Reading Recommendation: “The Visit to the Museum,” Vladimir Nabokov

Today I read:

Everything was as it should be: gray tints, the sleep of substance, matter dematerialized. There was the usual case of old, worn coins resting in the inclined velvet of their compartments. There was, on top of the case, a pair of owls, Eagle Owl and Long-eared, with their French names reading “Grand Duke” and “Middle Duke” if translated. Venerable minerals lay in their open graves of dusty papier mache; a photograph of an astonished gentleman with a pointed beard dominated an assortment of strange black lumps of various sizes. They bore a great resemblance to frozen frass, and I paused involuntarily over them, for I was quite at a loss to guess their nature, composition, and function. The custodian had been following me with felted steps, always keeping a respectful distance; now, however, he came up, with one hand behind his back and the ghost of the other in his pocket, and gulping, if one judged by his Adam’s apple.

“What are they?” I asked.

“Science has not yet determined,” he replied, undoubtedly having learned the phrase by rote. “They were found,” he continued in the same phony tone, “in 1895, by Louis Pradier, Municipal Councillor and Knight of the Legion of Honor,” and his trembling finger indicated the photograph.

“Well and good,” I said, “but who decided, and why, that they merited a place in the museum?”

“And now I call your attention to this skull!” the old man cried energetically, obviously changing the subject.

“Still, I would be interested to know what they are made of,” I interrupted.

“Science…” he began anew, but stopped short and looked crossly at his fingers, which were soiled with dust from the glass.

— Vladimir Nabokov, “The Visit to the Museum”

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