Monday, July 10, 2017

Vladimir Nabokov – Pnin, July 7, 2017


Pnin - first edition cover, 1957

Pnin is the novel that most nearly reflects the life experiences of Nabokov: as an émigré from Russia living in Europe, an immigrant to America, and a professor at an upstate New York college. Pnin and Nabokov are both possessed by an intense nostalgia for the Russia and St Petersburg of their youth, and a revulsion for the totalitarian regime that followed.

Vladimir Nabokov, lepidopterist

The novel also allows Nabokov room to indulge some of his pet peeves, such as psychiatry (Pnin‘s first wife is a psychiatrist). He lampoons the ridiculous investigations that go by the name of research in academia. This novel belongs to the campus genre, but its unique feature is the character of Pnin. The reader will sympathise; Pnin is not a fool but a victim, partly of his own eccentricities and obsessions, and partly of the strange land in which nothing comports with prior expectation.

Thommo & Pamela

There is a rich vein of humour, accompanied by a quiet sadness, and relieved by an optimism nowhere revealed as well as when Pnin meets Victor, the son of his ex-wife. Pnin delicately welcomes him with a football. Without any obligation he is going to take care of Victor's pocket money at the expensive prep school.

Hemjith & KumKum

This novel which Nabokov wrote as a sequence of stories for the New Yorker magazine, beginning in 1953, became a successful English novel when published by Doubleday in 1957. He was writing Lolita during this time, and when that novel came out, Nabokov could give up his teaching at Cornell (aka Waindell) and retire to the Montreux Palace Hotel in Geneva to devote himself to writing, lepidoptery, and composing chess problems, for the rest of his life.

Hemjith & Shoba

 There are many memorable quotes:
Some people – and I am one of them – hate happy ends. We feel cheated. Harm is the norm. Doom should not jam.

There is an old American saying ‘He who lives in a glass house should not try to kill two birds with one stone.’

Why not leave their private sorrows to people? Is sorrow not, one asks, the only thing in the world people really possess?

No jewels, save my eyes, do I own, but I have a rose which is even softer than my rosy lips.

The evolution of sense is, in a sense, the evolution of nonsense.

I do not understand what is advertisement and what is not advertisement.


Joe, Pamela, Priya, Thommo, Hemjith (seated) Sunil, KumKum, Shoba, Zakia



Vladimir Nabokov – Pnin
Full Account and Record of the Reading on July 7, 2017.

Nabokov writing on notecards with a dictionary, reclining 

Nine of us met to read the novella Pnin by the Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov — selected by Joe, Thommo, and Sunil. Nabokov's novel Lolita was read long ago at KRG on April 30, 2007; it was perhaps the sixth or seventh novel we read when ‘Bobby’ Paul George used to host the readings of KRG at his bookshop called Just Fiction on Pandit Karuppan Road.

Present: Thommo, Pamela, Priya, Hemjith, Shoba, KumKum, Zakia, Sunil, Joe
Absent: Saras (away to emcee a meeting), Preeti (business engagement), Kavita (attending a wedding), Ankush (family's arrival)

The agreed date for the next reading is as follows:
Fri Aug 4, 2017Poetry


Vladimir Nabokov made several journeys west to hunt for butterflies, while taking notes for what would become his landmark novel, 'Lolita'

Vladimir Nabokov writing in his car. He liked to work in the car, writing on index cards

Introduction to Pnin by Joe
Vladimir Nabokov is one of the illustrious non-winners of the Nobel prize. “In reading, one should notice and fondle details, ” he said and you will come across passages in all his novels that deserve a caress. Here is Professor Pnin remembering how it was before his teeth were removed for dentures:
His tongue, a fat sleek seal, used to flop and slide so happily among the familiar rocks, checking the contours of a battered but still secure kingdom, plunging from cave to cove, climbing this jag, nuzzling that notch, finding a shred of sweet seaweed in the same old cleft; but now not a landmark remained, and all there existed was a great dark wound, a terra incognita of gums which dread and disgust forbade one to investigate. And when the plates were thrust in, it was like a poor fossil skull being fitted with the grinning jaws of a perfect stranger.”

There is a passage of exquisite languor in Lolita in which Humbert Humbert watches the nymphet playing tennis. Do you remember the dream sequence –
My Lolita had a way of raising her bent left knee at the ample and springy start of the service cycle when there would develop and hang in the sun for a second a vital web of balance between toed foot, pristine armpit, burnished arm and far back-flung racket, as she smiled up with gleaming teeth at the small globe suspended so high in the zenith of the powerful and graceful cosmos she had created for the express purpose of falling upon it with a clean resounding crack of her golden whip.

Nabokov was born in St. Petersburg in 1899. Probably there is no other place in Russia home to as many famous authors: Pushkin, Gogol, and Dostoevsky, and poets such as Blok, Akhmatova, and Brodsky. The most loving memories of what he called a perfect childhood in those environs are revealed in his delightful memoir, Speak Memory.

Nabokov Museum - former private home of the Nabokovs in St. Petersburg

He had difficulty publishing his novels. Pnin was his fourth in English, and the thirteenth novel of his career. The first chapter was published in the New Yorker issue of Nov 28, 1953 while he was working on Lolita and the whole of it appeared serially. The novel itself was published in 1957 by Doubleday after being rejected by Viking as too short, and by Harper for some other reason.

Pnin original page from the New Yorker Nov 28, 1953

It has many elements of Nabokov’s situation when he migrated to America. He too was an émigré, and had spent a period of his youth as an author writing in Russian in Berlin and Paris for the émigré population after his politically liberal family was forced to flee Russia. During a hiatus he attended Cambridge University and graduated in 1922, rejoining his parents in Berlin.

His wife was Jewish and that made life difficult in the Germany of those times; so they decamped to Paris first and then further south in France, until they escaped altogether to America from Europe in 1940. He first taught at Wellesley College in Massachusetts from 1941 to 1948. Nabokov landed a berth in Cornell College in upstate New York where he gave his course of Lectures on Literature and Lectures on Russian Literature in the fifties, later published. Many of the architectural details in Pnin describe Cornell. He was in the English Department until Lolita was successfully published in Paris by Maurice Girodias at the Olympia Press in 1955, after being turned down everywhere in America.

Lolita first edition by The Olympia Press 1961

Lolita was a huge success — 50 million copies were sold by the time its fiftieth anniversary came around. In 1961 he withdrew to a hotel in Geneva to be near his son, Dmitri, who had launched an opera career in Milan. He spent the rest of his life with his beloved wife Véra at the Montreux Palace hotel.

