NABOKV-L post 0003402, Thu, 1 Oct 1998 12:14:46 -0700

Re: Nabokov Festival abstracts: Sept. 10-12, 1989
EDITORIAL NOTE. Thanks to Jenka Fyfe, Administrative Assistant for Gavriel
Shapiro's Cornell Nabokov Centenary Festival, NABOKV-L is now
able to send out the abstracts of the 30-odd papers. The papers will be
published in a proceedings volume.

The Festival program itself, which included many events apart from the
papers, may be found on ZEMBLA which lists the titles in thematic
groupings. The abstracts below are in alpabetical order. For technical
reasons, the abstracts below contain a good deal of extraneous formatting
material for which I ask your forebearance. I have limited my editorial
chores to cleaning up the paper titles.

For maximum pleasure, I suggest you read these abstracts a few at a time.
Someone at the confeence estimated that among them the speakers had
written forty-odd books on Nabokov.

Nabokov Centenary Festival: Abstracts of conference papers


The Fourth Dimension of Nabokov's Laughter in the Dark

Vladimir E. Alexandrov

Yale University

I suggested in publications in 1988 and 1991 that Nabokov may have been
influenced by the Russian occultist Petr Dem'ianovich Uspenskii
(1878-1947; known in English as "P. D. Ouspensky"). The strongest
evidence for this is that both understood the phenomenon of insect
mimicry in a very similar, albeit highly unusual way--as disproving
Darwinian evolution, and as evidence for the existence of a
transcendent maker. The metaphysical implications of mimicry are
central to Nabokov's conception of the "otherworld," and to his seminal
redefinition of "nature" and "artifice" as synonyms for each other,
which undergirds many of the characteristic themes and stylistic
features of his art.

<italic>Laughter in the Dark</italic> (1938) contains additional
evidence suggesting Uspenskii's influence. In Chapter 32, the narrator
presents a series of elevated perspectives onto the road along which
Albinus' car is speeding toward its fateful accident, and then
associates these perspectives with his wife Elisabeth in distant
Berlin. These descriptions--which are very similar in both the Russian
(1933) and English versions of the novel--resemble closely passages in
Uspenskii's well-known treatise <italic>Tertium Organum: A Key to the
Enigmas of the World</italic> (1912, 1916, 1920) that describe how a
lower, three-dimensional world like ours might appear to a higher being
looking down upon it from the so-called "fourth dimension." In light
of this, Chapter 32 emerges as a key to understanding several features
of the novel: Elisabeth's vatic role and the nature of her privileged
relationship to the narrator, the otherworldly significance of the
patterning in the lives of Albinus and the other characters, and what
happens to him when he is shot in the end.

Toward a Theory of Negative Pattern in Nabokov

Stephen H. Blackwell
University of Tennessee, Knoxville

The significance of various forms of negativity in Nabokov's works has
been gaining increased attention in recent years. Nabokov's own
fascination with negative pattern, especially as manifested in his
lengthy interest in Bely's diagramatic silhouettes of great poems,
serves as a starting point for examining various types of negative
"interspace," as he called them in <italic>Nikolai Gogol</italic>, that
inhabit the shadowy background of his creations. In an attempt to
explore the continuity and evolution of this artistic dimension, the
present study focuses primarily on three novels: <italic>The Defense,
Bend Sinister </italic> and <italic>Transparent Things</italic>,
spanning over forty years of the author's career. Negative pattern is
traced through its appearance in imagery, narrative structures,
linguistic patterns, and the predicted responses of imagined readers.

Pale Fire: The Vanessa atalanta

Brian Boyd
University of Auckland

A recent debate on the internet has revived the old critical
controversy about the internal authorship of <italic>Pale
Fire</italic>: did John Shade write the whole text, poem and
commentary, as some suggest, or is Kinbote responsible, as others
propose, for the submerged bridges linking poem and commentary despite
the superficial gulf between them? As the most emphatic proponent of
the Shadean position, I became embroiled in the internet discussion. In
fortifying my argument, I unearthed a great deal more that eventually
drove me to abandon my old ground for a hitherto unnoticed and more
defensible position: not a retreat but, I hope, a secure advance. I now
reject the idea that either Shade or Kinbote wrote the whole of the
novel and propose a completely new solution to the central riddle of
the novel. One corollary of that solution concerns the Vanessa atalanta
that features at several key moments in poem, notes and index. In the
hope that <italic>Nabokov's Butterflies</italic> will be published as
scheduled in the fall of 1998, I will pay tribute to the link between
Nabokov's science and his art, and show how the Vanessa deepens the
mystery and magic at the heart of <italic>Pale Fire</italic>.

Krazy, Ignatz, and Vladimir: Nabokov and the Comic Strip

Clarence F. Brown
Princeton University

Vladimir Nabokov, as everyone knows, was a writer of astounding visual
acuity: he truly saw the world and rendered its shapes and color with
unparalleled clarity. Like every great novelist, he attended to the
entire range of culture, from the highest, where he and Véra were at
home, to the lowest, where many of his characters and even some of his
readers (like me) can sometimes be found.

One of the elements of popular culture that caught and held his
attention, from his early childhood to the end of his life, was the
comic strip. Just as he knew how to read and write English before he
was literate in Russian, so also the first comic strips that he knew
were not European but American.

There is a certain interest in hunting out the many references to
the comic strip in general and to specific strips in his work, but
this has been done, however incompletely. In any case, I find it far
more interesting to observe the slight traces of sequential pictorial
narrative (another way of saying comic strip) that crop up repeatedly
in the fabric of his imaginary world, usually as a part of the decor
rather than the foreground action. To avoid clumsy circumlocutions, I
have invented a name for this heretofore neglected element in the
composition of his fictional world. The word for this
comicstrippishness, this comic strip in <italic>statu
nascendi</italic>, is <bold>b-desque</bold>.

I am a professional cartoonist. My comic strips have appeared in the
<italic>London Spectator</italic> ("Ollie"), the <italic>New York
Village Voice</italic> ("Hereafter"), and even in the <italic>American
Poetry Review</italic> ("Nightshift") and other periodicals. And I was
Cartoon Editor of the old <italic>Saturday Review</italic>. My
cartoons appeared in every issue of that magazine, as you might
imagine, and also in a great many other publications. And as professor
of comparative literature I have from time to time lectured at
Princeton on the history of the comic strip, always hiding behind the
cataloguese of "Pictorial Narrative."

Furthermore, if I am a reader of Nabokov, it is also true that he
was a reader of mine, since he several times drew attention to "Ollie"
in the <italic>Spectator</italic>, of which he was a subscriber in
Montreux. It is hardly necessary to add that, in this intellectual
commerce between us, the trade deficit is all on my side and is
immense beyond calculation.

In "Anniversary Notes," Nabokov's reply to those who had contributed
to the <italic>TriQuarterly</italic> tribute to him on his 70th
anniversary (<italic>TriQuarterly</italic> 17, 1970), he comments
learnedly on my Russian poem and then adds an extra little pat on the
head: "His cartoons in a British weekly are marvelous." ("Anniversary
Notes" reprinted in <italic>Strong Opinions</italic>. New York:
McGraw-Hill, 1973, pp. 284-303)

Four years later, in a letter to me dated November 11, 1974,
Nabokov wrote in part:

I have always felt a friendly warmth when seeing your articles, or
looking at those enchanting "Russian" funnies (some years ago in a
London weekly ya ne putayu? [if I'm not mistaken?]) or reading your
book on Mandelshtam.

