Scholars generally agree that "Spring in Fialta" is Vladimir Nabokov’s greatest short story. It is tightly woven, beautifully composed, elaborately intricate, and all around a humbling experience to read. Nabokov himself listed it as one of his favorite works. It explores the adulterous relationship between Victor and Nina, two Russian expatriates who have met by chance dozens of times and in the oddest of ways over the course of fifteen years between 1917 and 1932. The story is told by Victor, who recollects this series of encounters when he bumps into Nina – for the last time – in a seaside tourist town called Fialta.
"Spring in Fialta" was first written in Russian in 1936. Nabokov then translated it into English, and it was published in this form in his collection Nine Stories in 1947. Since then, there’s been a lot of discussion of "hidden meaning" in the work. Some think the story is about Nabokov’s first extra-marital affair. Others claim that it’s a veiled exploration of his feelings about his own exile from Russia (Nabokov escaped St. Petersburg during the Bolshevik Revolution in 1919, when it was a violent and not-so-fun time to be in the political center of Russia), and that leading lady Nina is supposed to be the motherland. Many notice that Nabokov explores the same themes in "Spring in Fialta" that crop up in his works time and time again: the nature of memory, the lasting effects of past experiences, the way a person is immortalized through memory after death, and marital infidelity.
Regardless of how you choose to interpret "Spring in Fialta," we promise its prose will knock your socks off. So have at it.
The 2004 film Closer made a big splash. For one, Natalie Portman gets naked. And there are those jaw-dropping lines which we’re pretty sure we’re not allowed to repeat here, but which have been referenced in everything from Panic! at the Disco’s songs to Fall Out Boy lyrics. Natalie Portman’s character is strong, impulsive, careless, and reckless with the men who love her. This chick’s a heartbreaker. And, come to think of it, she’s not too far off from leading lady Nina in "Spring in Fialta."
What makes the elusive Nina so captivating is just that – she’s elusive. When we don’t know a person, it’s easy to imagine that she is perfect. She has simply yet to prove otherwise. This is what makes that stranger sitting across from you on the train so attractive, or the mysterious girl behind you in the lecture hall so appealing. She just might be everything you’ve ever wanted.
"Spring in Fialta" reminds us of the danger of ideals. Fantasies work well inside your head, but any time reality comes into the picture, you’re going to have some problems – especially if you’re married, which just happens to be the case in this short story.
A classic photo of the man himself
If Nina were real…
She might look like this.
Chekhov’s "Lady with Lapdog"
This is the short story which many scholars claim "Spring in Fialta" echoes (See "Shout-Outs" for details)
Nabokov’s 1964 Interview with Playboy
Also, be very careful before you go searching for "Nabokov" and "Playboy" in the same sentence. The man wrote Lolita, after all. (We learned this the hard way. And if we were Nabokov, we would make a pun on that.)
Nabokov’s 1967 Interview with The Paris Review
You might like this one, especially the part where he calls Ezra Pound a pretentious hack.