NABOKV-L post 0011798, Thu, 8 Sep 2005 16:01:49 -0700

Fwd: Shapiro on Dolinin
EDNOTE. Jeff Edmunds is the founder/editor of the Nabokov Web Site ZEMBLA. He is
also, among much else, a published Nabokov scholar.

----- Forwarded message from -----
Date: Thu, 08 Sep 2005 09:29:43 -0400
From: Jeff Edmunds <>
Reply-To: Jeff Edmunds <>
Subject: Shapiro on Dolinin
To: Vladimir Nabokov Forum

After reading the excerpts from Dolinin's essay and Shapiro's assessment of
them, I found myself re-reading the excerpts in an attempt to locate the
"resentful," the "virulent," the "malevolently misleading," the
"slanderous," the "cruel and truth-bending attack on the writer." To no
avail. (Knowing something of Dolinin's reputation as a scholar, and Julian
W. Connolly's as a Nabokov specialist and editor, I find it implausible
that the latter would publish something written by the former if it could
be reasonably characterized by the epithets Shapiro uses.)

As an outsider reading Dolinin's statements, I saw only an articulate
Nabokov specialist of Russian descent making a point that has been touched
on before (in particular by Maurice Couturier)--that Nabokov's public
pronouncements should always be taken guardedly rather than blindly as a
priori truths, a point that purely Anglophone Nabokov specialists are
perhaps more likely to miss than their Russophone colleagues, given that
the latter are in a position to have a much better notion of the cultural
and literary milieu into which Nabokov was born and within which he matured.

That Nabokov enjoyed deceiving his readers is undeniable. That he indulged
in self-mythologization is, to my mind, equally indisputable. (To cite but
one bit of evidence: would an author so avowedly indifferent to public
opinion of him and his work rail so concertedly against the inaccuracies in
a biography as did Nabokov against Field's--the Berg Collection includes
"Nabokov's nearly 200 pages of corrections to Andrew Field's biography,
Nabokov: His Life in Part"?)

It might also be useful to point out in this context that the term
"Nabokov" is open to interpretation. Which Nabokov? The persona(s)
fabricated by Nabokov himself or another believed to exist by this or that
scholar or reader? To cite an author who makes the point more deftly than I
perhaps could:

"Just as Humbert creates a personalized Lolita by alchemizing a real girl
with memory, imagination, and words, so literary scholars fabricate
simulacra--some convincing, some oddly unrecognizable, some disfigured or
even missing limbs--of the writers they discuss. The growing series of
French Nabokovs encompasses the invraisemblable and the nearly vrai as well
as a broad range of intermediate Nabonculi."

Shapiro's statements that

"Nabokov did not leave his native land for Western Europe 'in search of a
better life' but had to flee the mortal danger of the Bolshevik terror,
just as twenty years later he came to the United States because he had to
flee the mortal danger of the Nazi menace"

and that

"Nabokov's books were banned from his native country turned Zoorlandian,
and his Russian reading audience in the West was shattered to smithereens
by the cataclysms of World War Two"

would not be disputed by anyone, least of all by Dolinin. What Dolinin
seems to be discussing, as he points out in his reponse posted to NABOKV-L,
is Nabokov the man's often ex post facto creation of Sirin--and
subsequently of Nabokov--the writer.

To characterize his discussion as "deceitful and disgraceful" strikes me as
wildly hyperbolic.

Jeff Edmunds

At 10:49 PM 9/7/2005, you wrote:
>EDNOTE. GAvriel Shapiro is the author of two books on Nabokov and teaches
>in the
>Russian Department at Cornell. Below he comments on Alexander Dolinin's essay
>"Nabokov as a Russian Author" in the _Cambridge Companion to Nabokov_, editred
>by Julian Connolly.
> >------------------------------------------------
> >
> >
> >
> >Quoting Gavriel Shapiro <>:
>I am writing to express my shock and dismay at Alexander Dolinin's chapter
>"Nabokov as a Russian Writer" that appeared in the recently published
>Cambridge Companion to Nabokov.
>Two brief quotations will suffice:
>1. "In a sense, the Russian writer Sirin fell victim to the tricky
>mythmaking and playacting Nabokov indulged in during his later years. Like
>those unhappy expatriates who leave their native country in search of a
>better life and then are doomed again and again to prove to themselves that
>their decision was right, Nabokov had to justify his emigration from his
>native language and literature to their acquired substitutes. For this
>purpose, he would argue that 'the nationality of a worthwhile writer is of
>secondary importance' (SO, 63) and present himself as a born cosmopolitan
>genius who has never been attached to anything and anybody but his
>autonomous imagination and personal memory" (p. 53).
>2. "It seems that memoirists, biographers, and critics alike tend to fall
>under the spell of Nabokov's own inventions, evasions, exaggerations, and
>half-truths and perpetuate his mythmaking game by sticking to its rules"
>(p. 54).
>I find the resentful and virulent tone of Dolinin's "formulations"
>unbecoming of a scholar. It is rather reminiscent of the infamous Soviet
>journalistic lingo.
>Aside from the inadmissible tone in which Dolinin's chapter is written, his
>assertions are malevolently misleading. Such is the simile in the first
>passage: Dolinin knows full well that Nabokov did not leave his native land
>for Western Europe "in search of a better life" but had to flee the mortal
>danger of the Bolshevik terror, just as twenty years later he came to the
>United States because he had to flee the mortal danger of the Nazi menace.
>Dolinin must be also well aware that the shift from Russian to English was
>Nabokov's personal tragedy. Nabokov's books were banned from his native
>country turned Zoorlandian, and his Russian reading audience in the West
>was shattered to smithereens by the cataclysms of World War Two.
>Therefore, Dolinin's presenting Nabokov's shift from Russian to English as
>a carefully calculated opportunistic move is a cruel and truth-bending
>attack on the writer.
>In the second passage, Dolinin once again subjects the writer to a
>slanderous attack and arrogantly "dismisses" the achievements of Nabokov
>It is lamentable that this otherwise fine volume is marred by such
>deceitful and disgraceful pronouncements.
>Gavriel Shapiro
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