He calls the strip "Russian" because there was a Russian character
in it. It means far more to me that he called it marvelous and

Replacement as a Device in Nabokov's Despair

Nora Buhks
Université de Paris-Sorbonne, France

Nabokov has always insisted on the fact that he was uninterested in
politics and this is true concerning his perception of situations.
However, his point of view turns out to be far more complex at the
level of creative thinking. Examples corroborating this can be found
in his novel <italic>Despair</italic>. In this report we propose to
analyze the novel as an ideological parody. This approach will allow
us to reveal and explain the whole group of text references which are
introduced for this purpose into the novel.

Nabokov uses substitution as his principal method of parody. This
substitution is realized in terms of false similarity, aimed at
presenting something as being something different. Thus, the classical
theme of art, duplicity, is pronounced as a realization of an ethical
and political concept, equality.

This false duplicity contains the sense of parody itself which is based
on similarity/difference of the subsequent reproduction. Numerous
variants of this substitution are realized by means of intertextual
references. Allusion, one of the leading methods of Nabokov's poetics,
which in its turn actualizes the relationship between the original
concept and its duplicate, in this novel acquires general meaning of
the theme. Characteristically, this method of distortion of meaning in
<italic>Despair</italic> serves an autonomous artistic task: creation
of false similarity.

Another element of Nabokov's poetics, glorification of the vile and
abasement of the sublime, in the novel is put into contact with two
domains: ideology and art. Political and ideological notions are
transformed into artistic images which are actually attributed to
creation; and images borrowed from literature and art are filled with
ideological meaning.

The analysis of this novel as a ideological parody allows us to offer
another interpretation of the plot's chronology and denouement.


"Broken to Bits": Nabokov Rewrites Dostoevsky

Julian W. Connolly
University of Virginia

Previous studies of the Nabokov-Dostoevsky relationship have tended to
focus either on specific instances of intertextual response, or on
Nabokov's critical attitude toward what he saw as deficiencies in
Dostoevsky's artistic methods. In this paper I would like to offer a
fresh look at the issue of Nabokov's artistic relationship to
Dostoevsky. It is my view that Nabokov's attitude toward Dostoevsky
was quite complex, and that his approach to Dostoevsky and his legacy
underwent an important evolution over the course of his career.
Through this paper I will attempt to delineate the central aspects of
Nabokov's evolving attitude toward his nineteenth-century predecessor,
and I will draw upon several of Nabokov's works to illustrate my

Nabokov scholars have convincingly demonstrated that within any single
Nabokov novel one can detect echoes of a multitude of literary
antecedents ranging from high to popular culture. The traces of
Dostoevsky's artistic vision, however, have a distinctive prominence of
their own, even though the shape of these traces changes over time.
The evidence of Nabokov's early fiction indicates that Nabokov was an
acute observer of Dostoevsky's idiosyncratic understanding of the human
condition. Works as diverse as <italic>Mashenka</italic>
(<italic>Mary</italic>) and <italic>Sogliadatai</italic> (<italic>The
Eye</italic>) suggest that Nabokov would occasionally be struck by a
distinctive theme or plot element in Dostoevsky's work. He would then
build upon that element, reworking or modifying it to meet his own
artistic demands. As time went on, however, Nabokov's reworking of the
Dostoevsky material began to assume a different character. He began to
use his revision of the Dostoevsky material to engage in a kind of
literary one-upmanship, beating Dostoevsky at his own game, as it were.
We can see something of this in <italic> Otchaianie</italic>
(<italic>Despair</italic>), for example. In later years, when Nabokov
began teaching world literature and evaluating stylistic features and
literary techniques for his students, his implicit polemic with
Dostoevsky broke out into the open, and his literary treatment of the
Dostoevsky material became even more pointed. This we can see in the
translated version of <italic>Despair</italic> and in
<italic>Lolita</italic> as well. While Nabokov's expressed opinions on
Dostoevsky's work have a markedly negative tenor, his fiction as a
whole reveals that Dostoevsky's work served as a vital stimulus for
Nabokov's own literary imagination. In sum, the story of Nabokov's
attitude toward Dostoevsky is more subtle and multifaceted than readers
of his non-fictional prose might assume.

Nabokov's Metapoetics and Metaphysics

Sergei Davydov
Middlebury College

Pushkin died without leaving behind a school, or even a single direct
disciple. His poetic message, if it was understood at all, was soon
distorted by foes and friends alike. Russian literature after Pushkin
took a different course altogether and became a tool for the promotion
of civic, social, moral, religious, and political causes--a practice
that was to numb the aesthetic sensitivities of several generations of
Russian readers and critics. The rehabilitation of Pushkin's pure art
came 100 years after his birth with the advent of the poets of the
Silver Age.

However, among the pleiade of Russian writers of the 20th century--at
home or in exile--no one has made claim to Pushkin's legacy more
faithfully than Nabokov. Born exactly a century after Pushkin, Nabokov
adopted him as his personal and poetic Muse and never abandoned that
calling. Even as an American writer, Nabokov returns to Pushkin as a
translator and scholar, devoting to <italic>Eugene Onegin</italic> as
many years of his own life as it took Pushkin to write it.

In 1940s Nabokov translated into English two of Pushkin's Little
Tragedies, "Mozart and Salieri" and "The Feast During the Plague." Like
<italic>Eugene Onegin</italic>, these two philosophical dramas have
left an indelible mark on Nabokov's own art. The theme of artist's envy
in "Mozart and Salieri" became a blueprint for a number of situations
in Nabokov's novels in which a pair of artists of unequal talent
compete for supremacy. Not unlike Salieri, the lesser talent
contemplates or actually commits an ethical or aesthetical crime
against his superior rival. On a more arcane level, Salieri's syndrome
develops into a conflict between the hero-artist, writing inside the
novel, and his ultimate creator, Nabokov, the deity outside the novel.
Contemplating this "meta-poetic theology" affords us a glimpse into
Nabokov's own metaphysics, his notions of creation, life, death,
afterlife, and the ultimate Creator. Using Pushkin's "Feast During the
Plague" as a prism to examine Nabokov's own litigation with heaven may
prove, as I will try to demonstrate, more revealing than Nabokov's
numerous quibbling potshots at religion.


Nabokov as Translator of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" by
Lewis Carroll

Nina Demourova
University of Russian Academy of Education, Moscow, Russia

In his "Anya in the Land of Wonder" Nabokov falls back on the rich
tradition of Russian translation which is understood, mostly though not
exclusively, as adaptation of the original text. This is thought all
the more important for the book which is viewed mainly as a children's
book. In this, in many ways, he follows in the steps of the Russian
translators who were his predecessors:

The Anonymous translator of the first "Alice" which bore the title "Sonya
in the Land of Wonder" (1879)

o M. D. Gransrom (1908)

o A. N. Rozhdestvenskaya (1908-1909)

o Allegro (the pen name of P. S. Solovyova, 1909)

o The anonymous translator of the 1913 "Alice" who is believed to be
M. P. Chekhov

However, Nabokov translation is a much more consistent attempt at
systematic adaptation of Lewis Carroll's text to a new linguistic
reality which is realized on all levels of the text:

o choice of words

o syntax

o rendering of names

o parody

o poetry

o puns and play of words

o nonsense

o logical jokes

At the same time, Nabokov's translation, the work of a very young
writerwho does not yet know the extent of his own genius, is,
undoubtedly, in many ways a better and more vigorous rendering of Lewis
Carroll's immortal fairy tale than all the earlier Russified
adaptations (Simon Karlinsky). It is due mainly to the simple but
momentous fact of the congeniality of their unique gifts which with
years becomes more and more obvious.