Véra Nabokov was the love of his life (he had many loves before his marriage). I quote “She was his first reader, his agent, his typist, his archivist, his translator, his dresser, his money manager, his mouthpiece, his muse, his teaching assistant, his driver, his bodyguard (she carried a pistol in her handbag), the mother of his child, and, after he died, the implacable guardian of his legacy.”

Véra Evseevna Slonim married Vladimir Nabokov

She became all these things and a person to whom he often listened; he disdained critics in the real world outside. He was on intimate terms with the unabridged dictionaries of at least two languages (English and Russian), and knew French and German very well besides. In his writing he did not distinguish between familiar and unfamiliar words, always searching for the one that precisely expressed what he had in mind. You can always find recherché words in his novels, such as here vagitus, amphoric, volitation, cathetus and calvity.

He was a lepidopterist working at a high level, and for a while in 1941 he was at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, devoting long hours to drawing the wings and genitalia of butterflies. He published articles on butterflies in professional journals even as a first-year student at Cambridge in 1920. He said the one other profession he would have chosen to devote his life to was lepidoptery; it was a passion he retained all his life. He made discoveries in the field and framed hypotheses that would be confirmed much later by DNA techniques. His other interest was composing chess problems.

Nabokov as Butterfly Illustrator - A drawing of the wing of a Karner blue, a butterfly species that he discovered and named in 1944

He wrote ten novels in Russian before 1939, and nine novels in English, besides some poetry.
http://www.nabokovonline.com/ is a free online journal devoted to Nabokov studies.

He died in 1977. A bronze statue by Russian sculptor Alexander Rukavishnikov stands in front of the Montreux Palace hotel where he stayed from 1961-77. There’s another in St. Petersburg State University.

 Nabokov bronze statue by Russian sculptor Alexander Rukavishnikov in front of Montreux Palace hotel where he stayed from 1961-77

Here is what one of his characters (Krug) said about death in the novel Bend Sinister: Death is either the instantaneous gaining of perfect knowledge … or absolute nothingness, nichto.


1. Thommo

Chapter 1, Section 3 – As Pnin waits in the lecture hall in Cremona to be introduced he sees a vision of his Baltic aunt, a dead sweetheart, and friends from Russia long ago.
The novel is to a large degree a nostalgic remembrance of the old Russia, its culture, and scenes from a past never to be forgotten even as Pnin struggles with the language of modern America and its hugely different customs. 

Hemjith particularly liked a sentence “The evolution of sense is, in a sense, the evolution of nonsense.” This is a send-off on the academic tendency to create lofty names for courses in colleges, this phrase being the summation of a course titled The Evolution of Sense. As a novel in the campus life genre it is also a satire on life in academia. 

The travel to Cremona exposes the maladroit Pnin to all the hazards of a foreigner planning his travel in a perplexing land and becoming the victim of wayward impromptu help from strangers who mean well.

The reader participates in the anxiety in this first instalment of the story: will the lecture will be mislaid? the valise lost? or will Pnin reach in his pocket and find he has brought the wrong lecture to the gathering? Nabokov too was absent-minded and there is this famous story of his Cornell days:
On one occasion he began lecturing obliviously to the wrong class until he was rescued by a student who had seen him entering the wrong lecture-room. (He dealt with the mistake more suavely than Pnin would have managed, however, saying before he left the room “You have just seen the ‘Coming Attraction’ for Literature 325. If you are interested, you may register next fall.”)

2. Pamela

Chapter 2, Section 6 – Pnin's ex-wife Liza Wind lands up seeking a subvention for her son to attend an expensive prep school
We come across Liza Wind whom Nabokov creates as the type of a woman who finds her destiny by skipping from one man to another, using each as a foothold to climb higher and reach her next goal. Pnin was her passport to America. KumKum said she was quite a woman. The kind of woman who gets around, but in this case comes around, when she needs help, said Joe.

Her profession has Nabokov tearing into the mumbo-jumbo of psychiatry for which he held a particular contempt, calling Sigmund Freud ‘the Viennese quack’. Once in class he was vehemently denouncing Freud when the heating pipes in his classroom began clanking and reached a literally deafening pitch. Nabokov stopped and exclaimed: “The Viennese quack is railing at me from his grave.” (Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years, Brian Boyd 1991, p. 308)

As Pnin contemplates how Liza will be classified in heaven and whether her creepy soul would envelop him, he comes across a squirrel needing a drink and stops to become its ‘water father’ at a drinking fountain; what a delightful aside, illustrating how Pnin fends off all hurts in America.


3. Priya

Chapter 3, Section 3 – Pnin takes his students of Elementary Russian on literary tours of Pushkin
After a brief discourse on the various parts of the mouth used in pronouncing words in English we get an introduction to English as spoken by newly arrived Russians. Soon we see Pnin at his academic and playful best, noting for the benefit of his students that a phrase in the text for teaching Elementary Russian is really the beginning of a Pushkin poem, and then we have a learned aside on Pushkin he delivers to the class of naive students taking Elementary Russian. 

Pushkin was the poet whose famous poem Eugene Onegin was translated in a highly accurate, but literal, way by Nabokov. Pnin's obsessions are Nabokov's in many details. You can read Eugene Onegin: Commentary and index
Mr. Nabokov has not merely rendered the most precious gem of Russia's poetic heritage into limpid, literal poetic translation. He has given Pushkin's wondrous lines the glow and sparkle of their Russian original." – Harrison E. Salisbury, The New York Times

Joe clarified that ‘motuweth frisas’ stands for the days of the week, used in scheduling course lectures. The passage ends with a vision harking back to Russia and circling to an amusement park in Berlin.


4. Hemjith

Chapter 1, Section 2 – Pnin recalls a desperate search for the key to the pattern in a recurrent design of wallpaper when he was lying in bed with fever as a boy
Hemjith referred to Pnin ruminating on his own plight in hospital as a sick boy, not having any access to WhatsApp and other modern diversions. Thommo found it difficult to pass the time when he was recovering and would gaze at a minute crack in the ceiling of St John's Hospital in Bengaluru looking for an image. In the present day there is no time for imagination to run its course. For Pnin it was the search for the key to the wallpaper pattern that would reveal the cure for his sickness and make him well again.

There is the analogous story about how a fly on a ceiling helped René Descartes discover cartesian coordinates, named after him. As he was sickly he usually spent the morning in bed, not lazing, but thinking about this and that, including Cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am). For the rest of the story consult this short instructive video.


5. Shoba

Chapter 4, Section 8 – Pnin meets his ex-wife's son, Victor, at the Waindell bus stop.
Pnin introduces himself to Victor, Liza's son who has come over to spend some time with him. Thinking the schoolboy must love football (not the American variety, but soccer as they call it), buys him a ball – not knowing Victor is allergic to physical sports. 

