Spring in Fialta
by Vladimir Nabokov
Analysis: Plot Analysis
Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.
"Spring in Fialta is cloudy and dull."
This famous first line and the following description of damp and misty Fialta form the initial situation. Yes, that’s right – we start off talking about the weather. (And we end the same way, so stay tuned.) The way this initial situation is structured tells us the important things we need to know about "Spring in Fialta," and draws our attention to setting and environment, two important pieces of the work.
Victor follows the Englishman’s gaze to Nina
It’s not until Victor spots Nina that we’re really off to the races. The conflict is inherent in their relationship: two married people with a romantic intrigue. Notice that this is where time disrupts, as Victor travels "back into the past, back into the past" to reveal his first meeting with this woman.
As if an extramarital affair were not complicated enough, we see that Victor and Nina’s interactions are anything but clear-cut. We can’t tell how Victor feels about Nina, and neither can he. We don’t know how she feels about him; one minute she’s bursting with affection, and the next minute she’s sitting across the room having forgotten about his existence entirely. In Fialta, matters are complicated when Ferdinand and Segur show up, as Victor now has to deal with the narrator’s arguable antagonist. And there’s something weird going on with the weather…
"Absurd! But then what should I have done with you, Nina, how should I have disposed of the store of sadness that had gradually accumulated as a result of our seemingly carefree, but really hopeless meetings!"
This whole passage is an odd choice for climax, but reading "Spring in Fialta," this is where we’re the most invested as a reader. Everything afterwards has a sense of falling action, a feeling that the biggest part of the story has passed. Even when we hear about Nina’s death, it’s in an anti-climactic way, a sense of revelation, a winding down, not a crescendo. In this paragraph, Victor finally confronts his own feelings for Nina. He admits the futility of their various rendezvous and of his hopeless desire for the woman. The lines listed here are the finale of this introspection, and the style (think exclamation points) adds some weight to the case that this is the emotional climax of "Spring in Fialta."
OK, so we already know a variety of important factors at this point in the text. We know Nina is going to die. We know there’s something up with the circus and the weather, though we don’t know what exactly that something is. When Victor foresees Nina getting into the yellow car, which looks like a scarab (death!) and is called an Icarus (death!), we have a sense (death! Oh, sorry…) that this car is going to factor in as well, in one way or another. The suspense comes in our seeing the pieces, but not knowing how they fit together.
The "Ohhhhhh" moment
In this denouement, everything is finally revealed. All the hints we’ve been noting throughout all of "Spring in Fialta" finally make sense. We realize what the circus posters were for, why we got all those mentions of the weather, what the significance was of Segur’s yellow "Icarus" car, and what Victor was talking about when he repeatedly referred to Nina’s impending death.
Nina is mortal
This conclusion has some pretty serious consequences, all of which have little to do with classic plot and a lot to do with Nina’s character and Victor’s vision of her. If you want to know more, read Nina’s character analysis. We’ll see you there.