Despair

Free Despair by Vladimir Nabokov

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Authors: Vladimir Nabokov
telephone rang; but it proved a mistake—wrong number. And then there was silence once more, save for the light patter of the rain quickening the approach of night.

Chapter Four
    “Dear Felix, I have found some work for you. First of all we must have an eye-to-eye monologue and get things settled. As I happen to be going to Saxony on business, I suggest that you meet me at Tarnitz, which I hope is not far from your present whereabouts. Let me know without delay whether my plan suits you. If it does, I shall tell you the day, the hour and the exact place, and send you such money as your coming may cost you. The traveling life I lead prevents me from having any fixed abode, so you had better direct your answer ‘post office’ (here follows the address of a Berlin post office) with the word ‘Ardalion’ on the envelope. Goodbye for the present. I expect to hear from you.” (No signature.)
    Here it is before me, the letter I finally wrote on that ninth of September, 1930. I cannot recollect now if the “monologue” was a slip or a joke. The thing is typed out on good, eggshell blue notepaper with a frigate for watermark; but it is now sadly creased and soiled at the corners; vague imprints of his fingers, perhaps. Thus it would seem that I were the receiver—not the sender. Well, so it ought to be in the long run, for haven’t we changed places, he and I?
    There are in my possesssion two more letters written on similar paper, but all the
answers
have been destroyed. If Istill had them—if I had, for instance, that idiotic one which, with beautifully timed nonchalance, I showed to Orlovius (and then destroyed like the rest), it would be possible now to adopt an epistolic form of narration. A time-honored form with great achievements in the past. From Ex to Why: “Dear Why”—and above you are sure to find the date. The letters come and go—quite like the ding-dong flight of a ball over a net. The reader soon ceases to pay any attention whatever to the dates; and indeed what does it matter to him whether a given letter was written on the ninth of September or on September the sixteenth? Dates are required, however, to keep up the illusion.
    So it goes on and on, Ex writing to Why and Why to Ex, page after page. Sometimes an outsider, a Zed, intrudes and adds his own little contribution to the correspondence, but he does so with the sole aim of making clear to the reader (not looking at him the while except for an occasional squint) some event, which, for reasons of plausibility and the like, neither Ex nor Why could very well have explained.
    They, too, write with circumspection: all those “do-you-remember-that-time-whens” (detailed recollections follow) are brought in, not so much with the object of refreshing Why’s memory as in order to give the reader the required reference—so that, on the whole, the effect produced is rather droll, those neatly inscribed and perfectly unnecessary dates, being, as I have already said, especially good fun. And when at last Zed butts in suddenly with a letter to his own personal correspondent (for it is a world consisting of correspondents that such novels imply) telling him of Ex’s and Why’s death or else of their fortunate union, the reader finds himself feeling that he would prefer the most ordinary missive from the tax collector to all this. As a rule I have always been notedfor my exceptional humorousness; it goes naturally with a fine imagination; woe to the fancy which is not accompanied by wit.
    One moment. I was copying that letter and now it has vanished somewhere.
    I can continue; it had slipped under the table.
    A week later the answer arrived (I had been to the post office five times and my nerves were on edge): Felix informed me that he gratefully accepted my suggestion. As often happens with uneducated people, the tone of his letter was in complete disagreement with that of his usual conversation: his epistolary voice was a tremulous falsetto with lapses

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