This week: Commentary to Lines 433-434 to Commentary to Lines 557-558 (pages 136 to 153 in my old paperback, but your mileage will likely vary.)
Commentary to Lines 433-434: The sentences about the cruelty of his marriage to the queen seem very moving to me: "Her image, and she entered and re-entered his sleep ... forever remained exactly as she looked the day he had first told her he did not love her." "...the groaning dreamer perceived the disarray of her soul and was aware that an odious, undeserved, humiliating disaster had befallen her ... "
[On what Charles plans to do in America]: "Teach. Examine literary masterpieces with brilliant and charming young people. A hobby he could now freely indulge." As a description of Nabokov's own life at Cornell this sounds like either sarcasm or an idealization, or both.
Martin Amis says, “When I taught fiction, as I did for a few years, I told my students, ‘When you read Pride and Prejudice, if you’re a woman, don’t identify with Elizabeth Bennet, and if you’re a man, don’t identify with Fitzwilliam Darcy. In both cases, identify with Jane Austen. Identify with the author, not the character, think ‘what’s the author trying to do?'" (Source.)
Commentary to Line 470: Negro: Nabokov despised prejudice and in fact was married to a Jewish woman.
"Shade said that more than anything on Earth he loathed Vulgarity and Brutality, and that one found these two ideally united in racial prejudice." I love the sarcastic line about the "jasmine-belt lyncher and the mystical anti-Semite."
There's a lot in The Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov about his experiences with anti-Semitism, and with open racial prejudice in the South.
Commentary to Line 493: The discussion of suicide seems to offer a clue to Kinbote's plans when he finishes his book.
Lines 557-558: " 'Jasp' is the old name for the semi-precious stone now known as "jasper". A quartz of varied and intense colours, it was highly valued in the Middle Ages; almost as highly as the diamond is today." (Source).
I want to "reprint" some of Michael Johnson's comment from last week on Nabokov vs. Joyce:
"Big difference between Joyce and Nabokov for me (and I've hardly read Nabokov, while Joyce has been with me for 20+ years): Look at the personalities of Bloom, Molly, and Stephen. I'm very much with all three of them, humanistically and politically. This sort of warmth seems completely absent in Nabokov. The only one I feel affection for is Hazel, but it's pathetic. I like John and Sylvia Shade, but not like I love Leopold and Molly and Stephen.
"But as for prose pyrotechnics: Nabokov is up there with Joyce, imo. Just. WOW!"
Those who favor Nabokov would argue that he is easier on the reader. Here is Martin Amis on the two:
"If you go to Nabokov’s house, metaphorically speaking, you get his best chair, in front of his fire, with his best wine. If you go to James Joyce’s house, you come into this big drafty edifice, and there’s no one there. And then you find him tinkering around in some scullery. And he offers you two slabs of peat around a conger eel, and a glass of mead. This not loving the reader, that’s the real thing. Henry James fell out of love with the reader. His early stuff, up to about Portrait of a Lady, is full of love for the reader. Then, I think out of sheer disappointment at not getting the kind of audience he wanted, the size of audience he wanted, he fell out of love – it was separate beds, then separate rooms, then separate flats. James never gave a damn for the reader in the first place, partially because perhaps he had patrons and never had to think about it. But it’s not that you want sales or anything like that, it’s that you want to do the right thing by your readers, and you want readers. Because a story is nothing without a listener."