Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Admiralty Spire

I found this wildly entertaining Nabokov's short story The Admiralty Spire on the internet. There are a few spelling mistakes but overall I think it is pretty okay (of course I recommend reading it from his book). It is about a peevish middle aged Russian man who is a writing a letter to a lady novelist protesting her inappropriate use (or that's what he thinks) of his own real life love story of his past for fictional purposes. And there is a curious twist in the end too.

You will please pardon me, dear Madam, but I am a rude and straightforward person, so I’ll come right out with it; do not labor under any delusion: this is far from being a fan letter. On the contrary, as you will realize yourself in a minute, it is a rather odd little epistle that, who knows, might serve as a lesson of sorts not only for you but for other impetuous lady novelists as well. I hasten, first of all, to introduce myself, so that my visual image may show through like a watermark; this is much more honest than to encourage by silence the incorrect conclusions that the eye involuntarily draws from the calligraphy of penned lines. No, in spite of my slender handwriting and the youthful flourish of my commas, I am stout and middle-aged; true, my corpulence is not flabby, but has piquancy, zest, waspishness. It is far removed, madam, from the turndown collars of the poet Apukhtin, the fat pet of ladies. But that will do. You, as a writer, have already collected these clues to fill in the rest of me. Bonjour, Madame. And now let’s get down to business.

He (or the lady novelist) takes the title from the famous Pushkin poem The Bronze Horseman. Two translations here and here. It is depressing to see how completely different the translations are. I felt the same reading Eugene Onegin too. The OUP and the Penguin/Viking translations were so different from each other though I think I liked the former by James Falen better.


Cheshire Cat said...

Typical. Nostalgia, exile. Literary criticism, games with identity. Language that freezes on the page its renderings of frozen images.

The theme brings to mind the Mircea Eliade - Maitreyi Devi episode, which suffers in comparison from being merely historical.

Alok said...

Strange I just read that thing about Maitreyi Devi. I had vaguely heard her name but wasn't aware of this story.

Nabokov takes some of the details in this story, specially the bits where he describes what "actually" happened from his Speak, Memory, from the "Tamara" chapter. his own first love :)

What I find most interesting In Nabokov is how one can still play games with language when writing about such painful things... it is evident in this story too.

Satish said...

May be protagonist of slow man can make a copy and post this letter to Costello :)

Nice story, thanks alok.

Alok said...

yeah this is a meta-story too. story about writing a story :)