Bibliothèque Rose

Bibliothèque Rose

“those same Bibliothèque
Rose volumes”
—Vladimir Nabokov,
Speak, Memory

“a Proustian excoriation
of the senses”
—Vladimir Nabokov,
Speak, Memory

The idea of “elliptical self-portraiture” seems to fascinate Nabokov throughout his oeuvre—the act of “vividly recalling a patch of the past” as he says at the end of Chapter 3 of Speak, Memory:

“I have reason to believe that the almost pathological keenness of the retrospective faculty is a hereditary one”

He connects and compares himself with his Uncle Ruka in 1908 or 1909 becoming totally engrossed in a passage from a French children’s book from his boyhood past:

“Sophie n’était pas jolie…”

And feeling the same sense of his Uncle Ruka’s re-discovering the moment of “robust reality making a ghost of the present” with phrases like:

“the blue roses of the wallpaper”

“its reflection fills the oval mirror”

“Everything is as it should be”

“nothing will ever change”

“Nobody will ever die”

What are we to make of such “selfsame slippages”? Slipping into the self—through other selves? The Fictionalist in me likes the way Nabokov fictionalizes his autobiography in SM (Speak, Memory). Isn’t it memory that’s speaking to the reader? Speaking through Nabokov—as he plays a game of “selfsame slippage” like a game of chess?

And if memory is speaking to the reader in SM—then isn’t Nabokov doing the same thing in TOOL (The Original of Laura) as well as PL (Pale Fire) and L (Lolita)? To say that when memory speaks, it’s simply an unreliable narrator like Humbert Humbert or Kinbote speaking is only in my opinion half the story.

From my Fictionalist POV—the other half, the “self-effacing technique” and “central conceit of the novel-in-ovo”—is Nabokov himself providing us a window into his style of auto-obliteration and Bibliothèque Rose intertextuality.

As Nabokov confides in SM:

“Houses have crumbled in my memory as soundlessly as they did in the mute films of yore.”

A kind of Glistian “Glandscape” (receding ovals) and “auto-photography” interests me here—in the sense that I see “Index card fiction” as a kind of “selfsame slippage” into my own version of filmic Bibliothèque Rose narrative, i.e., schmoozing as Nabokov and his Uncle Ruka schmoozed their way through those early cloying Frenchified boyhood books of theirs.

Except with my Fictionalist weaknesses and guilty pleasures, the Bibliothèque Rose of my boyhood imagination is decidedly more cinematic than bibliophilic. Rather than Frenchified fiction—I seem to prefer what I have come to refer as “schmaltz noir.”

In other words, my own box of index cards.

Notes and Nabokov photos. More random and Fictionalist perhaps than online Ada. Grade B films from the late ‘50s—that have been called poshlust Snake Pit teenage sexploitation movies. Movies that simply coincided with my own hormonally-vulnerable boyhood imagination—in the same way perhaps that Bibliothèque Rose coincided with Nabokov and his Uncle Ruka’s youthful eyes.

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