Thursday, April 17, 2008

Nabokov, Turgenev, Yeats, pwnage

In Ada, or Ardor Nabokov writes, apropos of nothing of particular interest to me,
We now pass into the music room with its little-used piano, and a corner room called the Gun Room containing a stuffed Shetland pony which an aunt of Dan Veen’s, maiden name forgotten, thank Log, once rode. On the other, or some other, side of the house was the ball-room, a glossy wasteland with wallflower chairs. "Reader, ride by" ("mimo, chitatel’", as Turgenev wrote).
On reading the supposed quote by Turgenev I was struck by its similarity to Yeats's self-written epitaph, "no conventional phrase": "Cast a cold eye/On life, on death./Horseman, pass by!". I wondered that was an intentional reference, if I was seeing things, if anyone else had noticed, if Yeats's phrase was in fact conventional; so I decided to investigate, but couldn't immediately figure out how to search Turgenev's works based on a short transliterated Russian phrase. As it happens, there are amazing resources on the web to be found using the most naive google possible, resources that mock my ability to do research. (More notes on the passage starting here.) If I understand the Ada Online notes, the French translation of the novel makes the likely intentional Yeats reference explicit, and I'm told Nabokov checked his French translations for accuracy.

Presumably the careful reader interested in things Nabokov is interested in finds such delightful surprises on every page of the novel. So far I've been noticing cross-references and small felicities (including some stuff about Mansfield Park) but mostly I'm finding the style tiresome, which wasn't the case in Lolita or Pale Fire that I can recall (it's been 15 or 20 years, yikes). Also the Borgesian theme makes me want to put the book down and pick up Ficciones instead. Probably not the right frame of mind to read in.

More on Nabokov in (I think) a similar mood from James Wood here.

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