Nabokov and Trilling (September 2014)

Nabokov and Trilling

Fran Assa, Anthony Stadlen, Brian Boyd

In response to Anthony Stadlen’s semi-prompt: from what I recall of Trilling’s article, he makes a valid point about the appeal for Nabokov of a situation that keeps desire at its steamy peak, as in the hothouse conditions of the courtly love tradition.

On the other hand Trilling missed the fact that in Lolita Nabokov shows what love is, not by showing it in a form that conserves its intensity, but by showing exactly what it is not, in Humbert’s relations with Lolita. This strikes me more vividly than ever after my prolonged recent immersion in Nabokov’s Letters to Véra, which I have just finished editing and translating with Olga Voronina (864 pages, Penguin, September 23; Knopf will not publish it in the US until 2015). Nabokov’s relationship to Véra in the letters reveals exactly what’s missing in Humbert’s relationship to Lolita in the novel, and what Nabokov meant readers to sense was missing: a mutual delight in what their minds can share, a sense of immediate attunement even when the tune is surprising or distant or momentarily jarring; a constant sympathetic awareness of her perspective and concern for her needs; a refusal to manipulate her, while always trying to enchant her. Very different indeed from The Enchanter, or Humbert’s attempted drug-rape of Lolita at the Enchanted Hunters.


Brian Boyd


On 3/09/2014, at 10:55 pm, Anthony Stadlen <STADLEN@AOL.COM> wrote:

I have always found Trilling's article deplorable: a paradigm case of psychoanalytically corrupted misunderstanding of, and debasement of, the concept of "love".
I didn't find the sound quality of the Nabokov-Trilling conversation prohibitive. It was all too audible. I was deeply disappointed by Nabokov's succumbing to Trilling's flattery and colluding with his psychobabble. The would-be fierce opponent of the "Viennese quack" was seduced without a murmur of protest. 
I imagine Brian Boyd will understand what I am talking about, if nobody else does.
Anthony Stadlen
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In a message dated 03/09/2014 03:43:47 GMT Daylight Time, franassa@HOTMAIL.COM writes:
I've just reread Lionel Trilling's "Encounter" piece on Lolita.  I was even more impressed than the first time I'd read it.  I think it is one of the best things I've ever read on the book.  I'm wondering what others might think.  Also, I've tried to watch the youtube conversation with Nabokov and Trilling, but the sound quality is prohibitive.  Does anyone know of a source with good sound quality?  Did the Nabokovs and the Trillings see anything of each other socially?
Fran Assa

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