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Nabokov's Quartet

de Vladimir Nabokov

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My review focuses on one story in this collection: The Visit to the Museum

If you had the experience of living a good hunk of your life in a nightmarish world, perhaps in a certain city or country or a particular work situation or as a child subjected to physical or emotional abuse, you will have, based on your direct experience, a deeper appreciation of what happens in this Nabokov story. Right at the outset the narrator tells us how he doesn't like to become a party to other's affairs and makes an inner resolution not to heed a friend's request to investigate a portrait in a museum during his travels to a particular French city.

However, once in the city, avoiding a violent downpour, the narrator finds himself on the steps of the museum, and seeing the rain is not going to let up, enters reluctantly, and underscore reluctantly, since he finds even the very notion of sightseeing loathsome. Nabokov writes, "I paid my franc and, trying not to look at some statues at the entrance (which were as traditional and as insignificant as the first number in a circus program), I entered the main hall." Anybody who knows how Nabokov valued his privacy and abhorred public events and exhibits will appreciate his likening the museum's statues to a circus act.

The narrator is not given the opportunity to view the museum on his own; rather, he is shadowed by the museum's old custodian with his vinegarish breath. Again, anybody who values their privacy would find such shadowing odious. However, there is a high point: strolling the museum, passing displays such as a sarcophagus, the narrator actually discovers the portrait mentioned by his friend -- true, the portrait is both vile and conventional, but, as Nabokov writes, "Frankly I enjoyed the thought that the portrait existed. It is fun to be present at the coming true of a dream, even if it is not one's own." Considering a violent downpour, an odious shadowing, and an exhibition of dreadful art works preceded his discovery, the fact the narrator (who resembles Nabokov himself) uses terms like `enjoy' and `fun' to describe his experience adds to the nightmarish quality of the story. One can imagine the author's hair standing on end as he depicted the reactions of his narrator .

When asked the price of the portrait, the old custodian tells him that the art is the pride of the city and pride is not for sale. This prompts the narrator to leave the building and speak with the museum's director, a Mr. M. Godard, who turns out to be completely bizarre - he licks his chops like a Russian Wolfhound, throws a sealed letter in a wastebasket and forces caramels into the narrator's hand as they both return to the museum to investigate the portrait. Again, the narrator permits himself to be carried along despite these whacky happenings.

Then, both he and the director enter the building: "All was not well at the museum. From within issued rowdy cries, lewd laughter, and even what seemed like the sound of a scuffle." Indeed, rowdy and lewd is only the beginning; with every step the narrator encounters an ever deepening nightmare. Now a prudent man of refined sensibilities would try to make a quick exit, but the narrator continues on. Why? Perhaps Nabokov is telling us a nightmare of this sort can only unfold if one is fast asleep. Here is an example of the depth of the museum's darkness and horror: "Racing up a staircase, we saw, from the gallery above, a crowd of gray-haired people with umbrellas examining a gigantic mock-up of the universe." Appalling to be sure, with a hint of surrealism from Rene Magritte.

At a certain deep, dark point, the narrator is given some light and a breath of fresh air: "I advanced, and immediately a joyous and unmistakable sensation of reality at last replaced all the unreal trash amid which I had just been dashing to and fro." The narrator sees the swirl of rooms and hallways of unending exhibits end and settle into a stone sidewalk under a thin layer of slushy snow on a foggy city street . But, but . . . after a few moments, the narrator has the shock of recognition: he understands what city and what year: to his horror, he is on a snow-covered street in Soviet Russia.

So, what to make of this story? Perhaps we can view the museum as a collection of our bad memories forming disturbing exhibits we are forced to visit each night in sleep or peruse as visions during waking hours. And if our memories are not only bad but horrific, perhaps we are compelled to travel down unending passages, viewing hideous exhibits, feeling the press of rowdy crowds, forever horrified, as the hallways and corridors twist and turn without end. And even if the hallways end and we stand on a real street in a real city under a real sky, that is only the beginning. We are face-to-face with our past, forced to undergo unspeakable ordeals and humiliations and required to expend much toil to achieve even the first step to extract ourselves.
( )
  Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |


My review focuses on one story in this collection: The Visit to the Museum

If you had the experience of living a good hunk of your life in a nightmarish world, perhaps in a certain city or country or a particular work situation or as a child subjected to physical or emotional abuse, you will have, based on your direct experience, a deeper appreciation of what happens in this Nabokov story. Right at the outset the narrator tells us how he doesn't like to become a party to other's affairs and makes an inner resolution not to heed a friend's request to investigate a portrait in a museum during his travels to a particular French city.

