Thursday, September 21, 2006

Speak, Memory - post III

The great thing about Speak, Memory if you are a fan of Russian history is that this is an insider’s view of not just the revolution but also the slow build-up towards it with the Tsar and his method of governing Russia so out of step with liberals and the peasantry.

Bullet points between pages 84 – 166

* Nabokov describes a family holiday in the South of France where he meets 10-year-old Collete who he develops a friendship with but because the parents don’t get on it ends when she goes back to Paris

* There is a whole series of mini chapters developing his passion for butterflies. You sometimes forget that writers can have had a former life and for Nabokov his other life was very scientific, and he even had a butterfly species named after himself

* The politics between governesses and tutors is comically covered with the Swiss governess Mademoiselle taking umbrage at almost anything

* In describing his tutors there are stories of one who fell in love with his mother, another who punched him in the face when angry but a real affection comes through for Lenski, who becomes a laughing stock when he holds magic lantern shows.

* Lenski blows his fortune on a Crimean theme park, flees to France and then the story goes cold but it is appreciated that Nabokov goes to the trouble to try and find out what happened to people

* An entire chapter is dedicated to the story of his father, who was assassinated by Russian fascists in Berlin in 1922. There is a very powerful passage when he discovers his father is going to fight a duel and he realises that he might lose him only to come home and find it has been called off because the other side has apologised

* Then the recollections move on to his cousin Yuri who after reading War and Peace becomes focused on the idea of military honour. Nabokov points out that he found his honour dying in the civil war after single handily trying attacking a red army machine gun nest

Reading tomorrow should cover the First World War and the revolution. Interesting times…

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