The great Russian-European-American writer VLADIMIR NABOKOV is famous to the general public for the book/film "Lolita." In it, an older man (James Mason) falls in love with a 15-year-old nymph. Nasty business. But the writing of the first chapter (one page) starts us off on a divinely comic journey. Nabokov is a stylist who amuses himself. And it's up to us to climb aboard.
I want to show you the first page of two of his novels (LOLITA and PNIN) so that you see his comic style immediately.
Back to back, I am going to start with the opening paragraph of LOLITA, followed by PNIN whom you will realize is Humpty Dumpty.
Here we go.
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lol-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palae to tapkat three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.
She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.
Did she have a precursor? She did, Indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved one summer, a certain initial girl-child. In in a princedon by the sea. Oh when? You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns.
PNIN (opening paragraph, incomplete):
The elderly passenger sittingt on the north-window side of that inexoragbly moving railway coach, next to an empty seat and facing two empty ones, was none other than Professor Timofey Pnin. Ideally gald, suntanned, and clean-shaven, he began rather impressively with that great brown dome of his, tortoise-shell glasses (masking an infantile agsnec of eye-grows), apish upper lip, thick neck, and strong-man torso in a tight-ish tween coat, but ended, somewhat disappointingly in a pair of spindly legs (nlw flannelled and crossed) and frail looking, almost feminine feet.
Nabokov's portrait hangs in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, a gift from Time magazine.