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Literary devices_the vane sisters_Vladimir Nabokov
Marţi, 08 Iunie 2010 00:00



Huniadi Lorina Manuela

Colegiul Economic “Emanuil Gojdu” Hunedoara

Nabokov’s short story ‘The Vane Sisters’ (March 1951) dwells on the idea of an unreliable narrator-a French professor whose name is not mentioned, at the same time aiming at the discovery of an encrypted message from the other world.

Thus, the intricate ‘riddle-like structure’[1] of this particular short story actually takes some clues and places them within the story in order to allow readers to decipher their meaning. Manifestations from the afterlife, direct or hidden messages which come from those long gone, ‘a string of minute incidents just sufficiently clear to stand out in relief against one’s usual day then shading off into vaguer trivia as the aura gradually faded’[2] are all filtered through Cynthia’s consciousness, immersed in spiritualism and the occult, no longer perceiving the boundaries between reality and illusion.

Playing games is a constant feature of this particular short story; the author incites the reader to go back to the beginning and try to sort out the meaning, starting from the acrostic at the end- the first letters of the words, put together, are meant to be secret warnings.

Furthermore, the acrostic is also linked to the important feature of the narrator’s unreliability and lack of self-awareness. We are given two or three hints about him, although the author claims he is not familiar with his own narrative:

‘I wish I could recollect that novel or short story (by some contemporary writer, I believe) in which, unknown to its author, the first letters of the words in its last paragraph formed…a message’[3].

Indeed, the plot is pretty simple: Sybil, one of the students, is having an affair with another professor, the narrator’s colleague, D. The other sister, Cynthia, recruits the help of the narrator to stop the affair – but it is too late: Sybil commits suicide.

This metafictional short story aims at breaking down the borders between writer, reader, and text. The last lines of ‘The Vane Sisters’ throw into question the authorship of the story (as in ‘Pale Fire’) and also reinforce the fact that this is a text that creates an imaginary world.

Time shifts from the present moment of the narration- a Sunday night as the narrator, a French literature professor at a girls' college, runs into his former colleague D.- to the recounting of his initial experiences with Cynthia and her young sister Sybil, linked to ambiguous messages which are received too late ‘Death was not better than D minus, but definitely better than Life minus D’[4], turn this narrative into a thrilling, elaborate one.

The Vane Sisters carries the pleasure of secret communication [between author and reader] about as far as it can go in the direction of what might be called mere cryptography”[5]. The strong connection between reader and author is therefore stressed on, the idea being that fiction is nothing but mutual communication.

[1] Wayne C. Booth, The Rhetoric of Fiction, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1961

[2] Vladimir Nabokov, “The Collected Stories of Vladimir Nabokov”, Penguin, London, 1999

[3] Vladimir Nabokov, “The Collected Stories of Vladimir Nabokov”, Penguin, London, 1999

[4] Vladimir Nabokov, “The Collected Stories of Vladimir Nabokov”, Penguin, London, 1999

[5] Wayne C. Booth, The Rhetoric of Fiction, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1961

Ultima actualizare în Miercuri, 09 Iunie 2010 16:33

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