Nabokov and Cornell: A View of the Outsider

Galya Diment
University of Washington, Seattle

I would like to continue the tradition of "Nabokov at Cornell" as
started by Morris Bishop (in <italic>Nabokov: Criticism,
Reminiscences, Translations, and Tributes</italic>, ed. Appel and
Newman, 1970) and Brian Boyd (in <italic>The Achievements of Vladimir
Nabokov</italic>, ed. Gibian and Parker, 1984). While interviewing
people at Cornell and former faculty and students of Cornell for my
<italic>Pniniad</italic>, I formed my own impressions of what Nabokov
meant for Cornell, and Cornell meant for Nabokov, which differ somewhat
from both Bishop's account and that of Boyd. These impressions, their
analysis, and an attempt at re-evaluation will form the basis of my

Theme in Blue: Vladimir Nabokov's Endangered Butterfly

Robert Dirig
Cornell University

A major focus of Vladimir Nabokov's life was his fascination with
butterflies and moths, so it is not surprising that lepidopteral motifs
figure throughout his literary work. The best known of Nabokov's
Lepidoptera is the Karner Blue Butterfly (<italic>Lycaeides melissa
samuelis</italic> Nabokov), which he scientifically described in 1943
while working at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard. This
small blue butterfly, which once swarmed by the millions near Albany,
New York, is now endangered throughout its range in the northeastern
United States and Canada. Its caterpillars are obligately associated
with Wild Lupine (<italic>Lupinus perennis</italic>), a resplendent
wildflower that grows in very localized sandy situations. Habitat
destruction and an apparent recent warming trend in our climate are
responsible for its decline. Nabokov's well known passage in his
novel, <italic>Pnin</italic> (1957) depicts these butterflies as "blue
snowflakes" floating above wet sand. His poem <italic>A
Discovery</italic> (1943), supposed to reference the Karner Blue, is
probably misattributed, based on the context of its composition and
internal details. This poem distills the imagery of butterfly
collecting and study in a unique and masterful fashion. Nabokov's
correspondence with Edmund Wilson (1942, 1950, 1957), Alfred Appel, Jr.
(1975), Robert Wool (1975), and Robert Dirig (1975) and his scientific
and autobiographical literature (1943-1954) suggest a special fondness
for his tiny blue godchild.

The Marvelous "Indrik-Beast" against the "Black Beastie" of

Eschatology : On Some Contexts and Subtexts of Nabokov's <italic>Glory

Alexander A. Dolinin
University of Wisconsin, Madison

1. <italic>Glory</italic> (<italic>Podvig</italic> ) has always been a
somewhat neglected and undervalued novel, the black sheep of Nabokov's
critical canon. The critics usually read it as a piece of
straightforward lyrical prose overlaid with the nostalgic
autobiographical details and, at best, reinforced by narrative
patternings and their metaphysical overtones. In my paper I argue that
by its genre <italic>Glory</italic> comes close to the so called
<italic>roman à these</italic> and should be reinterpreted in the
context of contemporary debates concerning the meaning of the post-war
period in the European history. The core of the novel is Nabokov's
critique (initially formulated in his unpublished essay "On
Generalities") of the historicism fallacy that it is possible to give a
definition to one's epoch from within and predict its outcome. Nabokov
polemizes against the most popular eschatological ideas of the 1920s,
in particular, Oswald Spengler's concept of "the decline of the West"
and Nikolai Berdiaev's prediction of the approaching "new Middle Ages."
In his view, the twentieth century is no less heroic and romantic as
any other, it contains and even heightens "everything that has
glimmered in previous ages-the passion for exploration of unknown
lands, the audacious experiments, the glorious exploits of
disinterested curiosity <<...>, the heroic conspiracies, the struggle
of one against many." Nabokov's defense of the modernity seems to
follow the arguments of Grigorii Landau, an émigré philosopher who
ridiculed the prophesies of the imminent collapse of the Western
culture and claimed that the modern age had all the potential for
heroic "high deeds" (podvigi) of self-realization and creativity.

2. By his novel Nabokov reinterprets the very notion of "podvig" (high
deed), subverting the central theme of the contemporary Soviet
literature. In contrast to his Soviet counterparts who, to quote
Nabokov's essay "The Triumph of Virtue" (1930), recycled the
stereotypes of the nineteenth century romance and glamorized the image
of the "Red Knight" with his self-sacrificial exploits for the sake of
the communist cause, he treats "high deed" as an individual emergence
of consciousness, an inner self-realization through transcending the
historical determinism (cf. The name of the hero that alludes, on the
one hand, to the eponymous martyr of Zamiatin's "Cave" and the
protagonist of Bakhmet'ev's "proletarian" novel "Prestuplenie
Martyna"). Nabokov restores and plays upon the archaic meanings of the
word "podvig" as "trip," "journey," "movement," "path" and the
expression "svershit' podvig" - "to live out one's life" (cf. The
analogous usage in two important subtexts of the novel, Lermontov's
"Uzhasnaia sud'ba ottsa i syna" and Baratynskyi's "Vospominanie"). A
seemingly senseless expedition to Russia undertaken by Martin, the hero
of <italic>Glory</italic>, in the finale of the novel retroactively
confers trans-historical, mythopoetic meanings upon his life and
transforms it into a knightly "put'/podvig," a pilgrimage to attain

3. Since the "put'-podvig" of the hero is to reveal, in the last
analysis, its trans-historical purport, the characters and incidents of
the novel echo a number of mythological and literary models. Thus
Martin, as Edythe C. Haber's pioneering study demonstrated, to a
certain degree can be regarded as an avatar of "Indrik-beast" and
certain heroes of Russian fairy tales; at the same time his "eternal
prototypes" include Egorii, the knight of Russian "dukhovnye stikhi,"
Pushkin's Ruslan, and the lyrical personas of Lermontov, Gumilev and
Rupert Brooke. Similarly, Sonia is modeled upon her fairy-tale namesake
(see Afanas'ev, 177), the magical white snake, and the enchanted
sleeping maiden; Martyn's mother-upon Sofia the Wise, Gruzinov-upon the
fairy tale eagle, the guardian of magic apples, and so on.
Nabokov and Malraux: A Franco-Russian Criss-Cross

John Burt Foster, Jr.
George Mason University

Nabokov's November 27, 1946 letter to Edmund Wilson features a stinging
critique of Malraux's <italic>La Condition Humaine</italic>, a leading
novel of the 1930s and a great favorite of Wilson's. This paper will
discuss the grounds for this critique (superficially based on an
enumeration of clichés), then will turn to the question of whether it
closes off further study of Nabokov's relationship with Malraux.

Born just on either side of 1900 and living into the mid-seventies, the
two men were almost exact contemporaries. Along with being deeply
marked by the Russian revolution, the rise of Nazism, and the fall of
France, both were strikingly cosmopolitan in outlook: Nabokov's case
needs no arguing, but although Malraux was never an exile, none of his
novels is even set in France. In addition, in a criss-crossing pattern
of intercultural exchange, each author was influenced by novelists from
the other's native literature, in Nabokov's case Flaubert and Proust
and in Malraux's case Tolstoy and Dostoevsky (though Nabokov detested
Dostoevsky and Malraux clearly preferred Gide to Proust).

