Vladimir Nabokov, while residing in Berlin (1922-37), wrote the first nine novels of his exemplary career as a novelist in Russian. These were published "by emigre houses" in Europe. Podvig (literally, "exploit") appeared serially in Sovremennye Zapiski (1932) published out of Paris.
Disappointed by the mediocre translation of his novel, Camera Obscura, into English, Nabokov (Boyd, 1996, p.848),
who had learned to speak and write English, French, and Russian at an early age in his privileged St. Petersburg family (pre-Bolshevik Revolution), began subsequently writing in English and eventually handled his own translations of these early novels, which had been presented initially in Russian.
The Nabokovs -- his family was supportive of his vocation -- tackled the translation of Podvig last of these. Nabokov's son, Dmitri, worked three years making a draft in the late-1960s, and, as reported in the 1970 Foreword, Nabokov himself "spent three months preparing a fair copy."
Nabokov has commented, also in the Foreword to the English edition, concerning his selection for a translated title in a manner which indicates his general proclivity for utilizing wording that is rich in multiple associations. Apparently, he originally titled the novel "Podvig" in the sense of "gallant feat" in hopes of calling attention to "the thrill and glamour that my young expatriate finds in the most ordinary pleasures." So now in English, rather than "Fulfillment," he chose "the oblique Glory" because of "all its natural associations branching in the bronze sun" (pages x, xii, xiii).
Glory (1971) is a coming-of-age novel (Bildungsroman) on par with
* The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (Fielding, 1749)
* Emma (Austen, 1815)
* David Copperfield (Dickens, 1850)
* The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Twain, 1884)
* The Catcher in the Rye (Salinger, 1951)
* The House on Mango Street (Cisneros, 1984)
* The Kite Runner (Hosseini, 2003).
The narrative is exotic, sports a humorous vein, and is easier to read/appreciate than either Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury (1929), or Nabokov's own Pale Fire (1962). Without Dmitri's translated draft for comparison one could not quantify the extent of changes his father made c.1970, although, reading along, it seems Nabokov added an overlay of "enhancements" for the English version. How could he resist the urge nearly 40 years after the Russian edition?
Summary of the Novel's Primary Characters & Plot
* Martin Edelweiss -- the Russian lad who follows his various "enchantments" and matriculates in Trinity College, Cambridge.
* Sofia -- his Anglophile mother who manages to escape from the Russian revolution with her son.
* Kolya & Lida -- sibling children of a doctor; Martin becomes friends with them near Yalta, Crimea.
* Alla Chernosvitov -- a married poetess about nine years older than Martin, whom he meets on the voyage from Crimea to Athens.
* Uncle Henry Edelweiss -- cousin of Martin's deceased father, lives in the Alps of Switzerland and agrees to support Sofia & Martin.
* Olga Zilanov & daughter Sonia -- provide Martin temporary lodging in London; later move to Berlin.
* Darwin -- an English student who resides downstairs from Martin at Cambridge and becomes his friend; a World War I veteran who already has a book of "tractates" under his belt.
* Archibald Moon -- colorful character; University don under whose tutelage Martin studies Russian literature and history during his first year at Cambridge.
Nabokov switches back and forth in time during the narrative, at will, and occasionally while drifting on a digression, which in effect suddenly wakes up the reader -- "Wait, are we in Switzerland or the United Kingdom?" These are the plot basics, organized by chronological geographic movement of fictional Martin Edelweiss.
* Martin grows up in St. Petersburg, Russia.
* Mother and son relocate to the Crimea, c.1917-18.
* Mother and son emigrate to the chalet of Uncle Henry Edelweiss in the Swiss Alps, 1919, via voyage aboard a freighter to Greece, an ocean liner to Marseille, and train to Lausanne. First consummated sexual encounter is with Alla C. near Athens.
* Martin goes to Cambridge, England to begin studies, rather than to U. of Geneva, Winter of 1920, plays goalkeeper on soccer team.
Premised generally on the notion that one writes what one knows, has observed, has experienced, has felt -- and even when an author has written an outlandish fiction of the imagination there are unconsciously-left "traces" (Derrida, 1973) in most instances, which can reference his/her cultural background -- it is not surprising Nabokov spiced the Glory narrative with brief mentions of winged insect behavior, moths, fleas, flies, and so on (an interest dating from his early teens).
Nor is it uncommon, although not de rigueur, that expatriate writers imbue particular words or phrases used in a text with an 'added value', so to speak, namely a personally referential meaning. Unfortunately, these enhanced terms aren't printed in a second-color ink, which leaves readers to dig them out on their own. Nina Berberova seems to have used this technique at times. In her story "The Resurrection of Mozart," the town named Sedan had what she identified as "ominous connotations" because her characters are discussing the World War II battle the previous month in the Ardennes (lost by the French). Several pages later the narrator explains the motivation for Maria Leonidovna, the hostess character, choosing Mozart in a verbal game the party is playing: "She had decided ... merely because she connected that name in her mind with her earliest childhood, and because it lived on as something pure, transparent, and eternal that might take the place of happiness" (tr. by Marian Schwartz, 1990).
