16 Sep Vladimir Nabokov and the Flemish Mandarin

I just ran across this video ” Vladimir Nabokov and the Flemish Mandarin”. It attempts to show on some level why Russian-American novelist, Vladmir Nabokov (1899 – 1977) may have been intrigued with the life of Paul Splingaerd. Characters in several famous novels and even a musical were inspired by Paul life.

Fyodor’s father in Nabokov last and most famous novel, “The Gift” was one such character. The Gift was the author’s final work and considered his greatest. It’s “one of the masterpieces of twentieth century modernist literature”, says author Yuri Leving, Professor and Chair in the Department of Russian Studies, Dalhousie University, Canada.

As a side note, another character inspired by Paul was  Mo-sieu in “Jean Blaise’s Maator le Mongol.” The musical, De staart van de mandarijn on by Belgian playwright, Tone Brulin was also based on Paul’s life.

Paul Splingaerd Tutorial at It1me.com” | Get the Facts, Watch Videos and Explore Paul Splingaerd. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2016.

  1. Paper read at the International Vladimir Nabokov Symposium St. Petersburg, July 18, 2002. The finds described in this paper finally led to the book Nabokov reist im Traum in das Innere Asiens In collaboration with Sabine Hartmann Reinbek: Rowohlt Verlag, 2006, 320 pages, 51 illustrations, 1 map. Paper: Chinese Rhubarb and Caterpillars by Dieter E. Zimmer. « In Nabokov’s last novel, there is a brief exchange between the narrator and his first wife. She asks, “What do you call ‘genius’?” His answer is, “Well, seeing things others don’t see. Or rather the invisible links between things.” I know you must not confuse the narrator with Nabokov, but I believe that in this instance Nabokov is voicing an important idea of his own. What I shall simply call the Tatsienlu complex in The Gift is a good example of an associative network of such “invisible links” connecting the death of Konstantin Godunov, the town of Tatsienlu, the village of Chetu, the French missionaries and Thecla bieti. It seems one of Fyodor’s more or less subconscious fancies had been that his father had not perished but had stayed on in Tibet or China, just like the Belgian, the two American bikers mentioned in The Gift whom his father had met in the Gobi desert and who had become a Chinese mandarin (I am speaking of Paul Splingaert in the town of Sazhou, now Jiayuguan in Ganzu, at the Western edge of the Chinese empire). That may be the reason why Fyodor’s dream strangely vested his father “with a gold embroidered skullcap,” that is, with a mandarin’s cap
  2. See Blaise, p 183: (translation): “Regarding the characters, it suffices to say that Mo-Sieu was modeled after an interesting man named Paul Splingaert, who lived an extraordinary existence. After leaving as a simple domestic to Fr. Verbist, he acquired a useful knowledge of Chinese and Mongolian dialects, which permitted him to carry out varied and some delicate tasks. After working successively as an interpreter and guide on scientific missions, officer of Chinese customs, and even as a brigade general, he returned to Europe as a businessman to recruit engineers and personal for the exploitation of the mineral riches of Gansu.”
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