Beyond these biographical and cultural affinities, however, is a major
cluster of thematic parallels centered on the visual arts, the motif of
metamorphosis, and practices of cultural synthesis. The importance of
these issues for Malraux would only become fully apparent after 1946,
when he wrote a series of books on painting and sculpture and then
became France's first Minister of Culture. But they also make their
presence felt in <italic>La Condition Humaine</italic>, and thus
provide the basis for a pointed comparison between aspects of that
novel and, for example, one of Nabokov's more French-oriented works of
the thirties, "The Visit to the Museum."


Nabokov's _Despair_: Fact and Fiction

D. Barton Johnson
University of California at Santa Barbara

The very idea of the genesis of a novel in the sense of a specific
point of origin may be suspect or, at any rate, much overrated. After
all, the narrative, the manner of narration, and its denouement are the
crucial matters -- not the initial seed. Nonetheless, the idea
continues to exert a continuing fascination.

Nabokov's novel <italic>Despair</italic>, written in 1932, has been the
subject of a number of studies. Most have focused upon its "double
theme," and the novel's echoing of earlier treatments of that theme in
XIXth century Russian literature. More recently, Alexander Dolinin has
pointed to its satiric echoes of the Symbolists, or, rather, their
vulgarizers of the teens and twenties. <italic>Despair</italic> is
unquestionably a very "literary" novel and such studies have been

<italic>Despair</italic> is also, however, a crime thriller, and turns
out to be based upon an actual 1929 German murder, the Tetzner case,
which was extensively reported in both the German and Russian émigré
press. The Tetzner case, a "new" kind of crime involving car
disasters, the substitution of a murdered corpse for the car owner,
followed by a large insurance payment to the "widow," set off a rash of
copycat crimes throughout Europe and England between 1929 and 1932.
Given the publicity of the case(s), it is surprising that none of the
novel's contemporary critics remarked parallels between its plot and
the recent crimes. Oddly enough, several of the trials resulting from
these crimes took place in March-April 1931 -- as did that of the infamous
"Dusseldorf Vampire." These trials were lavishly reported in the German
and emigre Russian press.

My paper closely examines this novel crime wave and shows how Nabokov
adapted it for his own purposes by setting it in the context of the
"classical" literary double theme. I show how Nabokov selected,
filtered, and "adjusted" details from the actual crimes to form his
narrative and how he further adjusted these details in the original
Russian version, the first English translation of 1936, and in the
final, revised English edition of 1966. Most fascinating is how he
integrated his "real" sources and the double theme into his meta-theme
of art, the artist, and moral responsibility. Not least of these
interactions is that Nabokov started writing _Despair_ on the very day
that the "Dusseldorf Vampire" was executed.

These "living" sources strongly reinforce our interpretation of the
novel's theme. Hermann, the exceedingly well-read but deranged
narrator, conceives his crime (and story) in illustration of his
imaginative genius (not financial gain). Indeed, he sneeringly rejects
the thought that his work bears any resemblance to certain lurid
stories in the popular press.

In fact, his crime is lifted directly from the pages of that press.
Far from being the original, creative artist he sees himself, he is
just another deluded bungler. This belated, painful realization leads
him to entitle his manuscript _ Despair_.


The Semiotic Validity of the Mirror Image in Nabokov's Despair

Marina Kanevskaya
University of Montana

The image of the mirror derives its symbolic value from the belief that
men are magically connected with their reflections, that a mirror could
hold on to a person's soul or life force. A mirror is perceived as a
symbol of the imagination--or consciousness--in its capacity to reflect
the formal reality of the physical world. It has also been regarded as
an instrument of self contemplation as well as a reflection of the
universe. Nevertheless, the MI's placement in a system of semiotic
signs certainly presents a problem. In his article "Mirrors" (1980),
Umberto Eco excludes the mirror image form the class of semiotic signs.
In my paper, I will review the reasons for this exclusion. Moreover,
I will use Eco's approach in analyzing Vladimir Nabokov's novel
<italic>Despair</italic> (1932) to prove that the narrator's attempt to
deal with the mirror image as if it were a semiotic sign serves as the
main clue of his insanity. In Nabokov's novel, the mirror reflection
(or the objects comparable to it such as a portrait or a photograph)
constitute the main subject of the novel, they actually orchestrate the
plot structure. In describing his psychopathological case, Nabokov
uses the main hero's attempts to submit mirror image to a reading
process as the main device to expose his "unreliable narrator."

The Evolution of Nabokov's Evolution

John M. Kopper
Dartmouth College

I first review Nabokov's chief encounters with evolutionary theory
through H. G. Wells and Darwinist teaching at Cambridge University.
Reviewing traditional Russian responses to evolutionary biology,
including the works of N. Strakhov, N. Danilevskii, and L. S. Berg, I
conclude that Nabokov came to reject the British popularizations of
Darwinism in favor of the anti-Darwinist questions posed by the
Russians. In particular Nabokov accepts, both in public pronouncements
(<italic>Strong Opinions</italic>) and in his fiction
(<italic>Invitation to a Beheading, Laughter in the Dark, Pale
Fire</italic>) the Bergian idea that individual variation within a
system, however extraordinary in and of itself, possesses little
hereditary value. On the subject of the <italic>nature</italic> of
change, however, Nabokov parts company with the Russian tradition, and
promotes what Berg disparagingly refers to as Darwin's "tychogenesis,"
an engine of evolution fueled entirely by chance. The massive shift in
evolutionary theory in the early twentieth century toward statistical
genetic variability and what Berg calls "chronomic" influences--the
measurable pressures of environment--repelled the artist Nabokov, who
saw in twentieth-century European history the lethal presence of
patterns of conformity.

Locating Nabokov's position within the larger debate about the
evolution of chaotic ("chance") systems like Darwin's biological model,
I show that Nabokov's fiction superficially embraces scientific
theories that see order as a "precipitate" within chaos (the patterns
of <italic>The Defense</italic>, for example), but his work as a whole
defines the individual as a chaotic evolutionary spot within a
framework of order. This reversal of terms is metaphorized in the
great precision of historical memory shared by many of Nabokov's
heroes. His destruction of "time's arrow" characterizes chaotic

Building a bridge on the word "evolution," I conclude by noting an
evolution in Nabokov's <italic>oeuvre</italic>, showing that Nabokov's
exposure to American life leads to an increasingly positive valuation
in the 1950s of the "order" that surrounds his chaos.


Suffer the Little Children

Zoran Kuzmanovich
Davidson College

Children in Nabokov's works are more often than not dead at the end of
the respective works they appear in. While the deaths of cousin Yuri,
the son in "Christmas," Yasha Chernyshevski, Annabel Leigh, Rudy Haze,
Lolita, Lucette, Hazel, come quickly to mind, it is more difficult to
think of fully drawn children who survive into prosperous adulthood in
Nabokov's works.

The most disturbing death of a child we actually get to see occurs on
the pages of the book in which Nabokov boasts of serving to its
principals "triumphant life sentences." It is the death of David Krug
in <italic>Bend Sinister</italic>. It is David's childhood, torture,
and death I wish to concentrate on. Even if we grant, in Pifer's
phrasing, that Nabokov's characters "are made accountable for the quality of their reality," it is
difficult to see how David is accountable for torture and death that
become his reality. Though critics of <italic>Bend Sinister</italic>
often cite Nabokov's explanation that <italic>Bend Sinister</italic>
was written for the sake of Krug's loving heart (the objects of that
love, philosophy, Krug's wife Olga, and his son David) receive unequal
critical attention, philosophy and Olga consuming about fifty pages for
every one devoted to David. In that the critics seemingly reflect
Nabokov's own quite disproportionate attention.

