Vladimir Nabokov

Alter, Robert

Robert Alter (1935-  ), professor of Comparative Literature and Hebrew at University of California, Berkeley, is one of the most distinguished academic stylists and deep analysts of style to write about Nabokov, both in his own works and in relation to the traditions of self-conscious fiction. A friend and office-mate of Alfred Appel, Jr., in his early academic career, he responded to Appel's invitation to contribute to the 1970 Triquarterly Festschrift for VN's seventieth birthday. VN described Alter's essay on Invitation to a Beheading as "a most brilliant reflection of that book in a reader's mind. . . . practically flawless" (SO 287). Always a comparativist, his Partial Magic: The Novel as a Self-Conscious Genre (1975) joined Nabokov to the tradition of Cervantes, Sterne, Diderot, Thackeray, Melville, Joyce, Woolf, and Gide. His Motives for Fiction (1984) includes his essay on Invitation to a Beheading and on Ada. Although Alter has continued to participate in Nabokov conferences ("sneaking enthusiasm" as he calls it from one of his first books: Fielding and the Nature of the Novel) and write occasional articles on him, his interests began to shift in the late 1980s to the Bible as literature (his expertise in Modern Hebrew Literature is unparalleled) and its effect on English prose, and to translating the whole Hebrew Bible, beginning with Genesis in 1996, and the whole Tanakh in 2018. His The Pleasures of Reading in an Ideological Age (1990) articulates his critical and readerly credo, that a close and sensitive attentiveness to the complexities of style allows access to authors' highly individual explorations of complexities of human experience not expressible except through imaginative literature. [BB]