Incidentally, Berberova gave early critical acclaim in Paris (1930) for Nabokov's Zashchita Luzhina (later tr. as The Defense), and he met her among other emigre writers during a visit to Paris and Antwerp in 1932 (Boyd). Nabokov narrated in numerous chapters of Glory, of course, his character Martin's identification of personally enhanced words. And it would be remiss to omit from this discussion a certain expatriate, James Joyce's remarkable personification of Dublin's River Liffey as the mother "Anna Livia Plurabelle" (in Finnegans Wake, 1939). For a 20th century expatriate poet's handling of personally enhanced imagery, see Czeslaw Milosz (Lithuanian, defected Polish diplomatic post, Paris 1951), e.g., "City Without a Name," "My Faithful Mother Tongue," & numerous others.
The intent of this review is to help young students who come across it by pointing to some avenues for exploration and, if nothing else, saving the time of researching the 21 foreign terms briefly glossed below. For any who can imagine cribbing it in toto for your quick college paper, I advise you to do your own note-taking and thinking. Embedded within the text is a literary trou de loup complete with hidden punji stake, on which you may be skewered by a savvy assistant professor.
Glossary of Some Unfamiliar Words
(from my notes while reading Glory
* pique waistcoat (p.1): Fr. v. piquer, past participle: sewn skillfully -- corduroy.
* breloque (p.1): Fr. nf. -- charm, trinket.
* heliography (p.2) -- printing by means of an early photoengraving process.
* seraglio (p.7): It. n. -- an enclosed part of an Ottoman palace, harem.
* medlar (p.9)adj. -- identifies a type of shrub from Rose family, indigenous to SE Europe and Turkey, which has bletted (softened by frost) fruit available in winter.
* gorget (p.19) n. (ME from OF) -- an article of clothing covering neck and breast.
* prosfora (p.26) from Gk. n. -- a type of leavened but unsalted bread used in Orthodox Christian liturgies for Eucharist to represent the Body of Christ.
* Chansons de Bilitis by Pierre Louys (p.30) -- 143 sensual and lesbian-themed prose poems, pub. in Paris, 1894, inspired by a Berber dancer in Algeria named Meriem, and drawn in part from Palatine Anthology and verses by Sappho.
* corybantics (p.30) from Gk. n. -- alludes to the ecstatic drumming and dancing of the Phrygian (Anatolian) Earth Mother goddess Cybele's worshippers, who were armed and wore crested headpieces.
* Phaleron (p.30) -- port of Athens, about 5 km from the Acropolis.
* orbicular (p.64) -- spherical or circular, as in the orbicularis muscle around the eye, the orbicularis muscle around the mouth, and the orbicular zone of the hip joint.
* Tuchkov (p.78) 1892-1957 -- given name Yevgeny; a Bolshevik who worked for Lenin in the 1920s to severely reduce the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church.
* lorgnette (p.91): Fr. nf. -- spectacles with a handle on one side, opera glasses.
* febrile (p.93): adj. (Fr. from L) -- feverish.
* soubrette (p.103): Fr. nf. -- waiting-maid.
* Leopardi (p.107) -- Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837), It. Romantic essayist and poet whose texts became increasingly full of nihilistic pessimism beginning with Canti (1818).
* Zoorland (p.147): name for an imaginary northern country, originally shared as a made-up game by Sonia and Martin in Berlin, although subsequently enhanced by Martin during daydreams on his solo adventure to the South of France, and shared by Sonia with Martin's rival in romance (Bubnov) who used it as the title of a short fiction he published in a Russian emigre newspaper while Martin was away.
* Tauchnitz (p.153): family of publishers in Germany which expanded in the second half of 19th century to reprint books by British, French, and Americans for sales in continental Europe. Martin probably had a free catalogue of the editions in this railroad carriage scene that he had picked up at a station bookseller's counter, although the reference could be to any particular edition. The Todd Bowden Collection of Tauchnitz Editions numbers approximately 6,700 volumes in the British Library. A link to a sample Tauchnitz catalogue from 1910 appears in references below.
* buvette (p.158): Fr. nf. -- a small room serving refreshments as in a small railroad station.
* isbas (p.169): Rus. n. pl. -- log houses.
* Bessarabia (p.172): a region between the Dniester and Danube Rivers ruled mostly by Rumania after the collapse of Ottoman Empire, which was split up between Rumania and the Soviet Republics of Moldova and Ukraine during the aftermaths of the two World Wars during the first half of 20th century.
* Berberova, Nina. (1990). The tattered cloak and other novels (tr. by Marian Schwartz). NY: Knopf.
* Boyd, Brian. (1996). "Chronology" section for Valdimir Nabokov: novels 1955-62. NY: Library of America.
* Derrida, Jacques. (1973). "Differance" in Speech and Phenomena and other essays on Husserl's theory of signs (tr. by David B. Allison). Evanston, IL: Northwestern U. Press, p.129-160.
* Milosz, Czeslaw. (2001). New and collected poems, 1931-2001 (various translators). NY: Harper Collins-Ecco.
* Nabokov, Vladimir. (1971). Glory (tr. from Russian by Dmitri Nabokov in collaboration with the author). NY: McGraw-Hill.
* Tauchnitz Edition catalogue (1910): http://www.gasl.org/refbib/Tauchnitz__1910_07.pdf