Although the death of children is not an easy subject to write about,
David's death is so horrifying and depicted in a tragically farcical
fashion that one cannot declare, as Julia Bader does, that in this book
"death is disinfected of its horror by being rendered as a problem of
fictional representation." (96) Far from masking or disinfecting death
through the often discussed subtle patterning of spatulate shapes, Nabokov
shrinks from death's horror, stopping short of explicitly depicting the
nature of Krug's grief at seeing on film his frail son tortured to death.
By making Krug mad but cognizant of the fact that "he and his son and his
wife and everybody else are merely my whims and megrims" (165), Nabokov
is, in essence asking the readers first to fully imagine and then fully
nullify the logic of Krug's suffering. But whether Krug is mad or sane,
the product of an epiphany or a migraine, "the senseless agony of Krug's
logical fate" (215) is to live and die in a world where his child has
been tortured to death. As Richard Rorty claims (<italic>CIS</italic>
163), "the death of a child is Nabokov's standard example of ultimate
pain," an emotional and intellectual horror so disturbing that when it
happens in <italic>Bend Sinister</italic> Nabokov "does not attempt to
portray Krug's pain." (<italic>CIS</italic> 155) If <italic>Bend
Sinister</italic> ended with Krug's madness, Rorty would, of course, be
right that for Nabokov, children's suffering is monstrous, undepictable,
literally unspeakable, especially for their parents. But the novel has
depicted David's suffering at some length and after Krug goes mad with
suffering, the novel continues for another twenty-seven densely packed
Library of America pages, a continuation about which Rorty really does not
have much to say. Yet something does need to be said about this part of
the text: if Krug goes to his maker's bosom, and Olga's rosy soul
bombinates at the threshold of a better world, what has happened to David
in this optimistic vision of otherworldly contiguities? My paper attempts
to explore this question fully.

The Place of Simultaneity in Nabokov's and Pasternak's Aesthetics

Magdalena Medaric
University of Zagreb, Croatia

This paper deals with a certain typological analogy between the two
Russian writers which may be seen as a result of their commitment to
the contemporary idea of time. Simultaneity was a global idea at the
beginning of the century, also an artistic concept and a program that
affected many visual artists, poets, and prose writers, especially in
the early avant-garde (1910-1914). In literary scholarship it has been
used as a literary term (<italic>Simultaneität, simul'tanizm</italic>,
etc.) meaning artistic devices to convey the effect of different, often
semantically disparate, objects or events distant from each other in
space but happening simultaneously, i.e. in the same physical time.

Nabokov's poetics could be analyzed in this sense on several levels
(plot composition, parodies of contemporary literary fashion, etc.).
The most interesting facet is his attitude toward simultaneity when it
is presented as a point of view of his lyrical narrator, and when it is
thematicized as his artistic program. Then it becomes surprisingly
close to the point of view of Pasternak's lyrical subject, both in his
early prose and poetry. The aspect of simultaneity has been
problematized by both writers in their discursive writings and
evidently simultaneity forms an important part of their aesthetics.
Although both writers developed highly original systems, there is,
possibly, a common impulse, a common starting point in their views on
art and its relation to reality. It might be seen, in terms of
philosophy, as their closeness to phenomenological thinking, so widely
spread during the epoch of their artistic formation.

Buzzwords and Dorophonemes: How Words Proliferate and Things
Decay in Ada

Charles Nicol
Indiana State University

What is a dorophone? Like many other curious items in
<italic>Ada</italic>, it is a transformation of a thing into a word,
and as usual, the word is partly descriptive and partly evasive; it is
also both an entomological and a literary reference. It is also the
major pseudo-technological device that seems to demonstrate the reality
of Anti-terra. In short, it is one small item emblematic of the whole
that is <italic>Ada</italic>.

In 1976, for the first Nabokov session ever held at MLA, I presented a
paper on <italic>Ada</italic>, later published in <italic>Nabokov's
Fifth Arc</italic>, arguing, among other things, that the telephone
call Van makes to Ada in 1922 is the central pivot of the novel's
time-distortion. Twenty years later, I would like to return to that
argument while investigating the novel's telephone-substitutes,
analyzing how they get their names as a microcosm of how language works
in <italic>Ada</italic>.


Nabokov Studies: The State of the Art, II

Stephen Jan Parker
University of Kansas, Lawrence

In 1983, at the First Cornell Nabokov Festival, I gave a talk entitled
"Nabokov Studies: The State of the Art." I now propose to revisit the
topic fifteen years later at the Second Cornell Nabokov Festival.

Fifteen years ago I spoke about Nabokov's evolving reputation and the
growth in critical attention to his writings. I highlighted the major
works in print, noted the works in progress, delineated the various
bibliographical and biographical lacunae, and suggested needed areas of
exploration. In conclusion I asserted that "in a senseŠNabokov
scholarship is in its infancy."

In this overview I will consider the resplendent surge in Nabokov
scholarship over the past fifteen years: the availability of new
primary materials, the growth of biographical and bibliographical
resources, the continuing internationalization of scholarship, major
works of criticism which highlight shifts in critical perspective and
new critical avenues, the writer's ever-expanding reputation, the
various lacunae which have been filled and which remain.

This is not a reading, analysis, or appreciation of one or more works.
It is a stocktaking on the eve of the centennial year.


Her Monster, His Nymphet: Nabokov and Mary Shelley

Ellen Pifer
University of Delaware

The wealth and privilege to which Vladimir Nabokov was born appear to
confirm, for many readers, the impression they take away from his
fiction: that of a master-stylist coolly in control of his universe and
serenely, even cruelly, indifferent to the plight of his characters.
Both the man and his work, we often hear it said, fit to perfection the
stereotype of the male chauvinist and patriarch. Intensifying the
charges against him, Nabokov's most widely read novel,
<italic>Lolita</italic>, has incited many to label its author not
merely a sexist but a sexual pervert.

Eloquently testifying against these charges, I shall argue, is the text
of <italic>Lolita</italic> itself. Indelibly inscribed in the novel's
patterns and structure is the tribute it pays to a work of fiction
universally regarded as a quintessentially "female" text: a narrative
born of the author's painful experiences of childbirth and child-loss.
In this celebrated work, <italic>Frankenstein, or the Modern
Prometheus</italic>, Mary Shelley voices feminist as well as "female"
concerns. Her novel critiques male pride and ambition in its most
lethal form: Dr. Frankenstein's overweening desire to usurp the woman's
creative prerogative and engender, on his own, new life.

In <italic>Lolita</italic>, Humbert Humbert's striking kinship with the
solipsistic protagonist of <italic>Frankenstein</italic> has thus far
gone unnoticed--perhaps because the characters appear at first glance
so markedly unlike. Dr. Frankenstein is, after all, almost comically
indifferent to the force of sexual passion that torments and consumes
ardent Humbert. Probing beneath this obvious disparity, attentive
readers may discover a profound analogy: one that links Humbert's
self-styled "deadly demon," the alluring nymphet, to Dr. Frankenstein's
dreaded "daemon"--the "miserable monster" he laments having brought to

Monster and nymphet: each of these "marvels" of creation--offspring of
Promethean imagination--provokes torments in its respective creator.
The ultimate disaster, however, is one to which Frankenstein
wholly--and Humbert partially--remains blind: the tragic betrayal of
the child's original innocence. Both <italic>Frankenstein</italic> and
<italic>Lolita</italic> testify to the destructive as well as creative
power of imagination--and the terrible beauty it engenders. In the
"controlled play with the daemonic" that each text initiates, we
discover the havoc that the creative will can wreak on nature, human
nature, and other human beings.