The next question is how should Victor refer to him by name. In Russia it would always be the name followed by the patronymic, in his case Timofey Pavlovich, which means “Timothy the son of Paul,” and one would keep both names even if you were addressing old friends. But Pnin conceding that in America first names (or even their shortening) are bandied about on first meeting, allows that Victor should call him Tim.

Joe narrated how when he first went to MIT he was horrified upon encountering a graduate student, Peter Scope by name, who at a meeting with a senior professor of physics (George E. Valley, Jr) put his leg up on a desk and addressed the professor as ‘George.’

Thommo said in America there is such a thing as a Starbucks name to simplify the recognition and pronunciation of difficult names for Americans. For example, Ranen becomes Ron. Thommo had a couple of examples of Indians who Americanised their names. Thus a Malayali, name of Murali Nair, became Morley Nair. Joe gave an example of a Malayali friend of his in Boston who upon landing introduced himself to his professor as ‘P.P. Baby’; when the professor inquired what P.P. stood for, he replied, Paul Parakkal. Then and there the professor admonished him to drop the ‘Baby’ and change his name to Paul Parakkal!

The Kerala cricketer, Sachin Baby, has been told by a commentator to grow up ...

6. KumKum

Pnin washes up after the party — Chapter Six Section 13
KumKum loved the peaceful scene as Pnin does the dishes after the party. The 'Boom-boom-boom,' as he walks by the china closet is the sound of footfalls on a wooden floor echoing from an open closet, KumKum said. The entire scene is like a painting in words, so fresh with vivid particulars that Paul Cézanne could have painted a still life titled Remains of a Party after reading this passage. Thus:
A last drop of Pnin's Punch glistened in its beautiful bowl. Joan had crooked a lipstick-stained cigarette butt in her saucer; Betty had left no trace and had taken all the glasses back to the kitchen. Mrs Thayer had forgotten a booklet of pretty multi-coloured matches on her plate, next to a bit of nougat. Mr Thayer had twisted into all kinds of weird shapes half a dozen paper napkins; Hagen had quenched a messy cigar in an uneaten bunchlet of grapes.

The inevitable happens. In spite of the elaborate care Pnin hears ‘an excruciating crack of broken glass’ and hopes the precious bowl Victor presented him has not been not broken. It was intact! He was immensely relieved. Then he goes to compose a letter to Professor Hagen who left telling him his stay at Waindell might be in jeopardy.

Priya said the whole story is more sad than funny, a capable academic struggling to maintain his dignity in a new world where everything is strange and the odds are stacked against him. KumKum knows many faculty at universities who having put in their teaching and research for years fail to get tenure; it's always sad but so long as the academic job market is good they can go elsewhere.


7. Zakia

Chapter 1, Sections 1,2 – Pnin travelling to his Cremona lecture finds himself in the middle of a strange town.
Zakia took off from the very first chapter where Pnin suffers the anxiety of missed train connections to Cremona (stemming from his own assiduous homework studying obsolete railroad timetables). They used to be called Bradshaw's Railway Guide, often referred to in Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie novels. Pnin lurches from one miss to another, and by the end of this passage we must commiserate with him, stranded in the middle of a strange town. This endearing balding professor we conclude is a shlimazel as they say in Yiddish (someone who attracts constant bad luck). It would have been Nabokov's fate too, but for his constant protector and arranger, Véra Nabokov.


8. Sunil

Chapter 5 Section 1 – Nearly losing his way Pnin arrives in an old jalopy to attend the bi-annual meeting of Russian émigrés at the The Pines, home of Alexandr Petrovich Kukolnikov (Al Cook)
Pnin is just the kind of academic who might learn driving by reading a Driver's Manual issued by the state. One can't but laugh at the idea; the mental image of Pnin as ‘he lay on his sick-bed, wiggling his toes and shifting phantom gears,’ is quite risible. His rational argument with the driving examiner about the stupidity of stopping at a Stop Light when there is no traffic, leads to his failing the first driving test.

Regarding his quest for the Pines, the venue for the meeting of émigrés, he ignores Alexandr Kukolnikov's direction (Al Cook, that is!) and latches on to a gas station attendant's peremptory declaration:
'You turn north and go on bearing north at each crossing - there are quite a few logging trails in those woods but you just bear north and you'll get to Cook's in twelve minutes flat. You can't miss it.'

That was his mistake; of course he misses it, and he gets lost and finds himself quite alone in the woods, except for a ant, similarly lost, as Nabokov describes it:
there was no living creature in that forlorn and listless upper region except for an ant who had his own troubles, having, after hours of inept perseverance, somehow reached the upper platform and the balustrade (his autostrada) and was getting all bothered and baffled much in the same way as that preposterous toy car progressing below.

Using the geographic pole for direction was quite common in the old days in Kerala, where everyone was presumed to know which was south or west. Joe, for example, still gives directions to their house for clueless delivery-men by saying come to the Parade Ground (a well-known Fort Kochi landmark) and then proceed due south from there along Napier Street.

Sunil said in Tamil Nadu every busybody will get involved in giving you directions. In Andhra they say ‘Leftu, leftu, leftu, rightu.’


9. Joe
Chapter 6 Section 12 – Hagen returns after the party to tell Pnin his future at Waindell is uncertain
This is a conversation between Pnin and the smooth America-adjusted Prof Hagen about his impending departure for a better position at Seabord (university) and the likelihood that Pnin won't find a home in the German department any longer for his three poorly attended Russian courses. What to do? The well-intentioned Hagen had considered taking Pnin along to Seaboard but being rebuffed, and knowing that his successor, the wretched Falternfels, won't brook Pnin, he suggests the next best possibility. An old acquaintance of Pnin from his émigré days is joining as Head of the Department in English, Vladimir Vladimirovich, and he might host Pnin in the English department.

This is the second time Nabokov inserts himself into the novel, the first being when he cites Sirin among the Russian authors discussed at émigré gatherings (V. Sirin was Nabokov's pen name when he was writing Russian novels in Europe).

Pnin stands on his dignity and won't be lobbed from one department to another like a ping-pong ball. In the denouement we see him driving off in his ‘small pale blue sedan with the white head of a dog looking out between two trucks’. The author Nabokov apparently thrusts himself into the closing scene, and the narrator and the author become one. Look up this article about Pnin being full of allusions and literary duals.

The novel ends with Jack Cockerell, current Head of the English Department, a constant mimic of Pnin saying:
And now I am going to tell you the story of Pnin rising to address the Cremona Women's Club and discovering he had brought the wrong lecture.

