination: Nabokov versus the
Materialists', Philological Quarterly, 70 (Summer 1991), 3, pp. 379-94,
agrees: 'Shade immerses himself in the material world' (p. 388). 'Pale
Fire is... a provocative gauntlet thrown down before materialists of
every stripe with smiling fierceness' (p. 380).
34 See Priscilla Meyer, 'Black and Violet Words: Despair and The Real Life
of Sebastian Knight as Doubles', Nabokov Studies, 4 (1997), pp. 37-60.
35 Others have commented on the Dolores Haze/Hazel Shade relationship:
Knapp notes 'Both Hazel and little Haze are contemplated by madmen
(Kinbote and Humbert) and artists (Shade and Quilty)'. See 'Hazel Ablaze',
pp. 109-10. Charles Nicol shows the heroines' two families to be oppo-
sites in Hazel and Haze, L: Families and Anti-Families', paper delivered
at the Vladimir Nabokov Society Meeting, MLA annual convention
(Washington, DC, 1996). 1 am grateful to him for sending me his paper.
36 Vladimir Nabokov, The Annotated Lolita, ed. Alfred Appel, Jr (New York,
1991) (hereafter, AnL), p. 108.
37 Vladimir Nabokov, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, (New York, 1992),
p. 103. From V's discussion of Sebastian's relationship with Clare which
is the antithesis of Humbert's to Lolita. The full passage reads: 'Natu-
rally, 1 cannot touch upon the intimate side of their relationship, firstly,
because it would be ridiculous to discuss what no one can definitely
assert, and secondly because the very sound of the word "sex" with its
hissing vulgarity and the "ks, ks" catcall at the end, seems so inane to
me that I cannot help doubting whether there is any real idea behind
Priscilla Meyer 103
the word. Indeed, I believe that granting "sex" a special situation when
tackling a human problem, or worse still, letting the "sexual idea", if
such a thing exists, pervade and "explain" all the rest is a grave error
38 Pekka Tammi, 'Shadows of Differences: Pale Fire and Foucault's Pendulum',
Cycnos, 12, 2 (1995), pp. 181-9 (p. 188), links azure and immortality.
Nabokov and Bergson on
Duration and Reflexivity
In recalling the reading-matter of his Western European exile,
Nabokov mentions Henri Bergson among his 'top favorites'.1 Bergson
was fairly popular in Europe between the two world wars, but
Nabokov is known to have consistently resisted intellectual
fashions. Nabokov's interest in the French philosopher's work seems
to have been a matter of recognizing a kinship rather than of ac-
cepting an influence. To support this basically unprovable hypothesis,
1 shall here present a 'Bergsonian' reading of a few passages from
the opening chapter of Nabokov's autobiographical work Speak,
The first section of Speak, Memory contains an anecdote about a
'chronophobiac' who panics on seeing home-movies made before
he was born, in a world in which he did not exist at all and:
'nobody mourned his absence. He caught a glimpse of his mother
waving from an upstairs window... as if it were some mysterious
farewell', and was particularly frightened by the sight of his still
empty baby carriage, empty and coffinlike, as if 'his very bones
had disintegrated' (SM, 19).2
This passage can, but, as I shall argue, should not be interpreted
as presenting an analogy to Nabokov's own attitude to the void
preceding his birth. The anecdote of the chronophobiac is, to some
extent, a preface to the ensuing account of Nabokov's first con-
scious childhood memory. Nabokov claims that his sense of himself
dawned when he compared the ages of his parents, thirty-three
and twenty-seven, with his own age of four. He continued merrily
'strut(ting) and trot(ting]' (SM, 22) along the path, which by itself
suggests that the shock of the realization that there has been a
world before he had come into it was not a troubling one. Indeed,
Leona Toker 133
Nabokov describes it as 'tremendously invigorating'. This was his
second baptism, 'on more divine lines' than the literal first one: S
felt myself plunged abruptly into a radiant and mobile medium
that was no other than the pure element of time. One shared it -
just as excited bathers share shining seawater - with creatures that
were not oneself but that were joined to one by time's common
flow, an environment quite different from the spatial world' (SM,
21). The terms in which Nabokov describes this nascent sense of
being within a shared reality are strikingly similar to the ones Henri
Bergson used to describe his own philosophical intuition.
