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Spring in Fialta

Spring in Fialta


by Vladimir Nabokov

Spring in Fialta "Spring in Fialta" Summary

Before we start: you should read your text. We know, we always say this. Read our summary, but then go and read "Spring in Fialta" two or three times. First, it’s short. Second, the whole story comes in the details. If Nabokov mentions the "lunar gloss" of moonstone candy, it’s for a reason. And you’ll only get that by reading with 1) a dictionary, 2) a pen, and 3) your eyes open. Does he mention a bead necklace twice? Great, then that’s important. Mark it up.

  • The story begins with a description of springtime in a town called Fialta. It’s damp and grey and cloudy. We learn that Fialta is a tourist town, but that it’s changed a lot in the last few decades.
  • It’s also seaside, with a grey ocean and a nearby "Mount St. George," at the base of which is a cypress tree, "indicating the way."
  • Next we meet the narrator, unnamed as of yet, who begins talking about a spring day "in the early thirties" when he was in Fialta.
  • On such a grey and damp day, the narrator’s senses are all wide open. He takes in all the details of Fialta: the rococo souvenirs sold in the shop, the sagging advertising poster for a visiting circus, the blue of the sidewalk.
  • He likes Fialta, he explains, and has been there before.
  • He arrived by way of train for a short business trip, having left his wife and children at home.
  • The narrator observes a small toddler trying to carry three organs at once and repeatedly dropping them, until a girl of twelve – wearing beads around her neck – picks them up.
  • He also notes an Englishman wearing plus-fours (golfing pants) and filling his pipe for a smoke.
  • Once again, he draws our attention to a circus poster. (Coincidence? We think not.)
  • The Englishman golfer passes by the narrator as he makes his way up a hill, and the narrator notes the dryness of his lips and the redness at the corner of his eye. He follows the gaze of the bloodshot eye over to a woman – Nina.
  • Nina doesn’t recognize the narrator right away. This, he says, is what it’s been like for the last fifteen years. He doesn’t know exactly how to describe their "relationship," but we get the sense that it’s a romantic one.
  • While she looks at him, before she recognizes him, her yellow scarf dances toward him in the air.
  • Finally, Nina sees who he is, cries out, and waves a hello with ten "dancing" fingers.
  • She crosses the street and greets him with three kisses, using "more mouth than meaning."
  • As the two begin walking together, we learn that Nina is married to a man named Ferdie (a.k.a. Ferdinand), and that he is here in Fialta as well, with a friend named Segur. We finally hear the narrator’s named when Nina calls him "Victor."
  • For Victor, this chance encounter brings back all of his past memories of Nina. And Fialta, he thinks, is the perfect location for this "celebration" of the past, of their fated encounters. He would still have rejoiced at their meeting there, even if he knew this was to be their last time together.
  • Because Nina is going to die.
  • (Seriously, that’s what he tells you. Think foreshadowing, minus the shadowy part.)
  • The first time he met Nina was in Russia, in 1917-ish. They were both 17-ish as well.
  • It was winter, and she was engaged to a man who was not Ferdinand.
  • He remembers that the occasion was a birthday party at his aunt’s country estate, and for some reason (though he can’t remember why), the whole group went outside into the snow.
  • Victor was carrying a flashlight, dropped it, and when Nina went to help him find it, they immediately began making out, Romeo and Juliet-style, that is, before they knew each other’s names.
  • Soon after, someone started a snowball fight, and they all had to go back inside. For the rest of the night, she barely glanced his way, as the partiers played a variety of party games.
  • He knows now that this wasn’t intentional. That is, she wasn’t playing hard to get. Her ignoring him was all very natural and innocent, and if he had said even a word to her, she would have suddenly given him all the attention in the world, as she willingly does for any man.
  • Flashback over, and we’re back in Fialta. Victor asks her when the last time was that they met, and she shakes her head as if at a joke. He remarks (to his readers) that it seemed that all those past meetings of theirs were unrelated to his and Nina’s destiny – as though they belonged to some other life, and it was "bad taste to mention them."
  • The duo heads to some of the local shops. Nina finds a red leather purse and decides she wants it, except in a different color. When the vendor miraculously finds in his stores exactly what she is looking for, Nina changes her mind and they walk away. Afterwards, she expresses with regret that she meant to buy a comb.
  • This is familiar to Victor. He’s used to Nina hesitating, changing her mind. She’s rarely in one place for very long. "She had always either just arrived or was about to leave," he says. If he could sum up her entire being in one pose, it would be her standing at a ticket counter, leaning over the timetable of "an eternal sleeping car."
  • After they both made an exodus from Russia, he met Nina for the second time, in Berlin. She had broken up with her fiancé, and Victor himself was about to get married.
  • When he saw her, in a room surrounded by men, he "instinctively knew" which of them knew more about her than he did. She was sitting folded like a Z, smoking a cigarette. When Nina saw him, she said aloud, "Well, of all people—."
