I found the following passage on page 33 and 34 of my copy.
On the other hand there were two books, both given him by his aunt, with which he had fallen in love for his whole life, holding them in his memory as if under a magnifying glass, and experiencing them so intensely that twenty years later, when he read them over again he saw only a dryish paraphrase, an abridged edditionm as if they had been outdistanced by the unrepeatable, immortal image that he had retained. But it was not a thirst for distant peregrinations¹ that forced him to follow on the heels of Phileas Fogg, nor was it boyish inclination for mysterious adventures that drew him to that house on Baker Street, here the lanky detective with the hawk profile, having given himself an injection of cocaine, would dreamily play the violin. Only much later did he clarify in his own mind what it was that had thrilled him so about these two books; it was that exact and relentlessly unfolding pattern: Phileas, the dummy in the top hat, wending his complex elegant way with its justifiable sacrifices, now on an elephant bought for a million, now on a ship of which half has to be burned for fuel; and Sherlock endowing logic with the glamour of a daydream, Sherlock composing a monograph on the ash of all known sorts of cigars and with this ash as with a talismna progressing through a crystal labyrinth of possible deductions to the one radiant conclusion.
- a journey, especially a long or meandering one.
I have noticed that I subconsciously equate the male narrator in many of Nabokov’s short stories (at least the ones set in Berlin) to Nabokov himself. Knowing what I know of the author, I often assume the narrator is a Russian emigré, someone who doesn’t like Berlin, et cetera. In short, I do exactly what Nabokov says a bad reader does. Reading A Nursery Tale was no different, but upon re-reading it I started thinking more about the role of the narrator, and why he is characterised as a bit of a socially incapable washout. Upon doing so I realised that he is about as far from Nabokov as one can get. Victor’s blog post already offered some insightful commentary on the role of Frau Monde, and I believe the narrator further serves to convey Nabokov’s distaste for Germany.
On page 168, Nabokov reveals that the narrator is not a Russian emigré, and thus likely a German native. He has the narrator describe a conversation as being “in an impenetrable language- Polish or Russian.” Throughout the story, the narrator is then described as a loner, someone whose desires keep him from completing simple tasks, someone with few social skills, a weak man. As a reader, I felt more sympathetic to the devil than to our narrator, because she at least seemed like a capable person. I believe that this overtly negative characterisation might be analogous to Nabokov’s view of Germany and its people. I found a last piece of evidence for my theory in the address the narrator is sent to by Frau Monde. The only Hoffmann Street in Berlin is the Martin-Hoffman-Strabe, which is a tiny street close to Treptower Park. This street is fairly insignificant, and the only interesting thing about it is that it runs parallel to the much larger and more important Pushkinallee, which translates to Pushkin Avenue. The message seems obvious. But then again, that might be a reach, and I am sure I broke about every rule Nabokov set forth in his Good Readers and Good Writers essay in trying to prove this point. I would love to hear your thoughts.