Separated from Mary Shelley by gender, 150 years of history and
culture, and vast differences in personal experience and artistic
accomplishment, Nabokov both parodies and pays tribute to his female
precursor. The changes that <italic>Lolita</italic> rings on Shelley's
novel do not undermine so much as underscore
<italic>Frankenstein</italic>'s celebrated themes.

Nabokov's "Exegi Monumentum": The Immortality in
the Quotation Marks
(Nabokov, Pushkin, and Gershenzon)

Vera Proskurina
Wesleyan University

In 1945 in the collection <italic>Three Russian Poets</italic> Nabokov
published his translation of Pushkin's famous poem "Ia pamiatnik sebe
vozdvig nerukotvornyiŠ"transferring Horacian sentence from the epigraph
to the title: <italic>Exegi Monumentum</italic>. It was not the only
change in Pushkin's text. Nabokov enclosed the first four stanzas of
the poem in quotation marks, and left the last, fifth, stanza without
them. It was not an occasional intrusion into Pushkin's text which
Nabokov considered the most important poem for his own
self-identification, and which he significantly placed on the first
page of this collection.

Analyzing this poem in his commentaries to <italic>Eugene
Onegin</italic> (first published in 1964, but ready by the middle of
the 1950s) Nabokov wrote: "In 1836, in one of the most subtle
compositions in Russian literary history, Pushkin parodied Derzhavin
stanza by stanza in exactly the same verse form. The first four have
an ironic intonation, but under the mask of high mummery Pushkin
smuggles in his private truth. They should be in quotation marks, as
Burtsev pointed out some thirty years ago in a paper I can no longer
trace. The last quatrain is the artist's own grave voice repudiating
the mimicked boast. His last line, also ostensibly referring to
reviewers, slyly implies that only fools proclaim their immortality"
(2: 310).

V. L. Burtsev actually did not write any article on this topic.
Probably, Nabokov was acquainted with some of his oral presentations in
early 1920s Berlin. However, the concept of Pushkin's poem that
Nabokov brought in his commentary could only be an exposition of a
well-known and very memorable article written by M. Gershenzon and
published in 1919 as a chapter of his sensational book "The Pushkin's
Wisdom" (1919). This article by Gershenzon polemically emphasizes the
contradictions in the traditional interpretation of Pushkin's text as a
propaganda of the poet's liberal beliefs. It was Gershenzon who first
pointed out an ironic character of the first four stanzas which he
considered an "alien word" belonging to the "crowd" and not to Pushkin
himself. Gershenzon underlined an intonational and ideological
difference between the first four stanzas and the last, and interpreted
only the last quatrain as a "true" voice of the poet himself.
According to him, Pushkin foresees a false and liberalized image of his
poetry after his death and reveals his resignation in the last stanza.

There are no traces of Nabokov's reading Gershenzon's book. However,
Gershenzon's theory produced a storm of discussions. The echo of the
debates rolled to Nabokov in Berlin through Burtsev or, probably,
through V. Khodasevich who was very close both to Gershenzon and
Nabokov. V. Khodasevich's poetry of this time and his Pushkin study
were influenced by Gershenzon. Nabokov could also have read D. S.
Mirsky's "Pushkin" (1926) where the author expressed a special respect
toward Gershenzon's article on "Monument". An extravagant Gershenzon's
theory which split a monolithic Pushkin's "Monument" into two opposite
parts with a "direct" poet's speech and an "alien word" found its
practical use in Nabokov's translation where the Poet's false
"immortality" was enclosed in quotation marks.


Lolita: Myth and Representation

Christine Raguet-Bouvart
Université Michel de Montaigne, Bordeaux, France

In this presentation I will study how Lolita has become a paradigmatic
figure through different devices of appropriation. "Antonomasia"
applies to her case though it varies from its original use (mythical
universe) to be transferred to mass culture. Lolita becomes an
emblematic figure that sells well after having been warped or rather
tightened in a sort of straightjacket (the straightjacket Humbert
Humbert might have been wearing every time he visited psychiatric
homes). Lolita is also a mythical figure if we consider the
definition Roland Barthes gives of myth: not only as the object of a
message but the way this message is uttered, correlating signifier,
signified and sign, which evokes (in my opinion) Nabokov's "Interaction
of Inspiration and Combination". But Lolita also belongs to Nabokov's
own mythology (here I propose to study the myth of "Lilith," it's
presence in <italic>Lolita</italic> and its link with "Lilith,"
Nabokov's 1928 poem. Along with this there are other mythical figures
of naiads which have already been studied in Nabokov, but obviously the
Rusalka figure, or the "Inconnue de la Seine" figure, are also various
facets of Lolita as a water nymph.

Lolita then functions as an enticing character (this character used in
advertisements too), but may also have a cathartic function when she
helps Humbert Humbert purge himself (especially in the last phase of
the book when he proceeds with her as if she were a prostitute and he
starts vomiting). Altogether, Lolita has become a myth when she has
become part and parcel of the consumer society because she obviously
represents for men their tyrannical ancestral attraction for feeble and
helpless creatures they can dominate, certainly like some
overpossessive fathers. Thus we may wonder whether Humbert's desire
for Lolita was born from sexual attraction or his need for omnipotence
as "impotence" also means "lack of <italic>potentia</italic>" or "lack
of power." And we may conclude that when he tries to possess her
sexually, he simply wants to impose his power on her and therefore
transgresses the law of individual freedom.

Mirror-Writing: Pnin Reread in the Shadow of Lolita

Daniela Rippl
Literaturhaus München, Germany

In his last Russian novel <italic>The Gift</italic> Vladimir Nabokov
already alludes to the plot of his future American best-seller. Here,
Shchyogolev, Zina's stepfather, says: "Ah, if only I had a tick or two,
what a novel I'd whip off! From real life. Imagine this kind of
thing: an old dog--but still in his prime, fiery, thirsting for
happiness--gets to know a widow, and she has a daughter, still quite a
little girl--you know what I mean--when nothing is formed yet but
already she has a way of walking that drives you out of your mind--A
slip of a girl, very fair, pale, with blue under the eyes--and of
course she doesn't even look at the old goat. What to do? Well, not
long thinking, he ups and marries the widow. Okay. They settle down
the three of them. Here you can go on indefinitely--the temptation,
the eternal torment, the itch, the mad hopes. And the upshot--a
miscalculation. Time flies, he gets older, she blossoms out--and not a
sausage. Just walks by and scorches you with a look of contempt. Eh?
D'you feel here a kind of Dostoevskian tragedy?" Further in this
chapter, Fyodor, the émigré-writer, tells Zina, his girlfriend: 'It's
queer, I seem to remember my future works, although I don't even know
what they will be about. I'll recall them completely and write them."
These statements illustrate a major aspect of Vladimir Nabokov's life
and work, which I call <italic>mirror-writing</italic>. The literary
structure of Nabokov's texts, which reflect in themselves the process
of pupation, is based on a process of multiple mirroring, doubling,
and reversing plots and characters of former and/or future novels.
Thus, the aim of the following paper is to show how this technique is
elaborated in the novel which succeeds <italic>Lolita: Pnin</italic>.
The paper deals not only with intra- and intertextuality but also with
an intermediate topic: the game of the visibility. In his role as a
"landscape writer," Nabokov is a testimony that in written art
something lives on which was doomed to die in the art of the painting:
simulation and trompe l'oeil.