It is instructive to hear from Nabokov what he thought of the character Pnin he had created. His view at first:
Sending the first story, Pnin, to his editor at the New Yorker, Katharine White, he wrote in a covering letter, “he is not a very nice person but he is fun”.

When Nabokov was later looking for a publisher for the completed book, serialised in the New Yorker, he stressed other aspects of the character:
"In Pnin I have created an entirely new character, the like of which has never appeared in any other book. A man of great moral courage, a pure man, a scholar and a staunch friend, serenely wise, faithful to a single love, he never descends from a high plane of life characterised by authenticity and integrity. But handicapped and hemmed in by his incapability to learn a language, he seems a figure of fun to many an average intellectual..."

And thus we leave him.




Readings


1. Thommo
Chapter 1, Section 3 – As Pnin sits to be introduced at the lecture in Cremona he sees a vision of his Baltic aunt, a dead sweetheart, and friends from Russia long ago.
Some people - and I am one of them - hate happy ends. We feel cheated. Harm is the norm. Doom should not jam. The avalanche stopping in its tracks a few feet above the cowering village behaves not only unnaturally but unethically. Had I been reading about this mild old man, instead of writing about him, I would have preferred him to discover, upon his arrival to Cremona, that his lecture was not this Friday but the next. Actually, however, he not only arrived safely but was in time for dinner - a fruit cocktail, to begin with, mint jelly with the anonymous meat course, chocolate syrup with the vanilla ice-cream. And soon afterwards, surfeited with sweets, wearing his black suit, and juggling three papers, all of which he had stuffed into his coat so as to have the one he wanted among the rest (thus thwarting mischance by mathematical necessity), he sat on a chair near the lectern, while, at the lectern, Judith Clyde, an ageless blonde in aqua rayon, with large, flat cheeks stained a beautiful candy pink and two bright eyes basking in blue lunacy behind a rimless pince-nez, presented the speaker:

'Tonight,' she said, 'the speaker of the evening - This, by the way, is our third Friday night; last time, as you all remember, we all enjoyed hearing what Professor Moore had to say about agriculture in China. Tonight we have here, I am proud to say, the Russian-born, and citizen of this country, Professor - now comes a difficult one, I am afraid - Professor Pun-neen. I hope I have it right. He hardly needs any introduction, of course, and we are all happy to have him. We have a long evening before us, a long and rewarding evening, and I am sure you would all like to have time to ask him questions afterwards. Incidentally, I am told his father was Dostoyevsky's family doctor, and he has travelled quite a bit on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Therefore I will not take up your precious time any longer and will only add a few words about our next Friday lecture in this programme. I am sure you will all be delighted to know that there is a grand surprise in store for all of us. Our next lecturer is the distinguished poet and prose writer, Miss Linda Lacefield. We all know she has written poetry, prose, and some short stories. Miss Lacefield was born in New York. Her ancestors on both sides fought on both sides in the Revolutionary War. She wrote her first poem before graduation. Many of her poems - three of them, at least - have been published in Response, A Hundred Love Lyrics by American Women. In 1932 she received the cash prize offered by -'

But Pnin was not listening. A faint ripple stemming from his recent seizure was holding his fascinated attention. It lasted only a few heartbeats, with an additional systole here and there - last, harmless echoes - and was resolved in demure reality as his distinguished hostess invited him to the lectern; but while it lasted, how limpid the vision was! In the middle of the front row of seats he saw one of his Baltic aunts, wearing the pearls and the lace and the blonde wig she had worn at all the performances given by the great ham actor Khodotov, whom she had adored from afar before drifting into insanity. Next to her, shyly smiling, sleek dark head inclined, gentle brown gaze shining up at Pnin from under velvet eyebrows, sat a dead sweetheart of his, fanning herself with a programme. Murdered, forgotten, unrevenged, incorrupt, immortal, many old friends were scattered throughout the dim hall among more recent people, such as Miss Clyde, who had modestly regained a front seat. Vanya Bednyashkin, shot by the Reds in 1919 in Odessa because his father had been a Liberal, was gaily signalling to his former schoolmate from the back of the hall. And in an inconspicuous situation Dr Pavel Pnin and his anxious wife, both a little blurred but on the whole wonderfully recovered from their obscure dissolution, looked at their son with the same life-consuming passion and pride that they had looked at him with that night in 1912 when, at a school festival, commemorating Napoleon's defeat, he had recited (a bespectacled lad all alone on the stage) a poem by Pushkin.

The brief vision was gone. Old Miss Herring, retired Professor of History, author of Russia Awakes (1922), was bending across one or two intermediate members of the audience to compliment Miss Clyde on her speech, while from behind that lady another twinkling old party was thrusting into her field of vision a pair of withered, soundlessly clapping hands.


2. Pamela
Chapter 2, Section 6 – Pnin's ex-wife Liza Wing lands up to seek a subvention for her son who was attending an expensive prep school
I have something to say to you of the utmost importance.'

Here it was coming at last - so late.

She wanted Timofey to lay aside every month a little money for the boy - because she could not ask Bernard Maywood now - and she might die - and Eric did not care what happened - and somebody ought to send the lad a small sum now and then, as if coming from his mother - pocket money, you know - he would be among rich boys. She would write Timofey giving him an address and some more details. Yes - she never doubted that Timofey was a darling ('Nu kakoy zhe tï dushka'). And now where was the bathroom? And would he please telephone for the taxi?

'Incidentally,' she said, as he was helping her into her coat and as usual searching with a frown for the fugitive armhole while she pawed and groped, 'you know, Timofey, this brown suit of yours is a mistake: a gentleman does not wear brown.'

He saw her off, and walked back through the park. To hold her, to keep her - just as she was - with her cruelty, with her vulgarity, with her blinding blue eyes, with her miserable poetry, with her fat feet, with her impure, dry, sordid, infantile soul. All of a sudden he thought: If people are reunited in Heaven (I don't believe it, but suppose), then how shall I stop it from creeping upon me, over me, that shrivelled, helpless, lame thing, her soul? But this is the earth, and I am, curiously enough, alive, and there is something in me and in life -

He seemed to be quite unexpectedly (for human despair seldom leads to great truths) on the verge of a simple solution of the universe but was interrupted by an urgent request. A squirrel under a tree had seen Pnin on the path. In one sinuous tendril-like movement, the intelligent animal climbed up to the brim of a drinking fountain and, as Pnin approached, thrust its oval face toward him with a rather coarse spluttering sound, its cheeks puffed out. Pnin understood and after some fumbling he found what had to be pressed for the necessary results. Eyeing him with contempt, the thirsty rodent forthwith began to sample the stocky sparkling pillar of water, and went on drinking for a considerable time. 'She has fever, perhaps,' thought Pnin, weeping quietly and freely, and all the time politely pressing the contraption down while trying not to meet the unpleasant eye fixed upon him. Its thirst quenched, the squirrel departed without the least sign of gratitude.

