Study Guide

Spring in Fialta Quotes

  • Memory and the Past

    Back into the past, back into the past, as I did every time I met her, repeating the whole accumulation of the plot from the very beginning up to the last increment — thus in Russian fairy tales the already told is bunched up again at every new turn of the story. (9)

    Memory in this story renders the narrative somewhat mystical. Look at how Victor compares his story to a fairy tale…

    I cannot recall why we had all wandered out of the sonorous hall into the still darkness […]; did the watchmen invite us to look at a sullen red glow in the sky, portent of nearing arson? Possibly. Did we go to admire an equestrian statue of ice sculptured near the pond by the Swiss tutor of my cousins? Quite as likely. My memory revives only on the way back to the brightly symmetrical mansion. (11)

    Notice that Victor remembers some details and forgets others. There isn’t really any logical sense to this. We’ll see as the story progresses that even the most trivial particulars are recalled.

    …and that melody, the pain, the offence, the link between hymen and death evoked by the rhythm, and the voice itself of the dead singer, which accompanied the recollection as the sole owner of the song, gave me no rest for several hours after Nina's departure and even later arose at increasing intervals like the last flat little waves sent to the beach by a passing ship, lapping ever more frequently and dreamily, or like the bronze agony of a vibrating belfry after the bell ringer has already re-seated himself in the cheerful circle of his family. (21)

    This is a great image to represent the way memory works in "Spring in Fialta." It’s a series of layers, one built over the other, all adding up to a final product which is no more than the sum of its iterative pieces.

    …and I remember once saying to him as I braved the mockery of his encouraging nods that, were I a writer, I should allow only my heart to have imagination, and for the rest rely upon memory, that long-drawn sunset shadow of one's personal truth. (22)

    If memory is a "shadow" of truth, then we have to question its accuracy. Victor is constantly calling into question the validity of his memories and forcing us to doubt his narrative.

    Was there any practical chance of life together with Nina, life I could barely imagine, for it would be penetrated, I knew, with a passionate, intolerable bitterness and every moment of it would be aware of a past, teeming with protean partners. No, the thing was absurd. (31)

    Victor defines his relationship with Nina as a series of past events. Because she exists for him in memory, her presence is always mystical, and the thought of a future is impossible. In a way, the rules of the story dictate her death – she isn’t allowed a future.

    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; each one has its own methods: the newcomer fights honestly […] whereas the sneaky old-timer creeps out from behind a corner in the shape of some little street on crutches or the steps of stairs leading nowhere. (32)

    Looks like setting is cleverly crafted in "Spring in Fialta," as if we expected anything less from Nabokov. You can read more in Shmoop’s discussion of setting, but for the time being we can note that Fialta, like Victor and Nina’s relationship, is a struggle of the idealist past vs. the very real present.

    …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)

    While there is no real logic to the memories which remain with Victor, we can identify perhaps an emotional significance to even these small details. What this man who is speaking has done is to describe Nina as just any other woman – at least like any other "angular dark-haired girl." We can see why this would stick with Victor, to whom Nina is anything BUT ordinary.

  • Transience

    ….the blurred Mount St George is more than ever remote from its likeness on the picture postcards which since 1910… (1)

    Setting is hugely important in "Spring in Fialta." In this case, we start the story on a note of transience. Things change. This theme will then get translated to Victor’s relationship with Nina. Stay tuned.

    Her fiancé was a guardsman on leave from the front, a handsome heavy fellow, incredibly well-bred and stolid, who weighed every word on the scales of the most exact common sense and spoke in a velvety baritone, which grew even smoother when he addressed her; his decency and devotion probably got on her nerves; and he is now a successful if somewhat lonesome engineer in a most distant tropical country. (10)

    Nina’s tendency to change men at the drop of a hat is a big part of her character. This is a double-edged sword for Victor; it means she will never be able to commit to him, but it also means that her marriage is an open one.

    How familiar to me were her hesitations, second thoughts, third thoughts mirroring first ones, ephemeral worries between trains. She had always either just arrived or was about to leave, and of this I find it hard to think without feeling humiliated by the variety of intricate routes one feverishly follows in order to keep that final appointment which the most confirmed dawdler knows to be unavoidable. (17)

    This ominous "final appointment" and the later mention of an "eternal sleeping car" hint at Nina’s eventual death. Her "ephemeral" characteristics, as Victor describes them, are matched by the transient nature of her existence. Anything can come and go with trains, even a human life.

    Brightly she signaled to me with her flowers; I introduced her to Elena, and in that life-quickening atmosphere of a big railway station where everything is something trembling on the brink of something else, thus to be clutched and cherished, the exchange of a few words was enough to enable two totally dissimilar women to start calling each other by their pet names the very next time they met. (19)

    Trains have a lot to do with transience in "Spring in Fialta." You can check out Symbols, Imagery, and Allegory for more, but for now, think about the phrase "everything is something trembling on the brink of something else." We can apply this passage to Victor’s narrative itself: a story set in reality, but trembling on the brink of the narrator’s fantasy.

