Vladimir Nabokov

Appel, Alfred

Alfred Appel, Jr (1934-2009) was a student in Nabokov's European fiction class at Cornell, where he met his wife, Nina. After a PhD on Willa Cather, and his appointment at Northwestern University, Appel turned to Nabokov, focusing especially on his self-consciousness and metafictionality, particularly in "Nabokov's Puppet Show," a long article in the New Republic (14 and 21 January 1967), which became the basis for his memorable Introduction to the Annotated Lolita (1970). Appel became a friend of the Nabokovs, visiting them in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and interviewing Nabokov twice, in 1966 (SO 62-92) and 1970 (SO 159-76). He was in regular touch with Nabokov during the preparation of the Annotated Lolita, for which Nabokov often supplied material, sometimes in lively disagreement with Appel's commentary. Appel was the guest editor of the Triquarterly special issue for Nabokov's 70th birthday, along with regular editor Charles Newman, and persuaded Nabokov to write a reply to each contributor (SO 284-303). His final publication on Nabokov, Nabokov's Dark Cinema (1974), revealed his deep interest in popular culture, especially American (film, photography, advertising, comics), and in Nabokov's attention not just to highbrow culture but to lowbrow or nobrow. Appel felt disenchanted by Look at the Harlequins! and indeed by Nabokov's other work after Pale Fire, despite his rapturous review of Ada in the New York Times, feeling that Nabokov, in Switzerland, had lost touch with the America that was increasingly Appel's own focus. Although he continued to write about modernism, whose celebratory nature he emphasized (including Nabokov along with Joyce, Picasso, and Louis Armstrong as among the great celebrators), about photography and especially about jazz, a field in which he became one of the most respected commentators, Appel did not publish again on Nabokov, but often gave enthusiastic talks when invited to do so. Appel was irrepressibly funny himself, and in perhaps his last talk to a very large audience, in New York's Town Hall in April, 1999, on the centenary of Nabokov's birth, he declared that "Nabokov was the most fun to be with of any person I have ever met."  New York Times obituaryWikipedia entry. Brian Boyd obituary, Nabokovian 63 (Fall 2009), 15-22. [BB]