Monday, March 5, 2012

Invitation to a Beheading: A Confirmation


I found a quote from Nabokov's Strong Opinions that more or less confirms what I speculated on in my earlier post (You can find that post here):
'How do you write? What are your methods?

I find now that index cards are really the best kind of paper that I can use for the purpose. I don’t write consecutively from the beginning to the next chapter and so on to the end. I just fill in the gaps of the picture, of this jigsaw puzzle which is quite clear in my mind, picking out a piece here and a piece there and filling out part of the sky and part of the landscape and part of the—I don’t know, the carousing hunters.' [emphasis mine]

He wrote in fragments, in pictures, like a fickle painter jumping to and fro on a canvas. You can see this while reading his work.

In honor of that confirmation, I will quote another fragment of Invitation to a Beheading that has made a home in my mental collection of prose:

"Cincinnatus kept staring into the book. A drop had fallen on the page. Through the drop several letters turned from brevier to pica, having swollen as if a reading glass were lying over them."

This is the last sentence of Chapter Seven.

(By the way, in case you, like me, did not know the definitions of bevier and pica, the former is 8-point font, while the latter is 12-point font.)

 It's impressive that...

...Nabokov was mindful enough to note the effect of water on text. We've all seen it, but, as Sherlock Holmes would say, have we observed?
....he chose to write about it at all.
....he wrote about it well.

   His words are precise. 'Brevier' and 'pica.' Maybe these are more common words than I know them to be, but it's inarguable that Nabokov has a rich, distinct vocabulary. I wonder how he acquired it, especially since English was his third language. Did he have a systematic method for scooping arcane words into his active vocabulary?

Brevier and pica....brevier and pica indeed!


  1. I've begun reading it and am on chapter three or so and I've already made plans for rereading it. I feel as if it's so rich with words that I cannot fully absorb everything on the first go. There's so much I'm missing, even if I read it slowly and carefully. Nabokov is quite amazing with his way with words.

  2. Thanks for commenting again. :)

    I never read Nabokov without a dictionary. Every time I want to sound well-educated, I just pull out some words I learned from his books.

    1. Yes, Nabokov and dictionaries go hand in hand. He uses such complex words sometimes. And you're welcome.