Spring in Fialta
by Vladimir Nabokov
Victor is the main character and narrator of "Spring in Fialta." He controls everything we see and hear in the text. He creates the world of Fialta out of his own memory and guides us through its dream-like setting. He provides us with some key details about his own life: he works in the film industry, he’s happily married with children (he says they are an "island of happiness" floating beside him), and he has some massively confused feelings for Nina.
About that…what IS the nature of Victor’s relationship with Nina? When he introduces her, he says he "fails to find the precise term for our kind of relationship." We soon see that their intrigues, though charged with romance, are fleeting. Victor and Nina meet for the briefest of moments and forget about each other in the intervals. There’s no reason behind his attraction to her. It would seem to be largely physical, based on their first nameless encounter in the snow, but there’s clearly something deeper about his attraction to her.
It could be that Nina’s transience is what’s so appealing to Victor. She is always either coming or going, hesitating, changing her mind. She’s a difficult bird to cage, so naturally, Victor wants to cage her. Certain key lines give away the extremity of Victor’s feelings. When he sees Nina "in the midst of a group of people whom she had befriended without my knowledge," we know that he’s possessive. When he callously declares that "two or three of the lot had been intimate with Nina," we know he’s jealous. When he admits to the "ridiculous pang" he felt upon learning of Nina’s engagement to Ferdinand, we know that Victor, too, realizes the absurdity of his desires.
So what does he do with his feelings? Victor makes Nina into a somewhat mystical figure, someone who exists "in another, lighter time-medium" and with whom he "artificially" forms "a short, supposedly frivolous life." What really torments Victor, though, is the possibility of what could have been. "Was there any practical chance of life together with Nina?" he asks, and concludes, in short, probably not. But that doesn’t stop him from agonizing over her anyway. And it is this – the thought of unfulfilled potential – that so devastates Victor, that builds up "the store of sadness" which surrounds Nina in his mind.
Many critics condemn Victor for being selfish, controlling, unreasonably possessive of Nina, and awkward (just check out his "I love you….JK" scene on the terrace). They berate his narrative for being unobservant, hypocritically judgmental of Ferdinand, and artificial to the point of contrivance. They say he is an unlikable man.
That’s certainly one interpretation, but to think of Victor this way is to miss the tragedy of "Spring in Fialta." Just read this passage:
Nina […] joyfully, slowly exclaimed, "Well, of all people—" and then all the evening my heart felt like breaking, as I passed from group to group with a sticky glass in my fist, now and then looking at her from a distance (she did not look), and listened to scraps of conversation, and overheard one man saying to another, 'Funny, how they all smell alike, burnt leaf through whatever perfume they use, those angular dark-haired girls,' and as it often happens, a trivial remark related to some unknown topic coiled and clung to one's own intimate recollection, a parasite of its sadness. (40)
It’s the details that make this achingly poignant for us – the sticky glass in Victor’s fist, the parenthetical "she did not look," the fact that he remembers a completely irrelevant line spoken by a total stranger. Victor is made very, very human in "Spring in Fialta," even despite the world of artifice around him. He is our emotional anchor, and we feel that in our gut. Even if he is oblivious to the weather or ignorant of Nina’s blasé attitude, that only makes him all the more tragic. Victor, standing on the terrace, suddenly realizing that it’s sunny, suddenly realizing that Nina has died, suddenly understanding the significance of those circus posters – this is the very human image that sticks with us.