Mary, p. 49: a sense of smell

November 7, 2009

Many have commented on Nabokov’s synaesthesia, or the ways in which the senses collude in his novels to produce an effect.  The recollection of objects, smells, colors, and light forms much of the content of Ganin’s memories of Mary in chapter 8, but here, in chapter 7, there is a contrast to Ganin’s idealized olfactory remembrances to come.  He has received a letter from the unfortunate Lyudmila, which he tears into pieces before reading it:  “The stamp had been stuck upside down, and in one corner Erika’s fat thumb had left a greasy imprint.  Perfume permeated the envelope, and it occurred to Ganin in passing that scenting a letter was like spraying perfume on one’s boots to cross the street.”  This marks the beginning of Ganin’s living in two different time-zones, two different temporalities:  the idealized past, which becomes increasingly more real, and the tawdry present, which becomes increasingly more dreamlike and hallucinatory as the novel goes on.

I just came across Vladimir Nabokov:  Alphabet in Color, an illustrated book that purports to represent in colored letters Nabokov’s synesthetic sensibilities.  There is a forward by Nabokov’s biographer, Brian Boyd.



  1. I found “Alphabet in Color” a couple of years ago. very interesting, though it went a little bit beyond me as I’m still a Nabokov Neophyte.

  2. Yes, it’s an interesting experiment in “creative criticism”; definitely worth a look.

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