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.
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
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.”