Владимир Набоков: The original of Laura

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Владимир Набоков The original of Laura
  • Название:
    The original of Laura
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  • Издательство:
    Knopf (1 edition)
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    Современная проза / на английском языке
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  • ISBN:
    0307271897; 978-0307271891
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The original of Laura: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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When Vladimir Nabokov died in 1977, he left instructions for his heirs to burn the 138 handwritten index cards that made up the rough draft of his final and unfinished novel, The Original of Laura. But Nabokov’s wife, Vera, could not bear to destroy her husband’s last work, and when she died, the fate of the manuscript fell to her son. Dmitri Nabokov, now seventy-five--the Russian novelist’s only surviving heir, and translator of many of his books--has wrestled for three decades with the decision of whether to honor his father’s wish or preserve for posterity the last piece of writing of one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. His decision finally to allow publication of the fragmented narrative--dark yet playful, preoccupied with mortality--affords us one last experience of Nabokov’s magnificent creativity, the quintessence of his unparalleled body of work.

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V. Nabokov

The original of Laura

A novel in fragments


Her husband, she answered, was a writer, too — at least, after a fashion. Fat men beat their wives, it is said, and he certainly looked fierce, when he caught her riffling through his papers. He pretended to slam down a marble paperweight and crush this weak little hand (displaying the little hand in febrile motion). Actually she was searching for a silly business letter — and not in the least trying to decipher his mysterious manuscript. Oh no, it was not a work of fiction which one dashes off, you know, to make money; it was a mad neurologist's testament, a kind of Poisonous Opus as in that film. It had cost him, and would still cost him, years of toil, but the thing was of course, an absolute secret. If she mentioned it at all, she added, it was because she was drunk. She wished to be taken home or preferably to some cool quiet place with a clean bed and room service. She wore a strapless gown and slippers of black velvet. Her bare insteps were as white as her young shoulders. The party seemed to have degenerated into a lot of sober eyes staring at her with nasty compassion from every corner, every cushion and ashtray, and even from the hills of the spring night framed in the open french window. Mrs. Carr, her hostess, repeated what a pity it was that Philip could not come or rather that Flora could not have induced him to come! I'll drug him next time, said Flora, rummaging all around her seat for her small formless vanity bag, a blind black puppy. Here it is, cried an anonymous girl, squatting quickly. Mrs. Carr's nephew, Anthony Carr, and his wife Winny, were one of those easy — going, over-generous couples that positively crave to lend their flat to a friend, any friend, when they and their dog do not happen to need it. Flora spotted at once the alien creams in the bathroom and the open can of Fido's Feast next to the naked cheese in the cluttered fridge. A brief set of instructions (pertaining to the superintendent and the charwoman) ended on: "Ring up my aunt Emily Carr," which evidently had been already done to lamentation in Heaven and laughter in Hell. The double bed was made but was unfresh inside. With comic fastidiousness Flora spread her fur coat over it before undressing and lying down. Where was the damned valise that had been brought up earlier? In the vestibule closet. Had everything to be shaken out before the pair of morocco slippers could be located infoetally folded in their zippered pouch? Hiding under the shaving kit. All the towels in the bathroom, whether pink or green, were of a thick, soggy-looking, spongy-like texture.

Let us choose the smallest. On the way back the distal edge of the right slipper lost its grip and had to be pried at the grateful heel with a finger for shoeing-horn. Oh hurry up, she said softly. That first surrender of hers was a little sudden, if not downright unnerving. A pause for some light caresses, concealed embarrassment, feigned amusement, prefactory contemplation. She was an extravagantly slender girl. Her ribs showed. The conspicuous knobs of her hipbones framed a hollowed abdomen, so flat as to belie the notion of "belly." Her exquisite bone structure immediately slipped into a novel — became in fact the secret structure of that novel, besides supporting a number of poems. The cup-sized breasts of that twenty-four year old impatient beauty seemed a dozen years younger than she, with those pale squinty nipples and firm form.