    Again and again she hurriedly appeared in the margins of my life, without influencing in the least its basic text. (31)

    Nina, because of the fleeting nature of her appearances, can’t ever be anything real in Victor’s life. She’s restricted to the fantastical, to his memories and his vague hopes.

    …the yellow car I had seen under the plane trees had suffered a crash beyond Fialta, having run at full speed into the truck of a traveling circus entering the town, a crash from which Ferdinand and his friend, those invulnerable rogues, those salamanders of fate, those basilisks of good fortune, had escaped with local and temporary injury to their scales, while Nina, in spite of her long-standing, faithful imitation of them, had turned out after all to be mortal. (41)

    Initially, "Spring in Fialta" explores the transience of love, memory, pain, and emotion. It’s not until the text focuses on Nina’s death that we realize it is also about mortality, or the transience of life.

  • Fate and Free Will

    This time we had met in warm and misty Fialta, and I could not have celebrated the occasion with greater art, could not have adorned with bright vignettes the list of fate's former services, even if I had known that this was to be the last one; the last one, I maintain, for I cannot imagine any heavenly firm of brokers that might consent to arrange me a meeting with her beyond the grave. (9)

    Because we know from (nearly) the beginning of the text that Nina’s going to die, the entire story is infused with a sense of fatalism.

    Windows light up and stretch their luminous lengths upon the dark billowy snow, making room for the reflection of the fan-shaped light above the front door between them. Each of the two side-pillars is fluffily fringed with white, which rather spoils the lines of what might have been a perfect ex-libris for the book of our two lives. (11)

    And that’s the thing about memory. Because he’s looking back on these events, Victor is able to imbue them with a sense of fate. At the time, of course, he would have had no reason to see an ex-libris over the front door.

    …and as I watched her in the maze of gestures and shadows of gestures of which the rest of that evening consisted (probably parlour games — with Nina persistently in the other camp)… (12)

    Think back to being, oh, seven or eight. How FRUSTRATING is it when that crush of yours always ends up on the OTHER team in tug-of-war or capture the flag or whatever? In this agonizing way, it feels to Victor like fate is conspiring against him and Nina.

    …and then, after a few steps, I glanced back and foresaw, in an almost optical sense, as it were, what really happened an hour or so later: the three of them wearing motoring helmets, getting in, smiling and waving to me, transparent to me like ghosts, with the colour of the world shining through them, and then they were moving, receding, diminishing (Nina's last ten-fingered farewell); but actually the automobile was still standing quite motionless, smooth and whole like an egg, and Nina under my outstretched arm was entering a laurel flanked doorway, and as we sat down we could see through the window Ferdinand and Segur, who had come by another way, slowly approaching. (32)

    Much of "Spring in Fialta" has been mystical, somewhat less than real. But it’s at the end of the story that the events Victor describes become more and more amazing. Notice how these mystical happenings correspond with the disruption of time – memory destroys reality in "Spring in Fialta."

    From afar came the sounds of music — a trumpet, a zither. Nina and I set out to wander again. The circus on its way to Fialta had apparently sent out runners: an advertising pageant was tramping by; but we did not catch its head, as it had turned uphill into a side alley: the gilded back of some carriage was receding, a man in a burnous led a camel, a file of four mediocre Indians carried placards on poles, and behind them, by special permission, a tourist's small son in a sailor suit sat reverently on a tiny pony. (39)

    The repeated mentions of the circus make "Spring in Fialta" highly fatalistic. For every indication that Nina will die is a corresponding hint at the mechanism behind her death.

  • Love

    I call her Nina, but I could hardly have known her name yet, hardly could we have had time, she and I, for any preliminary. 'Who's that?' she asked with interest — and I was already kissing her neck, smooth and quite fiery hot from the long fox fur of her coat-collar, which kept getting into my way until she clasped my shoulder, and with the candour so peculiar to her gently fitted her generous, dutiful lips to mine. (11)

    Throughout most of "Spring in Fialta," we have to ask what Victor can admittedly not answer himself: what are his feelings for Nina? Since he doesn’t know even know her name before he’s all over her, we might be tempted to label this simple physical infatuation. On the other hand, you could identify an element of fatalism here. Perhaps they were simply destined to be together.

    …she removed her stalk-like cigarette holder from her lips and proceeded to utter slowly and joyfully, "Well, of all people —" and at once it became clear to everyone, beginning with her, that we had long been on intimate terms; unquestionably, she had forgotten all about the actual kiss, but somehow because of that trivial occurrence she found herself recollecting a vague stretch of warm, pleasant friendship, which in reality had never existed between us. Thus the whole cast of our relationship was fraudulently based upon an imaginary amity. (18)

    Is Victor guilty of "fraudulently" basing his feelings for Nina on "imaginary" love that he feels only after her death? Remember, he’s telling us all of this after Nina is gone, so it’s possible he’s amplifying what were really very basic, trivial feelings at the time.

