Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Too late

 Steve, in a reply to the last post, notes Nabokov's reference to O. Soglow in "Speak, Memory," thus crossing the two most recent posts here very neatly, and uncovering a coincidence I couldn't have (or anyway didn't.)  Alfred Appel, Jr. (not a Nabokovian creation though he sounds like one) in his Annotated Lolita -- which no Nabokovian would want to be without -- remarks, on a note to a page where Humbert is enjoying a comic strip featuring a "bobby-soxer" (Penny, in fact, for those with long speaking memories), that Nabokov much enjoyed the funnies, and that in Speak, Memory he referred to the Litlle King (as Steve points out) -- but he also discovers the cartoonist's name in the reference:  "The ranks of words i reviewed were so glowing, with their puffed-out chests and trim uniforms..."

Appel, aware that Nabokov had a certain contempt for critics who missed his comics allusions, worked hard to discover the sources of all that he could in Lolita.  But he was defeated by one -- "that repulsive strip with a big gagoon and his wife, a kiddoid gnomide" (Lolita, Appel ed., 256)  Appel couldn't locate this figure, even when he asked Nabokov about it and Nabokov described a big gangster and his "very small, big-eyed, lemur-like dwarf wife wearing a lot of jewelry."  He even drew a picture  (Appel 419).

I immediately recognized this figure, in fact I knew it when I first read the book in 1959, and I always wanted to tell Appel.  His recent update of the book notes that a correspondent  connects the figure with a strip by Milton Caniff, a friend of Chester Gould (thus missing the truth by an inch).  I was astonished to see that still no one had identified this personage for him.  I decided that -- so easy on the internet, find his university email, drop him a line -- I would indeed finally correct this.

Only to find, via the same internet, that Appel died this May.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 20th, 2009 11:27 pm (UTC)
That kind of coincidence one can do without.

Howard Waldrop referred to "The Little King" on Sunday at Readercon; had you been talking with him about it?
Jul. 21st, 2009 12:00 am (UTC)
No -- just another weft in the Universal Fabric.
Jul. 21st, 2009 01:14 am (UTC)
Appel used to shop at the CD store I worked at when I was in college at Northwestern, where he taught. He was a nice guy, with good anecdotes, despite being a frustrating jazz snob. And seconds on the Annotated Lolita. I don't think I'd want my first reading of the novel to be annotated, but it's definitely a fun and useful book.
Jul. 21st, 2009 01:43 am (UTC)
I have to admit that, when I read the Zembla sections of _Pale Fire_, I imagined it to be somewhat Soglowish.
Jul. 21st, 2009 09:28 pm (UTC)
The nostalgia I have been cherishing all these years is a hypertrophied sense of lost childhood, not sorrow for lost banknotes. Nostalgia for a lost childhood where VVN was, if not a Little King, certainly a little princeling, surrounded by corridors full of Zemblaish, so-glowing liveried flunkeys... But perhaps that's unfair.

I keep meaning to read more of Nabokov than the small sample I've read so far, but I suspect it's going to be a lifetime's work. I read the UK Penguin edition of Pale Fire a few years ago, then afterwards read the Mary McCarthy introduction printed at the beginning: I'd enjoyed the book a lot but the high-level scholarly analysis left me feeling dumb for not having spotted, well, pretty much anything. I seriously wondered whether `Mary McCarthy' was actually Nabokov spoofing a Kinbote-style critic. (The flipside of this: I seem to recall that when the (UK) Independent on Sunday newspaper published an edition of Lolita in their Banned Books series a few years ago, they decided to leave out that boring introduction by John Ray, Jr., PhD.) —Steve (again)
Jul. 21st, 2009 09:37 pm (UTC)
I think the greatness of Nabokov was his ability to project his immense sense of loss and nostalgia for the lost kingdom of a privileged childhood amid a beloved family onto a ridiculous and probably mad king with his unreal and sentimental kingdom. A giant task.

As I remember the Mary McCarthy essay she failed to identify the source of the title of the book. Shade's poem in seeking a title says "Help me, Will! Pale Fire," So we know it comes from Shakespeare. Where? The answer is rather obvious.
Jul. 21st, 2009 10:58 pm (UTC)
Speak, Memory conveys the tragedy of the Revolution: it wasn't inevitable, and there were enlightened liberal (often aristocratic) forces within the country that could have taken it along a very different path. I thought that Zembla perhaps had some of the characteristics of that alternate-world Russia where the senior Nabokovs and their allies reformed the country: a place full of uniforms and palaces and polished buttons, but, well, nicer; Tsarist arrogance reformed into comic-opera Ruritanian swagger.

On the subject of misidentifying references to characters in comics: for years I had totally the wrong mental image of Val's dog in Ægypt/The Solitudes, because on this side of the pond our Dennis The Menace is rather different from yours (in character as well as appearance!). —Steve
Jul. 22nd, 2009 02:59 am (UTC)
Did I miss you actually saying the name of the strip with the big gangster and his lemur-like wife?

Missed opportunities. A couple of months after I moved to Yonkers, late summer or early autumn, I read a Comics Journal interview with Harvey Kurtzman, conducted some years earlier. He mentioned that he lived in Mount Vernon, the next city over. On a whim, I got out the phone book and checked... and there he was. I started to dial, lost my nerve, and hung up before I finished dialing. Kurtzman died the following winter.
Aug. 14th, 2009 09:05 am (UTC)
Randomly, Stephen Jan Parker (a Nabokov scholar, Secretary-Treasurer of the Nabokov Society, Editor of The Nabokovian, a personal friend of Alfred Appel) happens to be a former professor of mine. In addition to being an absolute junkie for this sort of thing, I know he's in touch with Dimitri N., and I assume the Nabokov Society (of which Appel was the president) will take over responsibility for updating the annotated Lolita. At any rate I went ahead and sent him a link to this post. The internet is marvelous.
Aug. 14th, 2009 10:24 am (UTC)
Thanks. For all my pride I came up empty-handed in trying to prove my Dick Tracy theory. I pass the torch to others.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )