Kinbote: You appreciate particularly the purple passages?
Shade: Yes, my dear Charles, I roll upon them as a grateful mongrel on a spot of turf fouled by a Great dane. (Pale Fire, 1963)
How did he do it?
While so many stumble and fall using five-dollar words like frail children wielding massive axes when light daggers would much rather do—Vladimir Nabokov, in diabolical delight, stringed such words with the fluidity of a circus juggler, right towards the edge of that inner line—a writers balance—and then blitzed it!
I owe him one of my major literary awakenings. Lolita. From the first page colour burst like nothing I’ve seen! And the force! I would say in a need for comparison that no one else has written with the same such force and delight!
But, for the sake of this article I will try to extract some method to his madness, but unlike the overzealous before me, will not attempt to reduce his talent to the scope of a second-rate equation.
All works containing intelligent, detestable, delightful, endearing (to me) and overtly unstable protagonists.
In other words—the perfect catalyst.
Nabokov truthfully evaluated his strengths and expertly avoided his weaknesses—a step all writers should take without developing instinctive contempt towards works outside their capability or understanding.
But Nabokov was an architect, or more specifically, the architect. He built the houses equipped to hold such colourful characters unchained. The construction of such a house likely required eighty percent of the agony associated with creation, but once completed, only joy and childish excitement awaited—a vast room covered wall to wall with springy mattresses and feathered pillows. He needed then to only inject his raw talent, pushing and polishing with glee the limits of madness in prose.
But...Nabokov was much more than his prose, an inescapable aura of surety smothered those who entered his world. His words, though at times objectively forced and overwrought, seemed to blend seamlessly within it's walls. It was...Vladimir Nabokov. The image as carefully cultivated as the prose. From meticulously scripted interviews self-collected and released as Strong Opinions (adequately named and terribly entertaining if taken lightly), to an abundance of overt eccentricities repeatedly pronounced throughout his twilight years.
“There is nothing in the world I loathe more than group activity, that communal bath where the hairy and slippery mix in a multiplication of mediocrity.”
“Genius is an African who dreams up snow”
So say what you will of all other men, but not this old man, my Nabokov, sitting in his worn leather chair disdainfully grading my work to shreds. There are far too many things to be discovered again, as he had, taking much more than meant for him and forging an inescapable aura of intelligence and stylistic genius. So read! But know the trees, leaves and butterflies they speak; and the hand that brushed them.
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