Mary, p. 55: memory and temporality

November 7, 2009

A key passage as Ganin begins to increasingly dwell in the past of his Russian youth and memories of Mary: “In the sense of routine Ganin’s day became emptier after his break with Lyudmila, but on the other hand he did not feel bored from having nothing to do.  He was so absorbed with his memories that he was unaware of time.  His shadow lodged in Frau Dorn’s pension, while he himself was in Russia, reliving his memories as though they were reality.  Time for him had become the progress of recollection, which unfolded gradually.  And although his affair with Mary in those far-off days had lasted not just for three days, nor for a week but for much longer, he did not feel any discrepancy between actual time and that other time in which he relived the past, since his memory did not take account of every moment and skipped over the blank umemorable stretches, only illuminating those connected with Mary.  Thus no discrepancy existed between the course of life past and life present.”

This is a complex and intricate example of how Nabokov represents the temporality of memory in his novels, such that the process of remembrance, in effect, replaces daily life as Ganin becomes more embodied the former and more ghostly in the latter.


One comment

  1. Another wonderful Nabokovian comment on memory appears on page 60: “…memory can restore to life everything except smells, although nothing revives the past so completely as a smell that was once associated with it.” Had Nabokov read Proust by 1926? Probably. And was he already out-writing Proust, with smell outranking taste?

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