Spring in Fialta
by Vladimir Nabokov
The Yellow "Icarus" Car
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
When Victor sees the car that will later bring Nina to her death, he describes it as "a long yellow-bodied Icarus." He’s referring to the model, it seems, but of course it’s the name itself that’s important.
Does "Icarus" sound familiar? We’re thinking of Daedalus and Icarus, of Greek mythology fame. In case you don’t know the story, it goes like this: Daedalus was a famous maker of stuff (also known as a craftsman), which was working well until this woman got a hankering to have sex with a bull, and Daedalus crafted a way to make this possible. (We are not kidding.) As punishment, Daedalus was imprisoned in the labyrinth he designed himself (and very foolishly neglected to equip with secret emergency exits). Anyway, Daedalus was imprisoned with his son Icarus, and being a master maker of stuff, he made them some wings out of wax and feathers. The happy duo flew off in to safety, but not before Daedalus portentously warned his son not to fly too close to the sun. (Note: if you ever find yourself in a Greek myth, try to avoid warnings; they always turn out badly.) Icarus of course flies too close to the sun, melts the wax, and falls to his death in the ocean below.
So how about that "Spring in Fialta" story? Does Nina, perhaps, in her own way, fly too close to the sun? Does she try to be immortal, like the gods, which was a big no-no? It seems like Victor, at least, tries to make her immortal. He certainly sees her as mystical, as something more than human, which is why he’s so surprised by her death. (One ballsy critic argues that "Spring in Fialta" is so steeped in water imagery because Nina is like a mermaid. That’s certainly one way to skin the Nabokovian cat.)
Oh, and lastly, Victor describes the yellow Icarus car as looking "like a giant scarab." In Ancient Egyptian culture, the scarab was a hieroglyph that meant "to transform" or "to come into being." It was also a symbol of death. DEATH. It looks like we have more and more evidence supporting the theory that Nina’s death is a transformation from an ideal in Victor’s imaginative memory to a real and mortal person in reality. And for more on that, you should read her character analysis.