An Autobiography RevisitedBook - 1999
From one of the 20th century's great writers comes one of the finest autobiographies of our time. Speak, Memory was first published by Vladimir Nabokov in 1951 as Conclusive Evidence and then assiduously revised and republished in 1966. The Everyman's Library edition includes, for the first time, the previously unpublished "Chapter 16"-the most significant unpublished piece of writing by the master, newly released by the Nabokov estate-which provided an extraordinary insight into Speak, Memory .
Nabokov's memoir is a moving account of a loving, civilized family, of adolescent awakenings, flight from Bolshevik terror, education in England, and #65533;migr#65533; life in Paris and Berlin. The Nabokovs were eccentric, liberal aristocrats, who lived a life immersed in politics and literature on splendid country estates until their world was swept away by the Russian revolution when the author was eighteen years old. Speak, Memory vividly evokes a vanished past in the inimitable prose of Nabokov at his best.
(Book Jacket Status: Jacketed)
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A large woman, a very stout woman, Mademoiselle rolled into our existence in December 1905 when I was six and my brother five. There she is. I see so plainly her abundant dark hair, brushed up high and covertly graying; the three wrinkles on her austere forehead; her beetling brows; the steely eyes behind the black-rimmed pince-nez; that vestigial moustache; that blotchy complexion which in moments of wrath develops an additional flush in the region of the third, and amplest, chin so regally spread over the frilled mountain of her blouse. And now she sits down, or rather she tackles the job of sitting down, the jelly of her jowl quaking, her prodigious posterior, with the three buttons on the side, lowering itself warily; then, at the last second, she surrenders her bulk to the wicker armchair, which, out of sheer fright, bursts into a salvo of cracking.
The storm passed quickly...
A moment later my first poem began. What touched it off? I think I know. Without any wind blowing, the sheer weight of a raindrop, shining in parasitic luxury on a cordate leaf, caused its tip to dip, and what looked like a globule of quicksilver performed a sudden glissando down the centre vein, and then, having shed its bright load, the relieved leaf unbent. Tip, leaf, dip, relief - the instant it all took to happen seemed to me not so much a fraction of time as a fissure in it, a missed heartbeat, which was refunded at once by a patter of rhymes: I say 'patter' intentionally, for when a gust of wind did come, the trees would briskly start to drip altogether in as crude an imitation of the recent downpour as the stanza I was already muttering resembled the shock of wonder I had experienced when for a moment heart and leaf had been one.
The "English" Park that separated our house from the hayfields was an extensive and elaborate affair with labyrinth paths, Turgenevian benches, and imported oaks among the endemic firs and birches. The struggle that had gone on since my grandfather's time to keep the park from reverting to the wild state always fell short of complete success. No gardener could cope with the hillocks of frizzly black earth that the pink hands of moles kept heaping on the tidy sand of the main walk. Weeds and fungi, and ridgelike tree roots crossed and recrossed the sun-flecked trails. ..On a picturesque boulder, a little mountain ash and a still smaller aspen had climbed, holding hands, like two clumsy, shy children.
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