Nabokov’s Tall Tales

There are footnotes that bewitch, excite and then leave you a happier person than you were before. I’m slowing down my reading of Dostoevsky’s Memoirs from the House of the Dead by reading relevant parts of Frank’s Dostoyevsky, The Years of Ordeal, 1850-59.

In a footnote, Frank tells of a certain General I. A. Nabokov, great-great uncle of Vladimir Nabokov, who was commandant of the fortress in which Dostoevsky underwent solitary confinement after his 1848 arrest. According to Nabokov, his illustrious relative lent books to Dostoevsky, which Frank questions saying that no evidence exists for Nabokov’s fantasy that his ancestor loaned Dostoevsky books. Frank writes: ‘Perhaps all it means is that Dostoevsky borrowed books from the prison library.’

It is an amusing story because of Nabokov’s well-known disdain—in my view a philistine stance—for Dostoevsky and his fondness for parodying him.

5 thoughts on “Nabokov’s Tall Tales

  1. Certainly Lolita is a brilliant work. With reference to the story above, I have to say, that although sections of Speak Memory, writing-wise, are up to the same standard as Lolita, at a certain point I had to put the book down in exasperation at the whining, self-regarding snobbery of it all.

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  2. I read and re-read all Nabokov’s texts many times both in English and Russian and I should say I haven’t felt a trace of snobbery in them. He is manifestly undemocratic though.

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    • Less so the novels but Speak Memory, although it is my favourite Nabokov, and especially the lectures are, to my eye, case studies in self-importance and snobbery. But in that collaboration between writer and reader, different aspects come to the surface for each reader.

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