However, once in the city, avoiding a violent downpour, the narrator finds himself on the steps of the museum, and seeing the rain is not going to let up, enters reluctantly, and underscore reluctantly, since he finds even the very notion of sightseeing loathsome. Nabokov writes, "I paid my franc and, trying not to look at some statues at the entrance (which were as traditional and as insignificant as the first number in a circus program), I entered the main hall." Anybody who knows how Nabokov valued his privacy and abhorred public events and exhibits will appreciate his likening the museum's statues to a circus act.

The narrator is not given the opportunity to view the museum on his own; rather, he is shadowed by the museum's old custodian with his vinegarish breath. Again, anybody who values their privacy would find such shadowing odious. However, there is a high point: strolling the museum, passing displays such as a sarcophagus, the narrator actually discovers the portrait mentioned by his friend -- true, the portrait is both vile and conventional, but, as Nabokov writes, "Frankly I enjoyed the thought that the portrait existed. It is fun to be present at the coming true of a dream, even if it is not one's own." Considering a violent downpour, an odious shadowing, and an exhibition of dreadful art works preceded his discovery, the fact the narrator (who resembles Nabokov himself) uses terms like `enjoy' and `fun' to describe his experience adds to the nightmarish quality of the story. One can imagine the author's hair standing on end as he depicted the reactions of his narrator .

When asked the price of the portrait, the old custodian tells him that the art is the pride of the city and pride is not for sale. This prompts the narrator to leave the building and speak with the museum's director, a Mr. M. Godard, who turns out to be completely bizarre - he licks his chops like a Russian Wolfhound, throws a sealed letter in a wastebasket and forces caramels into the narrator's hand as they both return to the museum to investigate the portrait. Again, the narrator permits himself to be carried along despite these whacky happenings.

Then, both he and the director enter the building: "All was not well at the museum. From within issued rowdy cries, lewd laughter, and even what seemed like the sound of a scuffle." Indeed, rowdy and lewd is only the beginning; with every step the narrator encounters an ever deepening nightmare. Now a prudent man of refined sensibilities would try to make a quick exit, but the narrator continues on. Why? Perhaps Nabokov is telling us a nightmare of this sort can only unfold if one is fast asleep. Here is an example of the depth of the museum's darkness and horror: "Racing up a staircase, we saw, from the gallery above, a crowd of gray-haired people with umbrellas examining a gigantic mock-up of the universe." Appalling to be sure, with a hint of surrealism from Rene Magritte.

At a certain deep, dark point, the narrator is given some light and a breath of fresh air: "I advanced, and immediately a joyous and unmistakable sensation of reality at last replaced all the unreal trash amid which I had just been dashing to and fro." The narrator sees the swirl of rooms and hallways of unending exhibits end and settle into a stone sidewalk under a thin layer of slushy snow on a foggy city street . But, but . . . after a few moments, the narrator has the shock of recognition: he understands what city and what year: to his horror, he is on a snow-covered street in Soviet Russia.

So, what to make of this story? Perhaps we can view the museum as a collection of our bad memories forming disturbing exhibits we are forced to visit each night in sleep or peruse as visions during waking hours. And if our memories are not only bad but horrific, perhaps we are compelled to travel down unending passages, viewing hideous exhibits, feeling the press of rowdy crowds, forever horrified, as the hallways and corridors twist and turn without end. And even if the hallways end and we stand on a real street in a real city under a real sky, that is only the beginning. We are face-to-face with our past, forced to undergo unspeakable ordeals and humiliations and required to expend much toil to achieve even the first step to extract ourselves.
( )
  GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
think my fav was The Vane sisters ( )
  velvetink | Mar 31, 2013 |
Es mostren totes 3
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