24 November 2012

The Fates We Have Ordained

I have often noticed that we are inclined to endow our friends with the stability of type that literary characters acquire in the reader's mind. No matter how many times we reopen "King Lear," never shall we find the good king banging his tankard in high revelry, all woes forgotten, at a jolly reunion with all three daughters and their lapdogs. . . .

Whatever revolution this or that popular character has gone through between the book covers, his fate is fixed in our minds, and, similarly, we expect our friends to follow this or that logical and conventional pattern we have fixed for them.

Thus X will never compose the immortal music that would clash with the second-rate symphonies he has accustomed us to. Y will never commit murder. Under no circumstances can Z ever betray us. We have it all arranged in our minds, and the less often we see a particular person the more satisfying it is to check how obediently he conforms to our notion of him every time we hear of him. Any deviation in the fates we have ordained would strike us as not only anomalous but unethical.

We would prefer not to have known at all our neighbor, the retired hot-dog stand operator, if it turns out he has just produced the greatest book of poetry his age has seen.

— Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

Painting: Pierre Auguste Renoir, Dance at Bougival


  1. Gary, how true it is we have fixed in our minds the logical (or illogical), and conventional patterns we expect friends, family and even strangers to follow. Our preconceived notions of how someone should or should not be.

    However, in recent years I've tried to move away from these notions whenever I see them sprouting in my head, and allow people to unfold as they are without my judgment of it.

    Of course, this doesn't always work, but at least I now make the conscious effort to do so, whereas I never had before.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Demetria. Nabokov seems to have hit on a little piece of eternity with this passage. I recently finished the book and all I can say is Wow!


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