Mary, p. 63: “half Pierrot and half Gavroche”

November 29, 2009

Gornotsvetov is described as having a “round, unintelligent, very Russian face with its snub nose and langorous blue eyes (he saw himself as Verlaine’s ‘half Pierrot and half Gavoroche’).” The reference is to the 19th century French Symbolist poet whose poem, “Pierrot,” is the second of the poem-collage “Jadis et Naguère” (1881).  Pierrot is the legendary clown or harlequin figure, sometimes associated with sexual impotence, possibly foreshadowing Ganin’s impotence with Mary later in this chapter.  Gavroche is a minor character in Hugo’s Les Misérables, a street urchin involved in various plot points and street scenes of the novel who dies during a student protest movement.  I have not located the specific reference to “half Pierrot and half Garoche” in Verlaine, though Verlaine speaks of the latter in his letters; clearly, Nabokov has in mind a specific reference, but perhaps we can speculate that the hybrid figure of Pierrot/Gavroche envisioned here in Gornotsvetov’s self-reflection resonates in Ganin’s memories of his affair with Mary amidst the historical backgroup of the Russian revolution.


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