That’s me in the video, blinking my “I love you” eyelids at Nabokov. Except the girl in the clip isn’t me and she’s blinking at Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones so you have to use your imagination a little bit.
This time I blinked away through Nabokov’s lecture on Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. There isn’t anything earth shatteringly revealing in the lecture, but it’s just so well done. Well, there is one thing I hadn’t heard before that I thought was an interesting viewpoint.
Nabokov says that Mansfield Park is a fairy tale and Fanny Price is Cinderella. He makes an interesting case for it and while I might not wholeheartedly agree, it made me look at the book just a bit differently and that’s what matters, yes?
What I enjoyed most in the lecture were some of his more general comments about literature. Comments like this one:
The good reader is aware that the quest for real life, real people, and so forth is a meaningless process when speaking of books. In a book, the reality of a person, or object, or a circumstance depends exclusively on the world of that particular book. An original author always invents an original world, and if a character or an action fits into the pattern of the world, then we experience the pleasurable shock of artistic truth, no matter how unlikely the person or thing may seem if transferred into what book reviewers, poor hacks, call “real life.” There is no such thing as real life for an author of genius: he must create it himself and then create the consequences.
I agree with him. Not about the book reviewers though; some reviewers aren’t hacks.
So he says interesting things about readers and on structure and theme specific to Mansfield Park but also in general in regards to what they do in a novel. And then he’ll come out with something random, like that hack comment about reviewers. Or, as in the middle of his setting the historical context for the novel. In this instance he is talking about the year 1808 and Napolean and the U.S. Congress passing the Embargo Act prohibiting U.S. ships from going to ports covered by the British and French blockade. Then, suddenly, in parenthesis, is this:
If you read embargo backwards, you get ‘O grab me.’
I pulled up short. Huh? Did I just miss something? I read the paragraph again and the next to make sure I had covered all the surrounding text. No, I didn’t miss anything, Nabokov is just making a rather lame joke. And my eyes blinked even faster.