The water father continued upon his way, came to the end of the path, then turned into a side street where there was a small bar of log-cabin design with garnet glass in its casement windows.


3. Priya
Chapter 3, Section 3 – Pnin takes his students of Elementary Russian on literary tours of Pushkin
The organs concerned in the production of English speech sounds are the larynx, the velum, the lips, the tongue {that punchinello in the troupe), and, last but not least, the lower jaw; mainly upon its over-energetic and somewhat ruminant motion did Pnin rely when translating in class passages in the Russian grammar or some poem by Pushkin. If his Russian was music, his English was murder. He had enormous difficulty ('dzeefeecooltsee' in Pninian English) with depalatization, never managing to remove the extra Russian moisture from t's and d's before the vowels he so quaintly softened. His explosive 'hat' ('I never go in a hat even in winter') differed from the common American pronunciation of 'hot' (typical of Waindell townspeople, for example) only by its briefer duration, and thus sounded very much like the German verb hat (has). Long o's with him inevitably became short ones: his 'no' sounded positively Italian, and this was accentuated by his trick of triplicating the simple negative ('May I give you a lift, Mr Pnin?'

'No-no-no, I have only two paces from here'). He did not possess (nor was he aware of this lack) any long oo: all he could muster when called upon to utter 'noon' was the lax vowel of the German 'nun' ('I have no classes in afternun on Tuesday. Today is Tuesday.')

Tuesday--true; but what day of the month, we wonder. Pnin's birthday for instance fell on February 3, by the Julian calendar into which he had been born in St Petersburg in 1898. He never celebrated it nowadays, partly because, after his departure from Russia, it sidled by in a Gregorian disguise (thirteen--no, twelve days late), and partly because during the academic year he existed mainly on a motuweth frisas basis.

On the chalk-clouded blackboard, which he wittily called the greyboard, he now wrote a date. In the crook of his arm he still felt the bulk of Zol. Fond Lit. The date he wrote had nothing to do with the day this was in Waindell: December, 26, 1829 He carefully drilled in a big white full stop, and added underneath: 3 .03 p. m. St Petersburg Dutifully this was taken down by Frank Backman, Rose Balsamo, Frank Carroll, Irving D. Herz, beautiful, intelligent Marilyn Hohn, John Mead, Jr, Peter Volkov, and Allan Bradbury Walsh.

Pnin, rippling with mute mirth, sat down again at his desk: he had a tale to tell. That line in the absurd Russian grammar, 'Brozhu li ya vdol' ulits shumnïh (Whether I wander along noisy streets),' was really the opening of a famous poem. Although Pain was supposed in this Elementary Russian class to stick to language exercises ('Mama, telefon! Brozhu li ya vdol' ulits shumnïh. Ot Vladivostoka do Vashingtona 5000 mil'.'), he took every opportunity to guide his students on literary and historical tours.

In a set of eight tetrametric quatrains Pushkin described the morbid habit he always had--wherever he was, whatever he was doing--of dwelling on thoughts of death and of closely inspecting every passing day as he strove to find in its cryptogram a certain 'future anniversary': the day and month that would appear, somewhere, sometime upon his tombstone.

"And where will fate send me", imperfective future, "death",' declaimed inspired Pain, throwing his head back and translating with brave literality, '"in fight, in travel, or in waves? Or will the neighbouring dale"--dolina, same word, "valley" we would now say--"accept my refrigerated ashes", poussière, "cold dust" perhaps more correct. And though it is indifferent to the insensible body."'

Pnin went on to the end and then, dramatically pointing with the piece of chalk he still held, remarked how carefully Pushkin had noted the day and even the minute of writing down that poem.

'But,' exclaimed Pnin in triumph, 'he died on a quite, quite different day! He died--' The chair back against which Pnin was vigorously leaning emitted an ominous crack, and the class resolved a pardonable tension in loud young laughter.

(Sometime, somewhere--Petersburg? Prague?--one of the two musical clowns pulled out the piano stool from under the other, who remained, however, playing on, in a seated, though seatless, position, with his rhapsody unimpaired. Where? Circus Busch, Berlin!)


4. Hemjith
Chapter 1, Section 2 – Pnin recalls a desperate search for the key to the pattern in a recurrent design of wallpaper when he was boy with fever
Still more oppressive was his tussle with the wallpaper. He had always been able to see that in the vertical plane a combination made up of three different clusters of purple flowers and seven different oak leaves was repeated a number of times with soothing exactitude; but now he was bothered by the undismissible fact that he could not find what system of inclusion and circumscription governed the horizontal recurrence of the pattern; that such a recurrence existed was proved by his being able to pick out here and there, all along the wall from bed to wardrobe and from stove to door, the reappearance of this or that element of the series, but when he tried travelling right or left from any chosen set of three inflorescences and seven leaves, he forthwith lost himself in a meaningless tangle of rhododendron and oak. It stood to reason that if the evil designer – the destroyer of minds, the friend of fever – had concealed the key of the pattern with such monstrous care, that key must be as precious as life itself and, when found, would regain for Timofey Pnin his everyday health, his everyday world; and this lucid--alas, too lucid--thought forced him to persevere in the struggle.


5. Shoba
Chapter 4, Section 8 – Pnin meets his ex-wife's son, Victor, at the Waindell bus stop.
It rained all the way. It was raining when he arrived at the Waindell terminal. Because of a streak of dreaminess and a gentle abstraction in his nature, Victor in any queue was always at its very end. He had long since grown used to this handicap, as one grows used to weak sight or a limp. Stooping a little because of his height, he followed without impatience the passengers that filed out through the bus on to the shining asphalt: two lumpy old ladies in semitransparent raincoats, like potatoes in cellophane; a small boy of seven or eight with a crew cut and a frail, hollowed nape; a many-angled, diffident, elderly cripple, who declined all assistance and came out in parts; three rosy-kneed Waindell coeds in shorts; the small boy's exhausted mother; a number of other passengers; and then - Victor, with a grip in his hand and two magazines under his arm.

In an archway of the bus station a totally bald man with a brownish complexion, wearing dark glasses and carrying a black brief-case, was bending in amiable interrogatory welcome over the thin-necked little boy, who, however, kept shaking his head and pointing to his mother, who was waiting for her luggage to emerge from the Greyhound's belly. Shyly and gaily Victor interrupted the quid pro quo. The brown-domed gentleman took off his glasses and, unbending himself, looked up, up, up at tall, tall, tall Victor, at his blue eyes and reddish-brown hair. Pnin's well-developed zygomatic muscles raised and rounded his tanned cheeks; his forehead, his nose, and even his large beautiful ears took part in the smile. All in all, it was an extremely satisfactory meeting.

