Study Guide

Spring in Fialta Genre

By Vladimir Nabokov


Magical Realism, Literary Fiction

"Spring in Fialta" is one of Nabokov’s greatest short works. It’s not about action or drama; rather, it’s intricate and carefully orchestrated, combining the most cunning of narrative techniques with a prose prowess that leaves us all drooling. In short, it’s literary fiction. Undeniably.

Our other genre, magical realism, is a bit more interesting to talk about. The world created in "Spring in Fialta" is one of memory. It’s unreliable, shifting, even dream-like. Just look at the first paragraph: "Far away, in a watery vista between the jagged edges of the pale bluish houses, which tottered up from their knees to climb the slope (a cypress indicating the way)…" Victor even acts like he’s in a dream – unaware of what’s around him and sluggish in his response to the external. A man talks about the weather, and Victor doesn’t understand why. He sees a piece of tin-foil shining on the ground, and concludes hours later that the sun must be shining. This is very much something out of a dream – that’s what memory does to reality.

The magical realism really kicks in at the end of "Spring in Fialta," with lines like this one: "From somewhere a firm bouquet of small dark, unselfishly smelling violets appeared in her hands." Because "Spring in Fialta" is largely realistic in nature (a man meets a woman with whom he’s previously had a relationship; he recalls their past experiences; she dies) with only pieces of the mystical and the odd thrown in, the text belongs to magical realism and NOT surrealism. (For reference, compare "Spring in Fialta" to something like Waiting for Godot, the premise of which is not grounded in reality in any way.)