  • This, said Victor, made everyone in the room think they had been on long intimate terms (when in fact they had only made out one day in the snow).
  • He adds that Nina was remembering a long friendship between them that, actually, had never existed. Their whole relationship, he says, was "fraudulently based on an imaginary amity."
  • Victor hints that there was some intimate something-or-other under the table that night at dinner.
  • Then Nina disappeared again. He bumped into her again a year later, at a train station with his wife, when he saw her inside a car of the Paris express, her face buried in a bouquet.
  • He introduced her to his wife, Elena, and the two women immediately took to each other.
  • That was the day he learned – "with a ridiculous pang" – that she was going to marry Ferdinand. When she hopped into the train to leave, he watched her through the window, and as she settled into her seat, Nina looked as though she had immediately forgotten all about them.
  • Victor suddenly recalls a song his nurse used to sing when he was a child. He gives two of the lines in French, and they translate roughly to: "They say you’re going to get married. You know that’s going to kill me." (Not exactly subtle.)
  • After that, Victor was in Paris on business, meeting with a film actor. He saw her in his hotel lobby, waiting for the elevator.
  • Nina greeted him, said "Ferdinand has gone fencing," and quickly led Victor to her hotel room.
  • This was followed by some sex (though we’re not explicitly told as much, it’s definitely implied).
  • And now for a brief but venomous discussion of Ferdinand, Nina’s husband.
  • Victor hates him.
  • Wow that was brief. And venomous.
  • OK no, seriously, there’s more. Ferdinand is a writer, and a crappy one, according to Victor. The man prides himself on being a "weaver of words," which our narrator finds quite disgusting. Victor sees no point in writing anything unless it really happened, at least in one way or another. If he were to write, he says, he would "allow only [his] heart to have imagination, and for the rest rely upon memory," which is a shadow of truth.
  • Ferdinand, on the other hand, doesn’t write about the truth. His writing is only about the prose, shining and clever words with no substance behind them.
  • Nina, Victor explains, has probably never read a full volume of Ferdinand’s work.
  • When Victor first met Ferdinand, the detestable writer was wearing a white turtle-neck sweater and smoking a cigarette. He was surrounded by what is essentially a posse of art lovers, acquaintances, and all around tools, in Victor’s opinion. (His description is absolutely hilarious, and includes details on one man with an "impeccably bald though slightly chipped head," a guy whose talent is to "represent Adam’s Fall by means of five matches," and a "jaunty but linguistically impotent" writer. Jon Stewart has NOTHING on this guy.)
  • Looking at all these men, Victor was fairly certain at least a few of them had gone to bed with Nina. She was sitting there, too, and he tried to get her to return a knowing smile about what the two of them had done that morning in the hotel room. Of course, she had forgotten all about it by then.
  • After that first encounter in Paris, Victor and Ferdinand interacted with a "fake chumminess." Victor’s firm (he works in film) even ended up making a movie out of one of Ferdinand’s stories.
  • Back in Fialta, Ferdinand and his friend Segur approach Victor and Nina. Victor describes Segur as "a lover of art and a perfect fool," though Nina has called him "such a darling." Ferdinand is eating a stick of that previously mentioned Fialta staple, moonstone candy, which he soon gives to a young girl wearing beads around her neck.
  • Segur complains about the weather, which Victor thinks is a stupid thing to be talking about. Meanwhile, he notices that a piece of tin foil on the ground is shining.
  • As the group of four strolls on through Fialta, we see yet another circus poster on the wall.
  • Ferdinand spots an unbelievably tacky Fialta souvenir in a shop, a marble likeness of the nearby Mount St. George. At the spot where the train tunnel runs through the mountain is an inkwell, and the railroad tracks are a compartment for pens.
  • Ferdinand buys it, because, according to Victor, he’s a tacky hack who likes to cling to hideous objects, especially if animate, for several days at a time. (See what we meant about venomous?)
  • When Ferdinand and Segur stop at a post office, Victor tries to lead Nina away.
  • He remarks (to his reader) that he doesn’t know what "purpose" fate has in bringing them together like this. He also doesn’t know what she really means to him.
  • Victor then lists off all the other chance half-encounters he’s had with Nina: he would spot her on the beach, or get a postcard from her, or see her in a photo in a magazine. It’s just one thing after another. He was even reminded of her when he read the description of a character in one of Ferdinand’s books. (He quotes the description of the character from Ferdinand’s novel. It’s worth reading, as you’ll discover when you get to our analysis.)
  • Victor quickly lists several more encounters with Nina. He shares one in particular, a week he spent at a friend’s château in the Pyrenees (the mountains on the border of France and Spain). Nina and Ferdinand were staying there, too, and the first night he waited awake for hours, desperately believing that Nina would come to his room.
  • She didn’t.
  • The next day, he told her how he had waited, and Nina "clasped her hands in dismay."
  • Victor remembers dreaming of Nina, too – he dreamt that his oldest daughter had run to tell him that the doorman was in trouble, but instead of a distraught concierge, Victor found only Nina, sleeping with a roll of burlap, like a refugee in railway stations.
