|Original title||Волшебник (Volshebnik)|
|Publisher||G. P. Putnam's Sons|
Published in English
The Enchanter is a novella written by Vladimir Nabokov in Paris in 1939. As Волшебник (Volshebnik) it was his last work of fiction written in Russian. Nabokov never published it during his lifetime. After his death, his son Dmitri translated the novella into English in 1986 and it was published the following year. Its original Russian version became available in 1991. The story deals with the hebephilia of the protagonist and thus is linked to and presages the Lolita theme.
History of the manuscript
Nabokov showed it to just a few people, and then lost the manuscript in the process of coming to America and believed that he had destroyed it. However, he recovered it later in Ithaca in 1959, at a time he had already published "Lolita". He reread The Enchanter, and termed it “precise and lucid”, but left it alone suggesting that eventually "the Nabokovs" could translate it. Dmitri Nabokov judged it to be an important and mature work of his father and translated and published it posthumously. The published work also contains two author’s notes (comments by VN about The Enchanter), and a postscript essay by DN titled On a Book Entitled the Enchanter.
The story is essentially timeless, placeless, and nameless. The protagonist is a middle-aged man who lusts after a certain type of adolescent girls. Infatuated with a specific girl, he marries the mother to gain access to her. The mother, already sick, soon passes away, and the orphan girl now is in his care. He takes her on a tour. On their first night, she is terrified when she is exposed to his “magic wand”. Shocked at his own monstrosity, he runs out on the street and is killed by a car.
None of the key persons is named; it is just "the man", "the widow" (also "mother", even "person"), and "the girl". Only the viewpoint of the man is presented, - we learn close to nothing about the views of his victims. He is conflicted and tries to rationalize his behavior, but is also disgusted by it. “How can I come to terms with myself?” is the opening sentence. He makes his moves like a chess player. But once he seems to have reached his goal, he is startled by her reaction. The conflict is not resolved but by his destruction.
Link to Lolita
Nabokov himself called The Enchanter his "pre-Lolita". However, one has to be careful in linking the two works. In common is the theme of hebephilia and the basic strategy - to gain access to the girl, the male marries the mother. However, Lolita diverges significantly from its predecessor. Its main characters are named. Charlotte and Dolores have distinct character developments and views, rather than serving as passive pawns in the hebephile’s strategy. Dolores is a person in her own right and even acts seductively. The resolution differs considerably. Humbert Humbert is upstaged by a rival and murders him, whereas the protagonist of The Enchanter commits suicide. There is no external rival in The Enchanter. Lolita retains echoes of The Enchanter, such as a death in the street (the mother in this case), and a hotel named the “Enchanted Hunters”. Lolita originated in English. Nabokov referred to Lolita as his love affair with the English language. This comment is ironic in itself, because the conclusion of Lolita is an argument by the imprisoned hebephile and murderer that his corrupt history is a love affair. The language of Lolita achieves a level of irony and humor considerably more developed than that of the more prosaic The Enchanter.
Link to The Gift
In Chapter Two of The Gift, Nabokov lets Shchyogolev outline the thematic premise of The Enchanter, namely the stratagem of an hebephile to marry a mother in order to gain access to the daughter. The Gift was written between 1933 and 1938, before The Enchanter.
Essay by Dmitri Nabokov
Echoing Nabokov's On a Book Entitled Lolita, his son added his postscript On a Book Entitled The Enchanter to the translation. Dmitri Nabokov pointed out that his father specifically wanted "Volshebnik" translated as "enchanter" rather than "magician" or "conjuror". The younger Nabokov debunks the book Novel with Cocaine as a fraud which appeared at the same time in the mid-eighties and was supposed to be a posthumously published work of Nabokov. He comments on the complex imagery of The Enchanter: "… the line he (VN) treads is razor thin, and the virtuosity consists in a deliberate vagueness of verbal and visual elements whose sum is a complex… but totally precise unit of communication." He presents a few "special" examples of VN’s unique images, his “eerie humor” (the wedding night, the chauffeur foreshadowing Clare Quilty, the Shakespearean night porter, the misplaced room). DM points out that in VN’s work themes may be echoed in later works, but the dissimilarities are substantial.
- Appel, A. Jr. "Backgrounds of Lolita". Nabokov. Criticism, reminiscences, translations, and tributes. Northwestern University Press, Evanston (1970).
- Vladimir Nabokov; The Enchanter. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York (1986) ISBN 0-399-13211-2.