Pnin suggested leaving the luggage and walking one block - if Victor was not afraid of the rain (it was pouring hard, and the asphalt glistened in the darkness, tarnlike, under large, noisy trees). It would be, Pnin conjectured, a treat for the boy to have a late meal in a diner.

'You arrived well? You had no disagreeable adventures?'

'None, sir.'

'You are very hungry?'

'No, sir. Not particularly.'

'My name is Timofey,' said Pnin, as they made themselves comfortable at a window table in the shabby old diner, 'Second syllable pronounced as "muff", ahksent on last syllable, "ey" as in "prey" but a little more protracted. "Timofey Pavlovich Pnin ", which means "Timothy the son of Paul." The pahtronymic has the ahksent on the first syllable and the rest is sloored - Timofey Pahlch. I have a long time debated with myself - let us wipe these knives and forks - and have concluded that you must call me simply Mr Tim or, even shorter, Tim, as do some of my extremely sympathetic colleagues. It is - what do you want to eat? Veal cutlet? O.K., I will also eat veal cutlet - it is naturally a concession to America, my new country, wonderful America which sometimes surprises me but always provokes respect. In the beginning I was greatly embarrassed -'


In the beginning Pnin was greatly embarrassed by the ease with which first names were bandied about in America: after a single party, with an iceberg in a drop of whisky to start and with a lot of whisky in a little tap water to finish, you were supposed to call a grey-templed stranger 'Jim', while he called you' Tim' for ever and ever. If you forgot and called him next morning Professor Everett (his real name to you) it was (for him) a horrible insult. In reviewing his Russian friends throughout Europe and the United States, Timofey Pahlch could easily count at least sixty dear people whom he had intimately known since, say, 1920, and whom he never called anything but Vadim Vadimich, Ivan Hristoforovich, or Samuil Izrailevich, as the case might be, and who called him by his name and patronymic with the same effusive sympathy, over a strong warm handshake, whenever they met: 'Ah, Timofey Pahlch! Nu kak? (Well how?) A vï, baten'ka, zdorovo postareli (Well, well, old boy, you certainly don't look any younger)!'




6. KumKum
Pnin does the dishes after the party — Chapter Six Section 13 (706 words)
From the sideboard and dining-room table Pnin removed to the kitchen sink the used china and silverware. He put away what food remained into the bright Arctic light of the refrigerator. The ham and tongue had all gone, and so had the little sausages; but the vinaigrette had not been a success, and enough caviare and meat tarts were left over for a meal or two tomorrow. 'Boom-boom-boom,' said the china closet as he passed by. He surveyed the living-room and started to tidy it up. A last drop of Pnin's Punch glistened in its beautiful bowl. Joan had crooked a lipstick-stained cigarette butt in her saucer; Betty had left no trace and had taken all the glasses back to the kitchen. Mrs Thayer had forgotten a booklet of pretty multi-coloured matches on her plate, next to a bit of nougat. Mr Thayer had twisted into all kinds of weird shapes half a dozen paper napkins; Hagen had quenched a messy cigar in an uneaten bunchlet of grapes.
In the kitchen, Pnin prepared to wash up the dishes. He removed his silk coat, his tie, and his dentures. To protect his shirt front and tuxedo trousers, he donned a soubrette's dappled apron. He scraped various titbits off the plates into a brown paper bag, to be given eventually to a mangy little white dog, with pink patches on its back, that visited him sometimes in the afternoon - there was no reason a human's misfortune should interfere with a canine's pleasure.
He prepared a bubble bath in the sink for the crockery, glass, and silverware, and with infinite care lowered the aquamarine bowl into the tepid foam. Its resonant flint glass emitted a sound full of muffled mellowness as it settled down to soak. He rinsed the amber goblets and the silverware under the tap, and submerged them in the same foam. Then he fished out the knives, forks, and spoons, rinsed them, and began to wipe them. He worked very slowly, with a certain vagueness of manner that might have been taken for a mist of abstraction in a less methodical man. He gathered the wiped spoons into a posy, placed them in a pitcher which he had washed but not dried, and then took them out one by one and wiped them all over again. He groped under the bubbles, around the goblets, and under the melodious bowl, for any piece of forgotten silver - and retrieved a nutcracker. Fastidious Pnin rinsed it, and was wiping it, when the leggy thing somehow slipped out of the towel and fell like a man from a roof. He almost caught it - his fingertips actually came into contact with it in mid-air, but this only helped to propel it into the treasure-concealing foam of the sink, where an excruciating crack of broken glass followed upon the plunge.
Pnin hurled the towel into a corner and, turning away stood for a moment staring at the blackness beyond the threshold of the open back door. A quiet, lacy-winged little green insect circled in the glare of a strong naked lamp above Pnin's glossy bald head. He looked very old, with his toothless mouth half open and a film of tears dimming his blank, unblinking eyes. Then, with a moan of anguished anticipation, he went back to the sink and, bracing himself, dipped his hand deep into the foam. A jagger of glass stung him. Gently he removed a broken goblet. The beautiful bowl was intact. He took a fresh dish towel and went on with his household work.
When everything was clean and dry, and the bowl stood aloof and serene on the safest shelf of a cupboard, and the little bright house was securely locked up in the large dark night. Pnin sat down at the kitchen table and, taking a sheet of yellow scrap paper from its drawer, unclipped his fountain pen and started to compose the draft of a letter:
'Dear Hagen,' he wrote in his clear firm hand, 'permit me to recaputilate (crossed out) recapitulate the conversation we had tonight. It, I must confess, somewhat astonished me. If I had the honour to correctly understand you, you said -'


7. Zakia
Chapter 1, Sections 1,2 – Pnin travelling to his Cremona lecture finds himself in the middle of a strange town.
'I was thinking I gained twelve minutes, and now I have lost nearly two whole hours,' said Pnin bitterly. Upon which, clearing his throat and ignoring the consolation offered by the kind grey-head ('You'll make it'), he took off his reading glasses, collected his stone-heavy bag, and repaired to the vestibule of the car so as to wait there for the confused greenery skimming by to be cancelled and replaced by the definite station he had in mind.

2

Whitchurch materialized as scheduled. A hot, torpid expanse of cement and sun lay beyond the geometrical solids of various clean-cut shadows. The local weather was unbelievably summery for October. Alert, Pnin entered a waiting-room of sorts, with a needless stove in the middle, and looked around. In a solitary recess, one could make out the upper part of a perspiring young man who was filling out forms on the broad wooden counter before him.

