My tardy Week 2 post (it’s now Week 3 on the Block Plan) for the Nabokov course reflects on nature. Nabokov frequently uses imagery from nature and the natural world in his writing. I mentioned that Nabokov was fascinated by butterflies throughout his entire life. As a child, he would spend time outdoors with his nets and collection materials. In his later years, travel and hiking often revolved on where he could see more (and hopefully see new) butterflies. So, his extensive time in the outdoors gave him a plenty amount of time to think about the natural world, and, as a result, a bountiful supply of images. His years in Europe and in America allowed him to travel, with much delight, as well. His writing is frequently populated with thick descriptions that foster and appreciation for the beauty of the natural world.
Our readings this week focused upon a crazed prisoner in a wacky prison, a trip to the museum that goes awry, and a famous king. The highlight for me, however, was reading the short story “Cloud, Castle, Lake.” The subject of the story, Vasiliy Ivanovich, has won a free trip by train across his country. The highlight of the trip was simply seeing a cloud, a castle, and a lake all together. In this story, I was especially reminded of Colorado College and cross-country road trips. The landscapes in Colorado and in surrounding states aren’t just beautiful, but quickly-changing. A drive to California takes you through snow-tipped mountains, cavernous hills, and slow dusty deserts. Vasiliy notices this as he is driving: “Trees appeared in groups and singly, revolving coolly and blandly, displaying the latest fashions. The blue dampness of a ravine. A memory of love, disguised as a meadow. Wispy clouds—greyhounds of heaven.” Nabokov writes so tenderly about the fleeting images that come and go on a trip. It’s almost impossible not to make the connection to the CC (or, the Western, the American) road trip.
Vasiliy is a Russian émigré in a German-speaking country, and so this trip was an opportunity to see more of the country. Coming from the Boston area, I have had certain moments where I’m awestruck of the scenery here. A familiar favorite might be the mountain ranges going from Nevada into Southern California. The most special and climactic moment of the short story is when he sees the cloud, the castle, and the lake. I wrote in my last post that I would be using some of Nabokov’s writings, so, here we go:
“That very happiness of which he had once half dreamt was suddenly discovered. It was a pure, blue lake, with an unusual expression of its water. In the middle, a large cloud was reflected in its entirety. On the other side, on a hill thickly covered with verdure (and the darker the verdure, the more poetic it is), towered, arising from dactyl to dactyl, an ancient black castle. Of course, there are plenty of such views in Central Europe, but just this one—in its inexpressible and unique harmoniousness of its three principle parts, in its smile, in some mysterious innocence it had, my love! my obedient one!—was something so unique, and so familiar, and so long-promised, and to so understood the beholder that Vasiliy Ivanovich even pressed his hand to his heart, as if to see whether his heart was there in order to give it away.”
What love he has for such a simple and fleeting scene! Whether it is driving, hiking, flying, you name it—I know we can all think of brief places that might have struck us in a profound way.