Her painted eyelids were closed. A tear of no particular meaning gemmed the hard top of her cheek. Nobody could tell what went on in that little head. Waves of desire rippled there, a recent lover fell back in a swoon, hygienic doubts were raised and dismissed, contempt for everyone but herself advertised with a flush of warmth its constant presence, here it is, cried what's her name squatting quickly. My darling, dushka moya (eyebrows went up, eyes opened and closed again, she didn't meet Russians often, this should be pondered). Masking her face, coating her sides, pinaforing her stomach with kisses — all very acceptable while they remained dry. Her frail, docile frame when turned over by hand revealed new marvels — the mobile omoplates of a child being tubbed, the incurvation of a ballerina's spine, narrow nates of an ambiguous irresistible charm (nature's beastliest bluff, said Paul de G watching a dour old don watching boys bathing). Only by identifying her with an unwritten, half-written, rewritten difficult book could one hope to render at last what contemporary descriptions of intercourse so seldom convey, because newborn and thus generalized, in the sense of primitive organisms of art as opposed to the personal achievement of great English poets dealing with an evening in the country, a bit of sky in a river, the nostalgia of remote sounds — things utterly beyond the reach of Homer or Horace. Readers are directed to that book — on a very high shelf, in a very bad light — but already existing, as magic exists, and death, and as shall exist, from now on, the mouth she made automatically while using that towel to wipe her thighs after the promised withdrawal. A copy of Glist's dreadful "Glandscape" (receding ovals) adorned the wall. Vital and serene, according to philistine Flora. Auroral rumbles and bangs had begun jolting the cold misty city. She consulted the onyx eye on her wrist. It was too tiny and not costly enough for its size to go right, she said (translating from Russian) and it was the first time in her stormy life that she knew anyone to take off his watch to make love. "But I'm sure it is sufficiently late to ring up another fellow (stretching her swift cruel arm toward the bedside telephone)."She who mislaid everything dialed fluently a long number. "You were asleep? I've shattered your sleep? That's what you deserve. Now listen carefully." And with tigerish zest, monstrously magnifying a trivial tiff she had had with him whose pyjamas (the idiot subject of the tiff) were changing the while, in the spectrum of his surprise and distress, from heliotrope to a sickly gray, she dismissed the poor oaf forever. "That's done," she said, resolutely replacing the receiver. Was I game now for another round, she wanted to know.

No? Not even a quickie? Well, tant pis. Try to find me some liquor in their kitchen, and then take me home. The position of her head, its trustful proximity, its gratefully shouldered weight, the tickle of her hair, endured all through the drive; yet she was not asleep and with the greatest exactitude had the taxi stop to let her out at the corner of Heine street, not too far from, nor too close to, her house. This was an old villa backed by tall trees. In the shadows of a side alley a young man with a mackintosh over his white pyjamas was wringing his hands. The street lights were going out in alternate order, the odd numbers first. Along the pavement in front of the villa her obese husband, in a rumpled black suit and tartan booties with clasps, was walking a striped cat on an overlong leash. She made for the front door.

Her husband followed, now carrying the cat. The scene might be called somewhat incongruous. The animal seemed naively fascinated by the snake trailing behind on the ground. Not wishing to harness herself to futurity, she declined to discuss another rendez-vous. To prod her slightly, a messenger called at her domicile three days later. He brought from the favorite florist of fashionable girls a banal bevy of bird-of-paradise flowers. Cora, the mulatto chambermaid, who let him in, surveyed the shabby courier, his comic cap, his wan countenance with its three days growth of blond beard, and was about to raise her chin and embrace his rustling load but he said "No, I've been ordered to give this to Madame herself." "You French?", asked scornful Cora (the whole scene was pretty artificial in a fishy theatrical way). He shook his head — and here Madame appeared from the breakfast room. First of all she dismissed Cora with the strelitzias (hateful blooms, regalized bananas, really). "Look," she said to the beaming bum, "if you ever repeat this idiotic performance, I will never see you again. I swear I won't! In fact, I have a great mind — "He flattened her against the wall between his outstretched arms; Flora ducked, and freed herself, and showed him the door; but the telephone was already ringing ecstatically when he reached his lodgings.

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