'Information, please,' said Pnin. 'Where stops four o'clock bus to Cremona?'

'Right across the street,' briskly answered the employee without looking up.

'And where possible to leave baggage?'

'That bag? I'll take care of it.'

And with the national informality that always nonplussed Pnin, the young man shoved the bag into a corner of his nook.

'Quittance?' queried Pnin, Englishing the Russian for 'receipt' (kvtantsiya).

'What's that?'

'Number?' tried Pnin.

'You don't need a number,' said the fellow, and resumed his writing.

Pnin left the station, satisfied himself about the bus stop, and entered a coffee shop. He consumed a ham sandwich, ordered another, and consumed that too. At exactly five minutes to four, having paid for the food but not for an excellent toothpick which he carefully selected from a neat little cup in the shape of a pine cone near the cash register, Pnin walked back to the station for his bag.

A different man was now in charge. The first had been called home to drive his wife in all haste to the maternity hospital. He would be back in a few minutes.

'But I must obtain my valise!' cried Pnin.

The substitute was sorry but could not do a thing.

'It is there!' cried Pnin, leaning over and pointing.

This was unfortunate. He was still in the act of pointing when he realized that he was claiming the wrong bag. His index finger wavered. That hesitation was fatal.

'My bus to Cremona!' cried Pnin.

'There is another at eight,' said the man.

What was our poor friend to do? Horrible situation! He glanced streetward. The bus had just come. The engagement meant an extra fifty dollars. His hand flew to his right side. It was there, slava Bogu (thank God)! Very well! He would not wear his black suit - vot i vsyo (that's all). He would retrieve it on his way back. He had lost, dumped, shed many more valuable things in his day. Energetically, almost light-heartedly, Pnin boarded the bus.

He had endured this new stage of his journey only for a few city blocks when an awful suspicion crossed his mind. Ever since he had been separated from his bag, the tip of his left forefinger had been alternating with the proximal edge of his right elbow in checking a precious presence in his inside coat pocket. All of a sudden he brutally yanked it out. It was Betty's paper.

Emitting what he thought were international exclamations of anxiety and entreaty, Pnin lurched out of his seat. Reeling, he reached the exit. With one hand the driver grimly milked out a handful of coins from his little machine, refunded him the price of the ticket, and stopped the bus. Poor Pnin landed in the middle of a strange town.


8. Sunil
Chapter 5 Section 1 – Nearly losing his way Pnin arrives in an old jalopy to attend the bi-annual meeting of Russian émigrés at the The Pines, home of Alexandr Petrovich Kukolnikov (Al Cook)
On a dull warm day in the summer of 1954, Mary or Almira, or, for that matter, Wolfgang von Goethe, whose name had been carved in the balustrade by some old-fashioned wag, might have noticed an automobile that had turned off the highway just before reaching the bridge and was now nosing and poking this way and that in a maze of doubtful roads. It moved warily and unsteadily, and whenever it changed its mind, it would slow down and raise dust behind like a back-kicking dog. At times it might seem, to a less sympathetic soul than our imagined observer, that this pale blue, egg-shaped two-door sedan, of uncertain age and in mediocre condition, was manned by an idiot. Actually its driver was Professor Timofey Pnin, of Waindell College.

Pnin had started taking lessons at the Waindell Driving School early in the year, but 'true understanding', as he put it, had come to him only when, a couple of months later, he had been laid up with a sore back and had done nothing but study with deep enjoyment the forty-page Driver's Manual, issued by the State Governor in collaboration with another expert, and the article on 'Automobile' in the Encyclopedia Americana, with illustrations of Transmissions, and Carburettors, and Brakes, and a Member of the Glidden Tour, circa 1905, stuck in the mud of a country road among depressing surroundings. Then and only then was the dual nature of his initial inklings transcended at last as he lay on his sick-bed, wiggling his toes and shifting phantom gears. During actual lessons with a harsh instructor who cramped his style, issued unnecessary directives in yelps of technical slang, tried to wrestle the wheel from him at comers, and kept irritating a calm, intelligent pupil with expressions of vulgar detraction, Pnin had been totally unable to combine perceptually the car he was driving in his mind and the car he was driving on the road. Now the two fused at last. If he failed the first time he took his driver's licence test, it was mainly because he started an argument with the examiner in an ill-timed effort to prove that nothing could be more humiliating to a rational creature than being required to encourage the development of a Base conditional reflex by stopping at a red light when there was not an earthly soul around, heeled or wheeled. He was more circumspect the next time, and passed. An irresistible senior, enrolled in his Russian Language course, Marilyn Hohn, sold him for a hundred dollars her humble old car: she was getting married to the owner of a far grander machine. The trip from Waindell to Onkwedo, with an overnight stop at a tourist home, had been slow and difficult but uneventful. Just before entering Onkwedo, he had pulled up at a gas station and had got out for a breath of country air. An inscrutable white sky hung over a clover field, and from a pile of firewood near a shack came a rooster's cry, jagged and gaudy--a vocal coxcomb. Some chance intonation on the part of this slightly hoarse bird, combined with the warm wind pressing itself against Pnin in search of attention, recognition, anything, briefly reminded him of a dim dead day when he, a Petrograd University freshman, had arrived at the small station of a Baltic summer resort, and the sounds, and the smells, and the sadness –
...
Pnin had now been in that maze of forest roads for about an hour and had come to the conclusion that 'bear north', and in fact the word 'north' itself, meant nothing to him. He also could not explain what had compelled him, a rational being, to listen to a chance busybody instead of firmly following the pedantically precise instructions that his friend, Alexandr Petrovich Kukolnikov (known locally as Al Cook) had sent him when inviting him to spend the summer at his large and hospitable country house. Our luckless car operator had by now lost himself too thoroughly to be able to go back to the highway, and since he had little experience in manoeuvring on rutty narrow roads, with ditches and even ravines gaping on either side, his various indecisions and gropings took those bizarre visual forms that an observer on the lookout tower might have followed with a compassionate eye; but there was no living creature in that forlorn and listless upper region except for an ant who had his own troubles, having, after hours of inept perseverance, somehow reached the upper platform and the balustrade (his autostrada) and was getting all bothered and baffled much in the same way as that preposterous toy car progressing below.


