Notes on Nabokov’s “The Seaport”


The whole scene is bright, with sunshine everywhere. Colours: the blue of the sea, the green of the woman’s dress. These things stand out. The sunshine gives colour to everything.

Each thing seems to have its own distinct colour: no shades of grey. Grey is for other days, not today. Here we have “puddles of molten honey” on the ground – the canvas is filled with gold, the backdrop for the parade of colours. Each individual thing alive and itself. Sunlight is generous – it shines and gives life. And to be alive is to be what you are, and nothing else is asked of you.

And evening comes, and even the evening is bright – the twilight is blazing purple. The sun has done its part and yet it continues to bless the people with its warmth and light as it retreats, filling the evening with its joy. A marvellous thing to see a sun set on a day like this – no regret that the day is gone, when we have such an evening to enjoy. And the sun will return tomorrow.

Nabokov does so much with so little in this story. When you analyse it: what information does he give us about a seaport? And yet he produces an impression of light and life so full of impressionistic detail that I’ll always see it in my memory, as if I too stayed there for one glorious summer’s day.

(I’ve been reading the Collected Stories of Vladimir Nabokov, published by Penguin Books in 2010. The image at the top of this post is from Pixabay.)

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