For Bergson, the reality out there, beyond subjective conscious-
ness, is pure time, that is, time as mobility, change, heterogeneity,
purified of the spatial dimension. He rejected the view of time as a
static environment in which one moves; such a picture of reality
would be contaminated with space. Most of our discourse on time
is, indeed, thus contaminated. In Ada Van Veen playfully refers to
Space as 'the comedy villain, returning by the back door with the
pendulum he peddles, while I grope for the meaning of Time';3
Bergson's more earnest formula is that 'intellectualized time is space',4
whereas pure time is time that is lived, a mobile medium, in which
one inserts the mobility of one's own inner life.5 Nabokov's meta-
phor of 'the flow' of time ('time's common flow') is also frequently
resorted to by Bergson. Both Nabokov and Bergson are obviously
unwilling to allow the sense of duration to congeal into a concept.
They therefore complement the metaphor of the 'flow' with differ-
ent other metaphors, such as Bergson's 'melody', or 'growth'.6
Nabokov's symbols of mobility are more consistently those associ-
ated with moving water, yet in Speak, Memory Nabokov surrounds
this image with a whole semantic field: the dead metaphor of 'the
flow of time' is revived, whereas the literal images of currents and
streams yield to the figuration of time, as when 'the endless tu-
multuous flow of a water mill [gives] the spectator (his elbow on
the handrail) the sensation of receding endlessly, as if this were
the stern of time itself' (SM, 72-3).
Bergson's language games are tame by comparison. Nabokov's texts
do not just vary but also subvert the matter-moulded metaphoric
expressions of his consciousness of time by a touch of self-parody.
Indeed, Nabokov supplements his use of alternative metaphors by
a reductio ad absurdum: in Ada, Van Veen's aunt Aqua is obsessed
with water, especially the water flowing from taps. This recourse to
tragi-comedy is, actually, in keeping with Bergsonian ideas on laugh-
134 Nabokov and Bergson
U»r: according to Bergson's essay 'Laughter', what makes us laugh is
a combination of the mechanical with the living. The effect of the
comic, according to Bergson, is corrective: if we wish to avoid be-
ing ridiculed, we shall remove the lifeless, the mechanical, from
the wav we conduct our lives.7 Or from the way we conduct our
thinking: indeed, an earnestly adopted metaphor can turn into a
fossilized excretion: initially produced in order to help our verbalizable
ideas catch up with our mobile intuition, it might eventually im-
pede their further progress.
Yet Aqua's madness suggests an intuition of the flow of time similar
to the intuitions of Nabokov and Bergson - or to the death-bed
vision of Nabokov's great-aunt Praskov'ia Tarnovskii whose last words,
as reported by Nabokov's mother, were 'That's interesting. Now I
understand. Everything is water, vsyo - voda' (SM, 68). One may
surmise that Praskov'ia Tarnovskii (born Kozlov) did not have a
way with words; she 'was a doctor, the author of works on psy-
chiatry, anthropology and social welfare' (SM, 67). 'Vse-voda' may
mean 'vse techet', everything flows I one is inserted in a common
flow: one's individuality is a matter of the fragile discreteness of
space; it is a matter of time mainly in the idiomatic sense.
Nabokov comments on his first epiphany in the following terms:
'the beginning of reflexive consciousness in the brain of our re-
motest ancestor must surely have coincided with the dawning of
the sense of time.' In this extrapolation of philogenesis from
ontogenesis ('the theory of recapitulation' (SM, 21)), the key word
is the epithet 'reflexive'. Comparison with the Russian version of
the autobiography shows that the word 'reflexive' is here used not
in the sense of 'deliberative, thoughtful' but in the sense of 'di-
rected back upon the agent or subject',8 - 'osoznanie sebia'.9 Elsewhere
Nabokov would describe this kind of reflexive consciousness as '[bjeing
aware of being aware of being'.10 Thus, the incipient sense of time
is tantamount to the birth of the sense of oneself as a separate
individual, a sense of being discretely alive in the moving world.
