Speak, Memory (Everyman's Library)
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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 The Everyman's Library edition includes, for the first time, the previously unpublished "Chapter 16"–the most significant unpublished piece of writing by the master, newly released by the Nabokov estate–which provided an extraordinary insight into Speak, Memory.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 émigré 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)
1946, to be exact—a sudden crop of infants with Turkic or Mongol blood in their innocent veins, were chased and slapped on the rear (whereupon they would cry out, “Ow-wow!”); and the exhalations coming from these unfortunate frolickers, and their shed clothes (neatly spread out here and there on the ground) mingled with the stench of stagnant water to form an inferno of odors that, somehow, I have never found duplicated anywhere else. People in Berlin’s public gardens and city parks were not
the Darwinian sense, could not explain the miraculous coincidence of imitative aspect and imitative behavior, nor could one appeal to the theory of “the struggle for life” when a protective device was carried to a point of mimetic subtlety, exuberance, and luxury far in excess of a predator’s power of appreciation. I discovered in nature the nonutilitarian delights that I sought in art. Both were a form of magic, both were a game of intricate enchantment and deception. 3 I have hunted
water, in which one immersed one’s feet. From him I learned, and have preserved ever since in a glass cell of my memory, that “butterfly” in the Basque language is misericoletea—or at least it sounded so (among the seven words I have found in dictionaries the closest approach is micheletea). 3 On the browner and wetter part of the plage, that part which at low tide yielded the best mud for castles, I found myself digging, one day, side by side with a little French girl called Colette. She
Still I could not force myself to go to bed, dreading not so much insomnia as the inevitable double systole, abetted by the cold of the sheets, and also the curious affection called anxietas tibiarum, a painful condition of unrest, an excruciating increase of muscular sense, which leads to a continual change in the position of one’s limbs. So I would heap on more coals and help revive the flames by spreading a sheet of the London Times over the smoking black jaws of the fireplace, thus screening
constant source of grateful wonder). In every way the visit was not a success. I had lunch with Nesbit at a little place, which ought to have been full of memories but which, owing to various changes, was not. He had given up smoking. Time had softened his features and he no longer resembled Gorki or Gorki’s translator, but looked a little like Ibsen, minus the simian vegetation. An accidental worry (the cousin or maiden sister who kept house for him had just been removed to Binet’s clinic or