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Spring in Fialta’s opening line, “Spring in Fialta is cloudy and dull,” (Nabokov 413) is quite an atypical beginning for Nabokov. This line, coming from a man who is overly concerned with trifles, brings up many questions. Is Nabokov intentionally leaving out the trifles of Fialta here at the beginning? If so, why? Perhaps the answer to this question is that Nabokov intends for the line in question to be a double entendre referring to both the town and the story itself. On the narrative level, Nabokov leaves little to the reader’s imagination. The story is dull and commonplace. Moreover, I found Douglas Fowler’s criticism of the story to be off the mark and reaching. Fowler is looking too deeply into a cut and dry romantic parody, which bears a striking resemblance to Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin.
Nina’s imminent death is mentioned all over this story. These statements are so direct that it cannot be called foreshadowing. Foreshadowing is much more subtle, like seeing a dead bird or something. Foreshadowing is definitely not like what is in Spring in Fialta, which is more like, “Yup, she’s gonna die.” For example, the lunch with Nina where, “for the last time in her life, was busy eating the shellfish of which she was so fond,” (Nabokov 427). There are many more statements, some not quite as direct as these, but direct nonetheless such as when Victor is imagining her:
Had I to submit before judges or our earthly existence a specimen of her average pose, I would have perhaps placed her leaning upon a counter at Cook’s, left calf crossing right shin, left toe tapping floor, sharp elbows and coin-spilling bag on the counter, while the employee, pencil in hand, pondered with her over the plan of an eternal sleeping car. (Nabokov 417)
Also, very early on, Victor says he “cannot imagine any heavenly firm of brokers that might consent to arrange me a meeting with her beyond the grave,” (Nabokov 415).
Statements such as these makes the reader so used to Nina’s death that at the climax of the story when she finally dies, the reader feels no sadness towards this event. There is no tugging at the heartstrings.
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Victor was feeling trapped ever since his first encounter with Nina. He kissed her upon first meeting her. Every subsequent meeting, either Victor, Nina, or both were romantically involved with someone else. His adoration, lust, love, crush, or whatever you want to call it for Nina was never allowed to be realized. Finally Victor, quite pathetically expresses his feelings:
“Look here – what if I love you?” Nina glanced at me, I repeated those words, I wanted to add… but something like a bat passed swiftly across her face, a quick, queer, almost ugly expression, and she who would utter coarse words with perfect simplicity, became embarrassed; I also felt awkward….”Never mind, I was only joking.” (Nabokov 429).
Once Nina dies, the reader feels an immediate feeling of relief for Victor. He no longer runs the risk of accidentally bumping into her, feeling awkward. His unreturned passions may be finally set aside, neatly folded and safely stored in his cedar chest of memory. Finally able to perfectly align his mental compass to his true north which is his family, which before was “always floating beside me, and even through me, I dare say, but yet keeping on the outside of me most of the time.”
Literary critic Douglas Fowler completely overlooks this reason for Nina’s death and instead tries desperately to link it with Ferdinand. He believes that Ferdinand represents invulnerable, plain art and Nina the mortality of life (Fowler 69). “Nina is not a ‘muse,’ she has no culture, she only ‘loyally’ shares Ferdinand’s tastes, she fakes an acquaintance with his work. But her imitation of Ferdinand’s world is fatal to her, for Ferdinand is connected only with artificiality and death, art and antilife,” (Fowler 70).
It is humorous that the contention against Fowler’s claim comes from Ferdinand himself. “Criticism!’ he [Ferdinand] exclaimed. ‘Fine criticism! Every slick jackanapes sees fit to read me a lecture. Ignorance of my work is their bliss. My books are touched gingerly, as one touches something that may go bang. Criticism! They are examined from every point of view except the essential one,” (Nabokov 427). Spring in Fialta, as well as countless other works by Nabokov are painstakingly marveled at in hopes to find hidden plotlines, deeper meanings and instead plummet into Nabokov’s labyrinth of reader traps, never to return.
The plotline of Spring in Fialta in some ways parallels that of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin and perhaps Nabokov intends for it to be a parody. Nabokov, of course, was very familiar with this work. However, I am unaware if this short story was penned before or after his translation and gargantuan commentary of Eugene Onegin. Eugene Onegin is a story of a love that can never be, which Spring in Fialta also reflects. There are a few differences, however. The first is that the roles are reversed: Victor is Tatyana and Nina is Onegin. Next, Nina never falls in love with Victor. Finally, the story of Onegin leaves the reader feeling very sad and disappointed, and as I stated earler, the ending of Spring in Fialta leaves the reader with a sense of relief. Perhaps this is Nabokov’s alternative to the kitschy romance story.