  • But no matter what, he explains, every time they met, they never spoke about what they had been doing in the intervals. It was as if every time they came together, they lived in "another, lighter time-medium," separate from the rest of their lives. His marriage was never troubled, and neither was hers; Ferdinand seemed to accept her affairs without questioning, even deriving from them connections and networking benefits (case in point, Victor’s firm making his story into a movie).
  • And through all of this, Victor "grew apprehensive." Why? Because something was being wasted, he says. He was breaking off bits of something wonderful without appreciating its real core.
  • He feels as though he has to choose between two worlds – one, a world of safety and constancy with his wife and children, and the other…
  • Well, actually, he’s not sure he has a real alternative with Nina. If he did, it would be tainted by everything that’s happened in the past.
  • He doesn’t know what to do, he says, with the sadness he has built up around her.
  • But enough about that – and more about Fialta. Fialta is composed of two pieces, Victor explains, the old town and the new one. The tourist industry has clearly affected what was once a quaint little seaside village.
  • As Victor and Nina head to the hotel, they pass yet another circus advertisement. Victor also notes a car, "a yellow long-bodied Icarus that looked like a giant scarab," which Nina identifies as belonging to Segur.
  • Nina invites Victor to come along with them, though she knows that he can’t.
  • As they walk away from the car, Victor looks back and has a premonition – a vision of Nina, Ferdinand, and Segur getting into the car and waving goodbye – "transparent like ghosts," with Nina giving her "last ten-fingered farewell."
  • And then his vision is over, and the car is still standing still, and Ferdinand and Segur are walking towards them.
  • Now we jump backwards in time, before this moment at the car, to the lunch that the four of them had that afternoon. No one else was on the veranda, says Victor, except for the Englishman he had observed earlier that day (the one with the golfing pants and the bloodshot eyes, remember?).
  • (Oh, and in case you forgot, it was HIS gaze which initially drew Victor’s attention to Nina.)
  • This time, the old man, while consuming a red drink, is gazing again, but not at Nina – at the corner of the window near where he’s sitting
  • Meanwhile, Nina is "for the last time in her life" (more subtle foreshadowing) eating shellfish. Victor takes the opportunity to jab at Ferdinand about a recent negative review of his work, a play which Victor finds detestable and mostly unintelligible.
  • Ferdinand rails against all criticism, of any kind, against the very idea of criticism in the first place. When the waitress comes by, he points at the Englishman’s red drink and asks to have one of those himself.
  • Meanwhile, the Englishman gets up, goes to the corner of the window he’s been staring at, and slips the moth that’s been resting there into a small pill box. (OK…)
  • Then both men leave to make a phone call, for the express purpose of getting to crash for free at a friend’s place at their next destination.
  • As Nina and Victor set out alone from the restaurant, they can hear the sounds of distant music; it seems the circus has sent runners ahead to drum up business.
  • They wander by a café, where a waiter is examining the tacky Mount St. George inkwell which Ferdinand had abandoned earlier.
  • As they climb a stairway together, Victor looks at Nina and remembers the very last time they met before Fialta. It was in a house in Paris, and Victor’s friend had tried to introduce him to her as if for the first time.
  • Nina, true to form, in her classic Z positioning, had uttered: "Well, of all people—."
  • "And then all the evening my heart felt like breaking," says Victor, as he wandered around the party, watching her from a distance while she casually forgot he was there.
  • He overheard a man comment on how these women all smell the same, "burnt leaf through whatever perfume they use," and for some unknown reason he remembers that comment, which he imagines clinging to his sadness.
  • At the top of that staircase (back in Fialta now), Nina and Victor have arrived at a terrace. From their vantage point, they can see Mount St. George and the smoke from a train coming from its base, and the cypress tree nearby.
  • Nina kisses him, and Victor says, "Look here—what if I love you?" Nina looks at him, he repeats the words, and then she makes an ugly expression, and is clearly embarrassed.
  • "Never mind," says Victor, "I was only joking," and he puts his arm around her waist.
  • Suddenly, he says, a bouquet of violets appears in Nina’s hands, and before she returns to her husband and leaves in Segur’s car, Victor knows that their romance is "even more hopeless than it had ever been."
  • But then Victor suddenly realizes that the stone of the terrace is warm. It makes sense to him now, why he noticed the sea shining, why the piece of tin foil he saw earlier was sparkling. Somehow, without his noting it, damp and grey Fialta had brightened. The clouds have gone, and the sky is filled with sunshine.
  • And then Victor stands, in the sunshine, on the train station platform, and reads the newspaper. It informs him that the little yellow car, carrying Nina, Segur, and Ferdinand, has crashed somewhere outside of Fialta. It ran into the truck of a traveling circus that was on its way to town.
  • Ferdinand and Segur have escaped with minor injuries, but Nina has died.

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