This is also the birth of a metaphysical intuition that Nabokov
would keep to the end of his days and try to express in his works
with various degrees of splendid failure.11
The self-reflexivity of the turn that yields this intuition is com-
parable to the metaphysical move underlying the otherwise vastly
different world-views of Bergson and Schopenhauer. Both these
philosophers rebelled against Kant's denial of the possibility of
knowing the thing-in-itself, beyond the data of one's own percep-
Leona Toker 135
tions; while granting that the world of perception is but a repre-
sentation essentially distinct from the thing-in-itself, they nevertheless
asserted that the thing-ln-itself was knowable - through introspec-
tion. It is in oneself that a Schopenhauerian intuits the Will which
inserts him into the world-as-Will; likewise it is in oneself, in the
indivisible melody of one's inner life, that a Bergsonian comes to
feel duration, Nabokov's 'pure time', and installs his consciousness
within the flowing reality. Nested in Nabokov's first childhood
memory is the basis of the world view which, two or three decades
later, would make him recognize imprints of a kindred intuition
on the pages of Bergson, just as Bergson himself recognized affini-
ties in the thought of Ravaisson and William James.
Yet in both Bergson and Nabokov reflexivity is a troubled and
paradoxical issue. When in a metaphysical moment one's attention
is turned to the self, it is in order to transcend the self, with all its
practical interests. Bergson goes so far as to explain the difference
between philosophical systems by the difference of the practical
aims that must have influenced their authors. The experience of
pure time, genuine duration, is achievable in those magical moments
when the self-interested pragmatic activity is abandoned. Nabokov's
memories of himself as a child at play are actually testimony to
such moments. Thus on the seashore in Abbazia, he crawled over
in a kind of zestful, copious, and deeply gratifying incantation,
the English word 'childhood', which sounds mysterious and new,
and becomes stranger and stranger as it gets mixed up in my
small, overstocked, hectic mind, with Robin Hood and Little Red
Riding Hood, and the brown hoods of old hunchbacked fairies.
There are dimples in the rocks, full of tepid seawater, and my
magic muttering accompanies certain spells I am weaving over
the tiny sapphire pools. (SM, 26)
The mobile metaphysical trance is here practically identified with
a prolonged self-forgetful aesthetic experience: the two converge in
so far as both involve total disinterestedness, total relinquishing of
practical aims. While thus blissfully yielding to pure duration, the
consciousness is not reflexive: it only becomes so when the experi-
ence is remembered. The recollection sustains the agent's conviction
that he has known the experience of pure time, yet it also brings
in things that were suppressed while this experience lasted: the
136 Nabokov and Bergson
selt-forgetfulness may have been all too closely bound up with the
forgetfulness of others. The child strays to the 'wet black rocks'
while 'Miss Norcott, a languid and melancholy governess' thinks
that he is following her and strolls away 'along the curved beach'
with his younger brother (SM, 25). We are left to imagine her panic
on eventually turning around and not seeing her older charge, who
is still weaving his spells among the rocks. Throughout his work
Nabokov would explore the tension between metaphysical or aes-
thetic pursuits and human commitments; the germ of this thought
might perhaps be traced back to his memories of that which he
was not aware of as a child on the Abbazia beach.
Bergson believed in the education of the senses: in complex or-
ganisms perception is delayed action. An amoeba's perception of
an irritant and its mobile response to it are simultaneous: in a
mammal the response may be delayed but it is encoded in the
perception itself. A human being must be trained to perceive those
stimuli which have no bearing on his own interests or activities.12
Nabokov is recognized as a master of uniquely elaborate imagery
and sophisticated patterns of motifs: the implicit ethical function
of this facet of his art lies precisely in the refinement of the careful
reader's sensibilities; the sensibilities that can later be directed to
human relationships. His works are punctuated with signals of the
suffering or misfortune of background human figures, signals that
are camouflaged by different narrative techniques but that can be
clearly picked up given appropriately trained attention.13 A respon-
siveness to inutile beauty does not, of course, suffice for becoming
aware of human misery; a conscious commitment of the will is no
less important. One can form such a commitment through tears at
a Miss Norcott's dismissal or through an occasional 'disgust' with
oneself which Nabokov mentions as a part of his exercises in retro-
spection (SM, 33), but it is not a sufficient condition of ethical
discipline. It must be supplemented by a proficiency of disinter-
ested attention. Nabokov's words for this type of attention are
'curiosity' and 'pity': unless innate, as in the case of Mrs Luzhin in
The Defense, attention to the suffering of others is refined through
aesthetic experience. Indeed, for Nabokov, as for Bergson, art is a
sphere of experience that has an intrinsic ethical significance. In a
much-quoted passage from his lecture on Kafka, Nabokov defines
art as 'beauty plus pity';14 in an even more frequently quoted pass-
age of the Afterword to Lolita, he defines 'aesthetic bliss' as 'a sense
of being somehow, somewhere, connected with other states of being
Leona Toker 22
where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the norm'15
The 'other states of being' may here be read as a reference to the
aesthetic or metaphysical 'otherworld' - or else as the temporal
(and, unfortunately, temporary) states of refined and responsively
disinterested consciousness installed in pure duration.
