Study Guide

Spring in Fialta Setting

By Vladimir Nabokov


Fialta, on the Adriatic Coast

The first question is, WHERE is Fialta? We’ll tell you right off the bat that it’s fictional; there is no "real" Fialta. In the text, we see that it is a fishing village-turned-tourist-destination (and we’ll get to that in a minute). We know that it has a "Riviera" side. And take a look at this line in the second paragraph: "I feel in the hollow of those violaceous syllables the sweet dark dampness of the most rumpled of small flowers, and because the alto-like name of a lovely Crimean town is echoed by its viola." There is a lot to unpack in that sentence. First of all, "violaceous" really just means "purple." Victor is saying that the name "Fialta" reminds him of purple. (In fact, Nabokov was a huge fan of synesthesia, or the mixing of senses. To say something sounds like a color is a great example.) The name "Fialta" also reminds him of violets, which sounds pretty reasonable phonetically. Violets are important to this story – just think about the bouquet that "appears" in Nina’s hands "from somewhere" at the end of the text.

Then you’ve got this idea of "the alto-like name of a lovely Crimean town [being] echoed by its viola." The "alto-like Crimean town" is Yalta, a real fishing village located in Crimea, in the Ukraine. (Here’s a map. Crimea is in dark green, and Yalta is on the Southern edge, on the coast of the Black Sea.) Again, Nabokov is playing with phonetics, this time using musical terms: "Yalta" is like an alto, and "Fialta" is the viola echoing it. Yalta is important for one big reason: Chekhov. You can read in Shout-Outs about Chekhov’s short story, "Lady with Lapdog," which many scholars think "Spring in Fialta" is alluding to. And "Lady with Lapdog" takes place in…Yalta.

Now that’s a LOT of information from one little sentence in "Spring in Fialta," so you can see what we mean about having to unpack a lot of Nabokov’s prose. Still, how do we know Fialta is on the Adriatic Coast? From Nabokov’s 1969 novel Ada. Buried at the end of this massive work is a mention of "Fialta, on the Adriatic." Nabokov = a clever, tricky man. (Oh, the Adriatic is part of the Mediterranean. Here’s a map.)

Now that we’ve filled our detective quota for the year, let’s talk about the setting within the confines of "Spring in Fialta." It got its name into the title, after all – it must be important. And look at what Victor has to say: "This time we had met in warm and misty Fialta, and I could not have celebrated the occasion with greater art […], even if I had known that this was to be the last one." Fialta seems to him the perfect place for his last rendezvous with Nina – why?

We think there are three big reasons. 1) "Fialta consists of the old town and of the new one; here and there, past and present are interlaced, struggling either to disentangle themselves or to thrust each other out." Sounds like Victor’s narrative to us. (You should also check out the first paragraph, where Victor talks about how different Fialta is than its 1910 postcard likeness.) 2) Victor has a past in Fialta. He’s been there before. His relationship to Fialta is, like his relationship to Nina, a product of past experiences overlaid with the present. 3) Victor is on a business trip in Fialta. He’s somewhere else, remote from his family and children and away from his normal world. When he interacts with Nina, Victor explains, "the pace of life [alters] at once, all its atoms […] recombined." He and Nina encounter each other "in another, lighter time-medium." And Fialta, mystical, misty, surreal – almost a floating island in Victor’s mind – makes this possible.