Spring In Fialta by Vladimir Nabokov, 1936
The magic trick:
Creating a romanticized past through lush sentences
Happy Valentine’s Day! We’ve had love stories all week on the SSMT blog, and we wrap up the madness with one of the most lovesick stories ever written.
The moment means everything in this story. The narrator is telling us about a past relationship, so he’s already in the mode of looking back. But within that looking back is a second level of backstory about the relationship he continually skips back to. So we have the present tense of the telling of the story, the present tense of the main action of the story in Fialta, and a whole slew of scenes and memories involving Nina from the years prior to Fialta. Confused yet?
Well, I think that’s kind of the point. Nabokov – as we saw on SSMT last year with his nostalgia trip, “First Love” – revels in looking back. This story is nothing if not romantic. The writing style, I think, is his most important asset. The sentences are complicated and dramatic. Many are downright beautiful. The writing makes for a melodramatic, hyper-romantic tone – a tone that is perfect for a narrator who is looking back to the past. The narrator laments that at every meeting throughout his relationship with Nina, he feared it would be the last time he saw her. He never could appreciate the moment. Back then, he was worried about the future. And now, he’s pining over the past. If that isn’t romantic, I don’t know what is. And that’s quite a trick on Nabokov’s part.
And regardless of what happened to me or to her, in between, we never discussed anything, as we never thought of each other during the intervals in our destiny, so that when we met the pace of life altered at once, all its atoms were recombined, and we lived in another, lighter time-medium, which was measured not by the lengthy separations but by those few meetings of which a short, supposedly frivolous life was thus artificially formed. And with each new meeting I grew more and more apprehensive; no – I did not experience any inner emotional collapse, the shadow of tragedy did not haunt our revels, my married life remained unimpaired, while on the other hand her eclectic husband ignored her casual affairs although deriving some profit from them in the way of pleasant and useful connections. I grew apprehensive because something lovely, delicate, and unrepeatable was being wasted: something which I abused by snapping off poor bright bits in gross haste while the neglecting the modest but true core which perhaps it kept offering me in a pitiful whisper.