At moments of aesthetic bliss one is 'connected with' such a state
of being but one hardly ever identifies with it completely. It is
debatable, for instance, to what extent Nabokov's account of his
genealogy is an expression of disinterested wonder. The reader can
sense that Nabokov is 'proud of his ancestors' even though he 'evokes
them by means of their oddities rather than their glories'16 in or-
der to trace the motifs that relate their lives to his. Yet his statement
that '[t]he following of such thematic designs through one's life'
should be 'the true purpose of autobiography' (SM, 27) need not
be read as just an escape into aesthetics. One's own life, which one
knows intimately, is the handiest material for the retrospective
perception of change, of heterogeneity, of the flow in which differ-
ent states of consciousness interpenetrate. A pattern of motifs is
not merely an aesthetic structure; it is also, in the first place, a
concrete example of this interpenetration. Nevertheless, the fact
that the details of the ancestors' lives that the autobiographer's
mind selects are somehow or other related with his own life brings
us right back into the prison-house of the self, or of the space-
time allotted to discrete reflexive consciousness. From this prison-
house Nabokov had tried to escape by surrendering some of the
water-tight discreteness of his ego:17
Short of suicide, I have tried everything. I have doffed my identity
in order to pass for a conventional spook and steal into realms
that existed before I was conceived. I have mentally endured
the degrading company of Victorian lady novelists and retired
colonels who remembered having, in former lives, been slave
messengers on a Roman road or sages under the willows of Lhasa.
I have ransacked my oldest dreams for keys and clues - and...
Did he succeed? He does not tell us. The rising suspense of the
passage prepares us for an anticlimactic denial of success, but Nabokov
chooses to defuse the issue by a diversionary manoeuvre: he fol-
lows the associative link provided by 'dreams' and, instead of
admitting defeat, he mounts a hobby-horse attack against his favourite
straw-figure of Viennese wisdom:
138 Nabokov and Bergson
... let me say at once that I reject completely the vulgar, shabby,
fundamentally medieval world of Freud, with its crankish quest
for sexual symbols... and its bitter little embryos spying, from
their natural nooks, upon the love life of their parents. (SM, 20)
But the prison-house, 'the walls of time separating me and my
bruised fists from the free world of timelessness' (SM, 20), is erected
only around the 'reflexive consciousness', that is, the conscious-
ness of the self as a discrete individual. In the infant years preceding
the epiphanic moment of self-realization, the consciousness was
not yet self-aware: the infant may have been aware of the world
but not of his own being in the world, and still less of 'being
aware of being'. The elderly Nabokov's retrospective knowledge of
having existed without knowing it merges with the four-year-old
boy's quite positive emotion at realizing that his mother had existed
before he did and his father even before she came into the world,
that each of them was, hence, a separate individual being rather
than a 'tender incognito' (SM, 22). The joy of the moment is also
the joy of the discovery of love, because the sine qua non of love is
Hence, the function of the anecdote about the chronophobiac at
the beginning of Speak, Memory is not that of analogy but that of
contrast. The child's realization that his parents have been there
before him does not bring the fear of non-existence, of not having
existed; rather it brings the intuition of having existed without
knowing it, in the mobile medium where consciousness becomes
reflexive only with the developed sense of one's own discreteness.
The blank before the first conscious memory is that of a finite con-
sciousness but an unreflexive one; the abyss before the rocking cradle
may be that of an unreflexive consciousness which may also po-
tentially be the 'infinite consciousness' dreamt up, in Bend Sinister,
by Adam Krug.18 At least, it may be a consciousness without a per-
sonal subject, and one in which different states interpenetrate in
the continuous process of creation. When the motifs that cluster
around the Nabokov genealogy seem to foreshadow his own ex-
perience, his own reality seems to create, retroactively, the very
possibility of his coming into existence (according to Bergson, it is
the real that creates the possible, rather than vice versa).19 And if
the dark abyss at the end of life is part of the same flow, and the
same osmosis, as the abyss before the beginning of the conscious
Jiff of the individual, then the conclusion may be emotionally
Leona Toker 139
encouraging, though it provides no gift-wrapped transcendental
knowledge, no conclusive evidence of the crevices in the prison-
house of the self.
