Monday, February 17, 2014

Nabokov's TRANSPARENT THINGS: Writers & (Very) Young Women, a Nude Girl Child, & Sexual Desire at Puberty

Transparent Things

Here's Martin Amis' book description on Amazon for Nabokov's Transparent Things:

"Transparent Things revolves around the four visits of the hero--sullen, gawky Hugh Person--to Switzerland . . .  As a young [sic] publisher, Hugh is sent to interview R., falls in love with Armande on the way, wrests her, after  multiple humiliations, from a grinning Scandinavian and returns to NY with his bride. . . . Eight years later--following a murder, a period of madness and a brief imprisonment--Hugh makes a lone sentimental journey to wheedle out his past. . ." 

In addition to being a publisher, Hugh Person was a writer too. He had "... an unfinished short story in a Russian copybook...parts of a philosophical essay in a blue cahier...and the loose sheets of a rudimentary novel under the title Faust in Moscow." Hugh was unpublished except for a poem that he published in a college magazine. 

But the middle-aged Person "... had courted a thirty-eight-year-old mother and her sixteen-year-old daughter but had been impotent with the first and not audacious enough with the second." 

And 40-year-old Person, "... who had a long, lean, doleful face with a slightly undershot jaw ..." met 23-year-old Armande, who had "... dark eyes, fair hair, a honey-hued skin. Twin dimples..in a Swiss railway carriage." They were subsequently married, but the age-discrepant marriage ended very badly. 

Mr. R, a much older published writer, who had "... coarse features, a swallow complexion, a lumpy nose with enlarged pores ..." took Julia Moore's (his step-daughter) virginity when she was 13. Mr. R had an affair with his step-daughter until she was 18, which was when he discovered that his wife and step-daughter were "... having and affair with Christian Pines, son of the well-known cinema man who had directed the film Golden Windows (precariously based on the best of the author's novels)." 

Subsequently, Person had a one-night-stand with the 18-year-old Julia, who had a doll face, slanting eyes, "... and topaz -teared earlobes..." in his upper-east side apartment after meeting her at a party in Manhattan. 

Armande and Julia were friends and "... had both taught in the winter at a school for foreign ladies in the Tessin."

Armande's "... parents and aunts, the insatiable takers of cute pictures, believed in fact that a girl child of ten, the dream of a Lutwidgean [a reference to Charles Lutwidge Dodgson and his controversial photography] , had the same right to total nudity as an infant." Person had the pleasure of perusing the photo album. 

And interestingly Nabokov wrote in contradiction to the age of consent laws, "In fact at puberty sexual desire arises as a substitute for the desire to kill, which one normally fulfills in one's dreams ..."

If you enjoyed Lolita, you'll enjoy Transparent Things, but despite the novella being only 104 pages, it's a bit more difficult to read than Lolita. Because the novella isn't linear, you'll probably need to take notes to keep up, which according to Boyd in Vladimir Nabakov The Russian Years, is something that Nabokov intended.