Nabokov the Pushkinian

Irena Ronen
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

The attitude of Vladimir Nabokov toward Pushkin, while permanent in
essence, gradually grew in depth and complexity. The aim of this
communication is to trace the manifold factors that played a part in
the evolution of Nabokov's view of Pushkin's biography as a spiritual
value and his interpretation of Pushkin's art.

In the 1920s and 1930s Nabokov was among those who, in the spirit of
Alexander Blok's Pushkin speech of 1921, perceived in Pushkin's
heritage the supreme achievement of Russian culture and considered
retreat from Pushkin a renunciation of pure and free art, in general.
Nabokov's final word in the polemic about the modern appraisal of
Pushkin, which continued quite forcefully in the émigré literary
circles even after the demise of futurism in Russia, was his novel
<italic>The Gift</italic>, a triumphant celebration of Pushkin at the
centennial of his death. At the same time, Nabokov commenced his
prodigious activities as a mediator between Russian literature and the
West by publishing his French lecture about Pushkin in <italic>Nouvelle
Revue Française</italic>.

As the exigencies of the literary struggle for Pushkin's aesthetic and
ethical values, and against the so-called committed art, whether
Mayakovskian or Merezhkovskian, receded during the 1940s, when free
Russian literature in Europe ceased to exist and Nabokov escaped to
America, subtle changes and new features began to show in his
perception, comprehension, and artistic use of Pushkin's art.

Nabokov began to write in English and now faced the problem of
transplanting to another language and literary tradition his major
native source of creative inspiration and object of emulation. The
Pushkinian subtext enters Nabokov's English novels and short stories
either by means of thematically motivated direct quotation (as in the
instance of the poem «Brozhu li ia vdol' ulits shumnykh», which
fulfills a plot-building function in <italic>Pnin</italic>) and
biographical reference («That in Aleppo Once»), or as a purely abstract
structural pattern of, for example, the three-fold relationship between
the author, the eyewitness narrator, and his acquaintance of the
personage in <italic>Pnin</italic>, modeled in part on <italic>Eugene
Onegin</italic> and in part on <italic>Belkin's Tales</italic>. In
Nabokov's later works, there is a striking proliferation of challenging
enigmatic references to names and situations associated with Pushkin's
life and art, and even the Pushkin scholarship (Oxman in <italic>Look
at the Harlequins!</italic>).

Beside this, in his new role as an educator (in more respects than his
position of a college professor implied), Nabokov assumed the task of a
translator and interpreter of Pushkin for the English-speaking
audience, at first, by publishing in 1944 his free, though frequently
felicitously faithfully, in both sound and sense, translations of
«Exegi Monumentum», «Anchar», <italic> A Feast During the
Plague</italic>, <italic>Mozart and Salieri</italic>, and the Baron's
monologue from <italic>The Covetous Knight</italic>, and eventually by
creating an English-language <italic>Onegin</italic>, complete with
commentaries (an edition resembling in format K. R.'s brave experiment
with Shakespeare's <italic>Hamlet</italic>).

The accompanying text by Nabokov is a product of supreme intellectual
and artistic maturity: the admiration for the artist and man is still
there, but the earlier attitude of exaggerated piety is not. Certain
faults of Pushkin are occasionally pointed out in such previously
unthinkable terms as a "very poor stanza," etc. Nabokov is also quite
outspoken in rebuking the pious legends perpetuated by some
memorialists, and the traditional and Soviet biographers of Pushkin,
especially in regard to his linguistic competence.

The biographical aspect of Nabokov's commentaries is particularly
significant as a juxtaposition of the two historical ages and two great
poetic destinies. Nabokov attributed special importance to Pushkin's
episodes of prolonged exile in relation to the lot that fell to his own
generation (the question he asked in the 1925 poem «Izgnan'e» was: What
if Pushkin were now "among us, just an exile, as we are"?). With
utmost fairness, Nabokov stresses, polemically in regard to Marxist
scholars, the relatively favorable conditions of Pushkin's life in the
south and in Mikhailovskoe as compared to the Soviet punitive
measures, and reconstructs Pushkin's actual historical, political, and
artistic attitudes and views.

The interpreter himself, unobtrusively but perceptibly, enters the text
of the commentary with his own critical opinions, tastes, personal
biography and genealogy. Nabokov's affinity with Pushkin, a
600-year-old nobleman just as Nabokov was, separated from him by
exactly one century, 1799-1899, and linked to him by a network of
kinsmen and associates, and manifested in a number of comparable,
parallel, or complementary features in their respective biographies
(one of these is the border that can never be crossed by Pushkin to
escape from, and by Nabokov to return to, Russia) forcefully prompted
Nabokov to include his own reminiscences and opinions in his account of
<italic>Eugene Onegin</italic> and the bygone age of Russian life.
Pushkin, who himself never omitted an opportunity to emphasize the role
of his ancestors in Russian history, would probably have appreciated
Nabokov's hypothesis concerning his duel with Ryleev, couched in the
manner of «The Shot». The special, purely philological, merit of
Nabokov's notes to <italic>Onegin</italic>, now generally acknowledged
by other commentators, the late lu. M. Lotman in particular, is the
wealth of comparative material on Pushkin's sources and cognates in
literatures of the West.

From a broader cross-cultural point of view, Nabokov's Pushkin studies,
along with his lectures on Russian literature and introductions to
<italic>The Song of Igor's Campaign</italic> and <italic>A Hero of Our
Time</italic> were, to paraphrase both Pushkin and Khodasevich, "a
grafting of the classical rose" to the "virgin forests of youthful


Goethe-Pushkin-Nabokov: The Triple Anniversary of World

Omry Ronen
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

The paper will include an examination of the concept of world
literature and of Nabokov's attitude toward Goethe, as well as a
refutation of the Dostoevskian fallacy of "vsechelovechnost'" in regard
to Pushkin, and examine the relevance of this idea to Nabokov.


A Pictorial Chronicle of the Nabokov Museum at Rozhestveno

Christine A. Rydel
Grand Valley State University

Though the Nabokov estate at Vyra figures more prominently in
<italic>Speak, Memory</italic> and other works by Vladimir Nabokov, the
estate at Rozhestveno also enjoys a special place in his recollections,
both factual and fictional. Over the course of the years the main
building has served several functions, the latest of which was to house
a "Nabokov Museum". Unfortunately, most of the building was destroyed
in a fire, some say arson. Currently the building is undergoing
renovation. In 1993 my colleague and I had the opportunity to visit
the museum with the noted artists, Andrei Kharshak and Natalia
Kornilova. Earlier Kharshak had been commissioned to paint three
landscape depictions of the estate. Because of lack of funds, the
museum committee was unable to purchase the paintings, one of which I
now happily own.

During that visit we photographed the museum, its exhibits and the
surrounding grounds. I think we were able to capture some of the mood
of the estate. We were also able to photograph the Rozhestveno church,
as well as idyllic scenes on the Oredezh. During subsequent visits in
1994, 1995, and 1997 we photographed the estate in its various stages
of destruction and renovation. It is heartening, indeed, to see the
great progress the renovators have made in restoring the estate, though
certainly much still needs to be done.

My presentation will chronicle the latest "history" of the estate in
slides and pictures. I plan to accompany the slides with appropriate
citations from the works of Nabokov as well as with a brief account of
the life, near destruction, and gradual resurrection of the estate
during the last several years.