1 Vladimir Nabokov, Strong Opinions (New York, 1973), p. 43. For an over-
view of Nabokov's links with Bergson see my articles 'Nabokov and
Bergson' in The Garland Companion to Vladimir Nabokov, ed. Vladimir E.
Alexandrov (New York, 1995), pp. 367-73, and 'Philosophers as Poets:
Reading Nabokov with Schopenhauer and Bergson', Russian Literature
Triquarterly, 24 (1991), pp. 185-96.
2 Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited (New York,
1967) (hereafter, SM).
3 Vladimir Nabokov, Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle (New York, 1969),
4 Henri Bergson, The Creative Mind, trans. Mabelle L. Andison (New York,
1946), p. 34.
5 Not surprisingly, in discussing Nabokov's first childhood memory, Brian
Boyd singles out the spatial image of the path that the parents and the
child are treading; see Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years (Princeton,
NJ, 1990), pp. 44-5. The path will, indeed, become one of Nabokov's
most frequently recurring metaphysically tinged motifs. It is in space-
contaminated clock- and calendar-time that Nabokov claims he 'do[es]
not believe' (SM, 139); and it is to such impure time that Boyd refers
when claiming that before Nabokov 'can achieve the timelessness he
aims for, he knows he must concede that time is the element in which
human lives are lived'; see Brian Boyd, Vladimir Nabokov: The American
Years (Princeton, NJ, 1991), p. 150.
6 Bergson, The Creative Mind, pp. 19, 39.
7 See Henri Bergson, 'Laughter', in Comedy, ed. Wylie Sypher (Garden
City, 1956), pp. 61-190, esp. pp. 73-9.
| Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary.
9 Vladimir Nabokov, Drugie berega, in Sobranie sochinenii v chetyrekh tomakh,
ed. V. V. Erofeev, 4 (Moscow, 1990), p. 137.
10 Nabokov, Strong Opinions, p. 142.
11 Cf. Michael Wood's remark that Nabokov's writings are 'not about
philosophy'; rather 'they are philosophy', The Magician's Doubts: Nabokov
and the Risks of Fiction (London, 1994), p. 7.
12 See Henry Bergson, Matter and Memory, authorized translation by Nancy
Margaret Paul and W. Scott Palmer (London, 1929), pp. 46-8.
13 See Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (Cambridge, 1989),
pp. 163-4; see also L. Toker, 'Liberal Ironists and the "Gaudily Painted
Savage": On Richard Rorty's Reading of Vladimir Nabokov', Nabokov
Studies, 1 (1994), pp. 195-206.
14 Vladimir Nabokov, Lectures on Literature, ed. Fredson Bowers (New York,
1980), p. 251.
15 Vladimir Nabokov, The Annotated Lolita, ed. Alfred Appel, Jr (New York,
1971), pp. 316-7.
140 Nabokov and Bergson
16 G.M. Hvde, Vladimir Nabokov: America's Russian Novelist (London, 1977),
17 An example of a temporary escape from this prison in Nabokov's fic-
tion is the episode where Cincinnatus C. of Invitation to a Beheading
removes the different parts of his body like medieval armour (cf. the
space-traveler's helmet' in the passage about the discreteness of indi-
viduality in Pnin (London, 1957), p. 20), and the rest of him:
'gradually dissolvefs], hardly coloring the air. At first Cincinnatus
simply revel[s] in the coolness; then, fully immersed in his secret
medium, he [begins] freely and happily to...'.
- the sentence remains unfinished, ostensibly curtailed by the entrance
of the jailor Rodion, but actually colliding with the dead-end unavailability
of a precise verbal formula for the 'criminal exercise' in flowing with
pure duration (Invitation to a Beheading, trans. Dmitri Nabokov in col-
laboration with the author (New York, 1979), pp. 32-3).
18 Vladimir Nabokov, Bend Sinister (New York, 1947), p. 190.
19 See Bergson, The Creative Mind, p. 123.