Sunday, July 5, 2009

high life, low life

From Languagehat:

[...] Concerning Vladimir Vladimirovich: people who have read his memoirs (I have not read them) write to me with amazement and indignation concerning his lines about me: they see them as nearly libelous. But I quickly cooled down, and I think that at that time, in 1915-16, there was something in me that provided fodder for his anecdote. The anecdote itself is an invention, but it is possible that he accurately reflected the disrespectful feeling I had toward those around me. I was very awkward: in gloves with holes, not knowing how to behave in high society—and then I was ignorant, like all newspapermen—an ignoramus despite myself, self-taught, who had to feed a large family with my clumsy writings. Vladimir Vladimirovich's father, on the other hand, was a man of very high culture. He had a particular game: enumerating all of Dickens' heroes, almost three hundred names. He engaged in a competition with me. I ran out of steam after the first hundred. We jokingly competed in our knowledge of the novels of Arnold Bennett. Here too he took first place: he named around twenty titles, whereas I had read only eight. I always treated him with respect and lovingly preserve his few letters and friendly notes in Chukokkala [Chukovsky's album].

Относительно Владимира Владимировича: люди, прочитавшие его мемуары (я не читал их), пишут мне с удивлением, с возмущением по поводу его строк обо мне: видят здесь чуть не пасквиль. Но я вскоре поостыл и думаю, что в то время – в 1915-16 гг. – во мне было очевидно что-то, что дало пищу его анекдоту. Самый анекдот – выдумка, но возможно, что он верно отразил то неуважительное чувство, которое я внушал окружающим. Я был очень нескладен: в дырявых перчатках, неумеющий держаться в высшем обществе – и притом невежда, как все газетные работники, – невежда-поневоле, самоучка, вынужденный кормить огромную семью своим неумелым писанием. Отец же Владимира Владимировича был человек очень высокой культуры. У него была особая игра: перечислять все имена героев Диккенса – чуть ли не триста имен. Он соревновался со мною. Я изнемогал после первой же сотни. Мы в шутку состязались в знании всех романов А. Беннета. Он и здесь оказывался первым: назвал около двух десятков заглавий, я же читал всего восемь. Я всегда относился к нему с уважением и любовно храню его немногие письма и дружеские записи в «Чукоккала».
This has more of a bearing on my work than may immediately be obvious.

Nabokov was taught French and English as a small child. In Speak, Memory he describes his childhood, describes reading the simple texts which introduced a child to these languages. He sat in a room in a grand house, while a girl swept the gravel on a path outside. He comments that the girl may well have been happier sweeping the gravel than performing the tasks assigned her by the Soviet system.

Every child can't live in a grand house, but every child could have a mind furnished with, as it might be, Homeric Greek. Flaubertian French. The Hebrew of the Psalms (which Milton thought the greatest poetry he knew). Our educational system does not want every child to have a mind furnished in the grand style. It sets up an obstacle course. Those who succeed can aspire, if they work very hard, to a house furnished in the Tyler Brulé style.

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