    And regardless of what happened to me or to her, in between, we never discussed anything, as we never thought of each other during the intervals in our destiny, so that when we met the pace of life altered at once, all its atoms were re-combined, and we lived in another, lighter time-medium, which was measured not by the lengthy separations but by those few meetings of which a short, supposedly frivolous life was thus artificially formed. (31)

    This is Victor’s strategy for dealing with his feelings for Nina: he separates out the moments he’s with her from the rest of his life. He almost creates another entire existence for himself. This goes a long way in understanding the mystical quality of both Victor’s memories and of "Spring in Fialta." In this story, all reality is subject to Victor’s manipulation, and Victor is subject to his hopeless feelings of desire.

    I grew apprehensive because something lovely, delicate, and unrepeatable was being wasted, something which I abused by snapping off poor bright bits in gross haste while neglecting the modest but true core which perhaps it kept offering me in a pitiful whisper. (31)

    These lines suggest that Nina does want to pursue a real relationship with Victor – or at least that he thinks so. When we look at Nina’s actions, though, we have to doubt that she is "offering" her "true core" in any way. Victor has reversed the roles, portraying himself in a position of power over her – but we’ve seen that this is simply not the case. If anything, Nina is the one calling the shots. Nina is the one rejecting Victor’s "pitiful whisper."

    With an unbearable force, I relived (or so it now seems to me) all that had ever been between us beginning with a similar kiss; and I said (substituting for our cheap, formal "thou" that strangely full and expressive "you" to which the circumnavigator, enriched all round, returns), "Look here — what if I love you?" Nina glanced at me, I repeated those words, I wanted to add... but something like a bat passed swiftly across her face, a quick, queer, almost ugly expression, and she, who would utter coarse words with perfect simplicity, became embarrassed; I also felt awkward... "Never mind, I was only joking"… (41)

    At this passage, we have to wonder how truthful Victor’s account of Nina has been so far. She clearly didn’t expect such a confession from him, so has he been exaggerating the significance of their relationship? Or has Victor just hopelessly misinterpreted all of his encounters with Nina?

  • Sadness

    That day, in the blue shade of the Paris car, Ferdinand was first mentioned: I learned with a ridiculous pang that she was about to marry him. Doors were beginning to slam; she quickly but piously kissed her friends, climbed into the vestibule, disappeared; and then I saw her through the glass settling herself in her compartment, having suddenly forgotten about us or passed into another world…

    Victor describes the pain he feels over Nina’s engagement as "ridiculous," which is apt. He has no reason to feel possessive over her, and yet we know that he does. There is no justification for his jealousy, yet it exists nevertheless. Victor’s pain, like his desire, is irrational.

    …and I shall never forget my first night there: how I waited, how certain I was that without my having to tell her she would steal to my room, how she did not come, and the din thousands of crickets made in the delirious depth of the rocky garden dripping with moonlight, the mad bubbling brooks, and my struggle between blissful southern fatigue after a long day of hunting on the screes and the wild thirst for her stealthy coming, low laugh, pink ankles above the swan's-down trimming of high-heeled slippers; but the night raved on, and she did not come, and when next day, in the course of a general ramble in the mountains, I told her of my waiting, she clasped her hands in dismay — and at once with a rapid glance estimated whether the backs of the gesticulating Ferd and his friend had sufficiently receded. (31)

    This is like a one-two punch for the reader. We experience Victor’s hopeless waiting and the bitterness of his let down, but on top of that is the embarrassment of his confessing it all to Nina, who was apparently clueless. Ouch.

    I grew apprehensive because something lovely, delicate, and unrepeatable was being wasted, something which I abused by snapping off poor bright bits in gross haste while neglecting the modest but true core which perhaps it kept offering me in a pitiful whisper. I was apprehensive because, in the long run, I was somehow accepting Nina's life, the lies, the futility, the gibberish of that life. […] But then what should I have done with you, Nina, how should I have disposed of the store of sadness that had gradually accumulated as a result of our seemingly carefree, but really hopeless meetings! (31)

    Nina’s transient presence seems to be what bothers Victor the most. He continues to feel that there’s some greater "core" to Nina – but is there? Could it be that this is simply all there is to Nina – a "carefree" woman with no desire for attachment and no sense of the pain she causes men like Victor? If this is true, then Victor’s desire really is as hopeless as he suspects; he’s longing for something that doesn’t exist.

    …my dear friend Jules Darboux, wishing to do me a refined aesthetic favour, had touched my sleeve and said, "I want you to meet —" and led me to Nina, who sat in the corner of a couch, her body folded Z-wise, with an ashtray at her heel, and she took a long turquoise cigarette holder from her lips and joyfully, slowly exclaimed, "Well, of all people —" and then all the evening my heart felt like breaking… (40)

    Victor’s anguish over Nina is made all the more noticeable by her LACK of longing or pain. He suffers all the more for knowing that she doesn’t return his feelings.

    …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)

    Passages like this one set the tone for "Spring in Fialta," a series of memories not only nostalgic, but also intensely melancholy.