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But, how do I pronounce Pnin?
The "p" is sounded, that's all. But since the "p" is mute
in English words starting w-ith "pn", one is prone to insert a
supporting "uh" sound-- "Puh-- nin"-- which is wrong. To get
the "pn" right, try the combination "Up North", or still better
"Up, Nina!", leaving out the initial "u". Pnorth, Pnina, Pmn.
Can you do that? . . . That's fine.
It is indeed a tricky name. It is often misspelt, because the eye tends to regard the "a" of the first syllable as a misprint and then tries to restore the symmetrical sequence by triplicating the "o"-- filling up the row of circles, so to speak, as in a game of crosses and naughts. No-bow-cough. How ugly, how wrong.
Every author whose name is fairly often mentioned in periodicals develops a bird-watcher's or caterpillar-picker's knack when scanning an article. But in my case I always get caught by the word "nobody" when capitalized at the beginning of a sentence. As to pronunciation, Frenchmen of course say “Nabokoff” with the accent on the last
syllable. Englishmen say “Nabokov” accent on the first, and Italians say Nabokov, accent in the middle, as Russians also do. Na-bo-kov. A heavy open "o" as in "Knickerbocker". My New England ear is not offended by the long elegant middle "o" of Nabokov as delivered in American academies. The awful "Na-bah-kov" is a despicable gutterism.
Well, you can make your choice now. Incidentally, the first name is pronounced Vladeemer-- rhyming with "redeemer"-- not
Vladimir rhyming with Faddimere (a place in England, I think).
Pale Fire is mine. (I'm so sorry Marcel, but the word count, you know?)
What do I get - ten Our Fathers and six Hail Marys - or the reverse?
"... a mild old gentleman, very kind."
This very kind, mild old gentleman could kill a man with a cleverly turned phrase. Just look at what he had to say about Freud:
"I reject completely the vulgar, shabby, fundamentally medieval world of Freud with its crankish quest for sexual symbols (something like searching for Baconian acrostics in Shakespeare's works) and its bitter little embryos spying from their natural nooks upon the love life of their parents."
I think the only nice thing about him was his wife, Vera. And she was a pretty tough SOB herself, when it came to Volyoda.
What a wonderful book! Like enevada, I give the nod to Pale Fire, but only because I think Pale Fire is a literary one off with no comparison. But for a straightforward novel, Pnin is a delight.
I still can't get the name right, though. I get the role of the "P" now, thanks to the explanation in No. 2, but I keep saying P-ninn, rhymes with Inn, rather than P-neen. And as for "Nabokov," my ear hears no difference between the "o" as in "Knickerbocker" and an awful "Na-bah-kov."
Nabokov's meticulous pronunciation guides (and there are many in Pnin as well as those above) are another reason I enjoy him so much. I live with an unusual and difficult to pronounce first name, an uncommon and unpronounceable German maiden name, and a tricky to pronounce French married name, so I have spent my life in "sounds like . . . rhymes with . . . emphasis on . . ." conversations. I laugh when I read Nabokov's instructions.
After reading the notes on pronunciation above I feel a bit hopeless. I can do "Pnin" more easily than "Nabokov." Perhaps audiorecordings will help.