M(eye) Favourite Literary Passage

by Joanna Gilman Hyde

from “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov, page 267

“I have often noticed

that we are inclined to endow our friends

with the stability of type

that literary characters aquire

in the reader’s mind.

No matter how many times

we reopen King Lear,

never shall we find the good king

banging his tankard in high revelry,

all woes forgotten,

at a jolly reunion

with all three daughters

and their lapdogs.

Never will Emma rally,

revived by the sympathetic salts

in Flaubert’s father’s timely tear.

Whatever evolution

this or that popular character

has gone through between

the book covers,

his fate is fixed in our minds, and,


we expect our friends to follow

this or that logical and conventional pattern

we have fixed for them.

Thus X will never compose

the immortal music

that would clash

with the second-rate symphonies

he has accustomed us to.

Y will never commit murder.

Under no circumstances

can Z ever betray us.

We have it all arranged

in our minds,

and the less often

we see a particular person

the more satisfying it is to check

how obediently he conforms

to our notion of him every time

we hear of him.

Any deviation in the fates

we have ordained

would strike us as not only anomalous

but unethical.

We prefer not to have known at all our neighbour,

the retired hot-dog stand operator,

if it turns out he has just produced

the greatest book of poetry

his age has seen.”