Monday, June 09, 2008

The New Yorker: "Natasha" by Vladimir Nabokov

It was reported recently that Nobokov’s son, Dmitri, had promised his father that a novel he was working on would at the time of his death would not be published. Dmitri, it is reported, has decided to publish it anyway. I wonder if this story was included in the embargo that Dmitri has no lifted. In any case, the notes say that a new edition of Nabokov’s collected works will be published later this year and this story, from about 1924, is appearing for the first time in English (which is not to say that it wasn’t published in its original Russian; that we aren’t told).

Natash and her father Alexey Ivanych are exiled from Russia and the old man is sick. Their neighbor, Baron Wolfe, has his eye on Natasha and seems, like a wolf at the door, to be waiting for Alexey’s death. There is some kind of magic afoot in this story, but also characters who lie to each other. Natasha tells Wolfe that her father is recovered. Alexey knows Natasha has returned before she has appeared and later knows that Wolfe has gone out. Natasha tells Wolfe about her visions, but then says she was lying. (Was she?) And Wolfe tells about his adventures in India and Africa and then later says he was lying. The story turns, finally, on a last vision that Natasha has.

What can we make of all this. I can imagine that Natasha might have wished that her visions were a lie, but that she did in fact have them. But what is Nabokov saying here? Since the story is online, please read it and share your thoughts.

June 9 & 16, 2008: “Natasha” by Vladimir Nabokov

Note, also, that there is an audio online of Mary Gaitskill readying Nabokov’s story “Symbols and Signs.”


Cezarija Abartis said...

I find this story compelling. I think it's about the power of the imagination--how Natasha and Wolfe have interior thoughts and narratives as compelling as their exterior lives. I wonder if it's also about art and what it can do for humans, what need it satisfies.

Cezarija Abartis said...


Natasha can imagine that her sickly father is healthy; Wolfe can imagine that he has traveled all over the world and had adventures. Maybe one function of art is to satisfy our dreams and desires.

Anonymous said...

Yes--I was about to write this. It makes a case for imagination--the characters', and by extension, ours. But I don't think the narratives really satisfy. No one is really satisfied in this story; for the most part, they are distracted, which makes life (and for the father, looming death) more bearable. Even Wolfe's declaration of love isn't totally satisfying--not to him (he says it and departs without acting on it) and only fleetingly for her (she finds her father just after).

I love how he has packed all sorts of narratives in such a small piece--the story itself, Wolfe's tall tales, Natasha's visions and hopeful self-deceptions, the father's memory . . .

Cezarija Abartis said...

Yes, I like your statement about how these narratives distract the characters from the dissatisfactions of life but are perhaps finally themselves unsatisfying.

Clifford Garstang said...

I also like the nature of the deceptions here. And while I agree that the story is saying something about imagination, I wonder if these three people don't somehow represent people in general, and how all of us, in the process of deceiving those around us, also deceive ourselves.