9. Joe
Chapter 6 Section 12 – Hagen returns after the party to tell Pnin his future at Waindell is uncertain
First,' said Hagen, as he and Pnin re-entered the living-room. 'I guess I'll have a last cup of wine with you.'
'Perfect. Perfect!' cried Pnin. 'Let us finish my cruchon.'
They made themselves comfortable, and Dr Hagen said:
'You are a wonderful host, Timofey. This is a very delightful moment. My grandfather used to say that a glass of good wine should be always sipped and savoured as if it were the last one before the execution. I wonder what you put into this punch. I also wonder if, as our charming Joan affirms, you are really contemplating buying this house?'
'Not contemplating - peeping a little at possibilities,' replied Pnin with a gurgling laugh.
'I question the wisdom of it,' continued Hagen nursing his goblet.
'Naturally, I am expecting that I will get tenure at last,' said Pnin rather slyly. 'I am now Assistant Professor nine years. Years run. Soon I will be Assistant Emeritus. Hagen, why are you silent?'
'You place me in a very embarrassing position, Timofey. I hoped you would not raise this particular question.'
'I do not raise the question. I say that I only expect - oh, not next year, but example given, at hundredth anniversary of Liberation of Serfs - Waindell will make me Associate.'
'Well, you see, my dear friend, I must tell you a sad secret. It is not official yet, and you must promise not to mention it to anyone.'
'I swear,' said Pnin, raising his hand.
'You cannot but know,' continued Hagen, 'with what loving care I built our great department. I, too, am no longer young. You say, Timofey, you have been here for nine years. But I have been giving my all for twenty-nine years to this university I My modest all. As my friend, Dr Kraft, wrote me the other day: you, Herman Hagen, have done alone more for Germany in America than all our missions have done in Germany for America. And what happens now? I have nursed this Falternfels, this dragon, in my bosom, and he has now worked himself into a key position. I spare you the details of the intrigue!'
'Yes,' said Pnin with a sigh, 'intrigue is horrible, horrible. But, on the other side, honest work will always prove its advantage. You and I will give next year some splendid new courses which I have planned long ago. On Tyranny. On the Boot. On Nicholas the First. On all the precursors of modern atrocity. Hagen, when we speak of injustice, we forget Armenian massacres, tortures which Tibet invented, colonists in Africa.... The history of man is the history of pain!'
Hagen bent over to his friend and patted him on his knobby knee.
'You are a wonderful romantic, Timofey, and under happier circumstances... However, I can tell you that in the Spring Term we are going to do something unusual. We are going to stage a Dramatic Programme - scenes from Kotzebue to Hauptmann. I see it as a sort of apotheosis.... But let us not anticipate. I, too, am a romantic, Timofey, and therefore cannot work with people like Bodo, as our trustees wish me to do. Kraft is retiring at Seaboard, and it has been offered to me that I replace him, beginning next fall.'
'I congratulate you,' said Pnin warmly.
'Thanks, my friend. It is certainly a very fine and prominent position. I shall apply to a wider field of scholarship and administration the invaluable experience I have gained here. Of course, since I know Bodo will not continue you in the German Department, my first move was to suggest you come with me, but they tell me they have enough Slavists at Seaboard without you. So I spoke to Blorenge, but the French Department here is also full up. This is unfortunate, because Waindell feels that it would be too much of a financial burden to pay you for two or three Russian courses that have ceased to attract students. Political trends in America, as we all know, discourage interest in things Russian. On the other hand, you'll be glad to know that the English Department is inviting one of your most brilliant compatriots, a really fascinating lecturer - I have heard him once; I think he's an old friend of yours.'
Pnin cleared his throat and asked:
'It signifies that they are firing me?'
'Now, don't take it too hard, Timofey. I'm sure your old friend -'
'Who is old friend?' queried Pnin, slitting his eyes.
Hagen named the fascinating lecturer.
Leaning forward, his elbows propped on his knees, clasping and unclasping his hands, Pnin said:
'Yes, I know him thirty years or more. We are friends, but there is one thing perfectly certain. I will never work under him.'
'Well, I guess you should sleep on it. Perhaps some solution may be found. Anyway, we'll have ample opportunity to discuss these matters. We shall just go on teaching, you and I, as if nothing had happened, nicht wahr? We must be brave, Timofey!'
'So they have fired me,' said Pnin, clasping his hands and nodding his head.
'Yes we are in the same boat, in the same boat,' said jovial Hagen, and he stood up. It was getting very late.
'I go now,' said Hagen, who, though a lesser addict of the present tense than Pnin, also held it in favour. 'It has been a wonderful party, and I would never have allowed myself to spoil the merriment if our mutual friend had not informed me of your optimistic intentions. Good night. Oh, by the way... Naturally, you will get your salary for the Fall Term in full, and then we shall see how much we can obtain for you in the Spring Term, especially if you will agree to take off some stupid office work from my poor old shoulders, and also if you will participate vitally in the Dramatic Programme in New Hall. I think you should actually play in it, under my daughter's direction; it would distract you from sad thoughts. Now go to bed at once, and put yourself to sleep with a good mystery story.'
On the porch he pumped Pnin's unresponsive hand with enough vigour for two. Then he flourished his cane and merrily marched down the wooden steps.
The screen door banged behind him.
'Der arme Kerl,' muttered kind-hearted Hagen to himself as he walked homeward. 'At least, I have sweetened the pill.' 

6 comments:

Shipra said...

Another enjoyable Session of KRG! What an ambiance to read a gem of a book! ---- Monsoon, Kochi Yacht Club on the River, erudite members of KRG and Cake, Samosas....

We missed Kavita, Ankush, Priti and Saras.

Though we had Pnin in our home library for years, I did not read the book before. Thank you Joe, Thommo, Sunil for selecting the book for KRG's July Session. I enjoyed Pnin.

I know Nabokov is one of Joe's favorite authors. Your 'Languor' for Nabokov's stunning prose crept up as you "fondled details" in your account of our July Session. Good Job!
K2

Anonymous said...

Hey Joe:

Re: “Paul Cézanne could have painted a still life titled Remains of a Party after reading this passage.”

If Paul Cézanne had descended to present-day India and been given the title, he would have painted Mr Rahul Gandhi ...

Hemjit Bharathan said...

Wonderful and enlightening Joe. Thanks.

Management - Learning from Experiences by Reflection said...

Hello KumKum,
Glad you enjoyed reading Pnin, a character Nabokov created to have fun with, and let us into the way faculty intrigue works on campus.

Of course, Nabokov’s style is all his own, demonstrating how a creative imagination can mould such a subtle language as English, so long as one abhors clichés.
- joe

Management - Learning from Experiences by Reflection said...

Hello Hemjith,

It is rare that literature can serve to enlighten as well as to excite wonder. Indeed Nabokov does both! Glad you enjoyed.
- joe

Management - Learning from Experiences by Reflection said...

Hello Anonymous,

A lone painting, not a dynastic family portrait?