Toward a Real Life of Vera Nabokov

Stacy Schiff
Writer, New York City

A brief glimpse of Véra Nabokov, or a few thoughts on the fine art of
omission. How to approach a biographical subject who does all she
can to excuse herself from the tale, who appeared not even to be at the
center of her own existence, who so much created a vacuum in her
lifetime that she invited the myths to rush in. The biographer spends
his time looking in other people's windows; how to perfect that
"trespass vision" without waking up one morning and discovering you've
become Kinbote? Or how I learned from my subject, even when my subject
was the Cheshire Cat.


Salad of Racial Genes: Rilke as a Possible Target of Lolita

Thomas Seifrid
University of Southern California

Despite the fact that when Nabokov did deign to mention Rainer Maria
Rilke he tended to subject him to his famously dismissive treatment of
German writers (in his lectures at Cornell he would group him with
Thomas Mann as a "dwarf" next to Kafka), there is reason to believe
that Rilke in fact lingered in Nabokov's attention, if not regard.
<italic>Lolita</italic> in particular seems to hint at Rilke's
presence, most evidently in the figure of Humbert Humbert. The
strongest clues lie in HH's cosmopolitan origins in "mellow, rotting
Europe," with a father who was a "salad of racial genes," "a Swiss
citizen of mixed French and Austrian descent with a dash of the Danube
in his veins"--reminiscent of the deracinating cosmopolitanism that
Rilke celebrated as a part of his poetic persona but so unlike
Nabokov's own fierce attachment to a lost Russia. Such attitudes
underlie what might be an overlooked parodic element in
<italic>Lolita</italic>: the sophisticated but depraved HH's blind
journey across an America that he only manages to "defile with a thick
trail of slime" may turn out to mirror the two grand tours of Russian
society and countryside that Rilke made in 1899 and again in 1900.
Despite meetings with figures like Tolstoy and Leonid Pasternak,
Nabokov could only have regarded Rilke's touristy jaunts as a fiasco of
cultural interpretation: Rilke seemed impelled to hunt down the wrong
sorts of people (religious mystics, the peasant poet Spiridon
Drozhzhin, later Gorky) and afterwards, in poems and essays, produced a
self-satisfied but inaccurate and even delusional version of "Russia."
But the parody may run deeper still, because embedded in the jibes
about cosmopolitanism and Russia lies a polemic over modernist
definitions of self and its relation to the world, in ways directly
relevant to the traits Nabokov assigns to HH as protagonist. This
paper explores both the personal parody of Rilke one might see in
<italic>Lolita</italic> and the possible more specific intertextual
references between the novel and Rilke's writings.


Nabokov and Early Netherlandish Art

Gavriel Shapiro
Cornell University

In this paper I intend to demonstrate Nabokov's close familiarity with
Early Netherlandish painting, using <italic>Pnin</italic> (1957) as a
primary example. I will focus on three innovative devices of Early
Netherlandish artists (Jan van Eyck, Petrus Christus, and Hans
Memling), which Nabokov highlights in <italic>Pnin</italic>: attention
to detail, employment of convex mirror, and the authorial presence
reflected in such a mirror. I will try to show Nabokov's own
propensity for these devices as displayed in his verbal art. The paper
presentation is accompanied with slides.

The Perfect Glory of Nabokov's Exploit

Maxim D. Shrayer
Boston College

Sixty-five years after its publication in Paris, Nabokov's novel
<italic>Podvig</italic> (<italic>Glory</italic>, 1932) remains the most
tremulous, mysterious, and unappreciated of Nabokov's creations.
Critics have had the greatest difficulty in justifying the novel's
perfectly open ending, as well as accounting for the actions of the
émigré protagonist, Martyn (Martin), a post-chivalric idealist whom
Nabokov himself described as "the kindest, uprightest, and most
touching of all [his] young men."

In my paper, I will explore the nature and multifarious goals of
Martin's expedition across the novel's narrative space into Zoorland,
both a divined and private kingdom of Martin's imagination and an
idealized and romanticized Russia of his memory. On the historical
plane, I link Martin's heroic exploit to the activities of the Russian
socialist-revolutionaries (SR) in exile, and specifically to the
capture and trial of Boris Savinkov. On the aesthetic plane, I
elucidate the principal objects of Nabokov's subtle polemics in the
novel: Viktor Shklovskii's novel <italic>Zoo, Letters not about Love,
or the Third Heloîse</italic> (1923) and Charles Darwin's theory of
evolution. On the metaphysical plane, I examine Martin's parallel love
for Sonia Zilanov and for his lost motherland in light of Vladimir
Solov'ev's teachings about Sophia.

In the end, I hope to show that <italic>Glory</italic> corresponds most
closely to Nabokov's esoteric notion of the novel, as articulated in
his postwar discursive writings. In <italic>Glory</italic> prose
fiction finds its most adequate analogy in narrative painting, an
artistic form where time is spatialized, and memory strives towards


Enchanted Hunting: Classical Ballet, Modernist Aesthetics, and Lolita

Susan Elizabeth Sweeney
Holy Cross College

In this paper, I argue that the marvelously influential ballet of
<italic>Sleeping Beauty</italic> (1890) is an important and hitherto
unnoticed subtext in <italic>Lolita</italic>. I base this claim on
substantive biographical and historical evidence, on Nabokov's own
remarks, and on characterizations, plot elements, and descriptive
passages throughout the novel which directly allude to the ballet.

Now, Nabokov's aesthetic is usually associated with literary or visual
art rather than dance, and he has even said that he "was never much
interested in the ballet" (<italic>Strong Opinions</italic> 171). But
he traces the history of Russian ballet in his commentary on
<italic>Eugene Onegin</italic>, and he alludes to both dance in general
and Russian ballet in particular throughout <italic>Lolita</italic>.
(Humbert buys Lolita a copy of <italic>The Russian Ballet</italic>, for
example, and compares Quilty to Nijinsky at the moment of his death.)
There is no concrete evidence that young Nabokov ever attended a
repertory performance of <italic>Sleeping Beauty</italic>, in
particular (although he did complain about his early exposure to
Tchaikowsky, the ballet's composer). However, the Nabokov family knew
well several members of the <italic>Mir Iskusstva</italic> circle whose
admiration for <italic>Sleeping Beauty</italic> eventually led them to
form the Ballets Russes: Alexander Benois, Leon Bakst, Konstantin
Somov, and Mstislav Dobuzhinsky (who was young Vladimir's drawing
master). While at Cambridge, moreover, Nabokov may have seen the
Ballets Russes' own production of the ballet; his brother Sergey, also
at Cambridge then, attended all of Diaghilev's premieres, and he
himself was then dating a Russian ballerina.

I argue, in particular, that Nabokov appropriated the figure of the
enchanted hunter from this ballet. The entire second act of
<italic>Sleeping Beauty</italic> is devoted to the prince's hunting
expedition, complete with hunting minuets danced by huntsmen and
huntresses. More important, during this act the Lilac Fairy appears
and entrances the prince with an image of the sleeping princess. The
ensuing <italic>pas de deux</italic> between prince and princess, then,
is a "ballet blanc," or vision scene, which occurs only in the prince's
mind. The ballet makes it clear, in other words, that the prince
himself is under a spell, even as he sets off to wake the spellbound
maiden from her long slumber. The notion of such an enchanted hunter
resonates throughout <italic>Lolita</italic>, in imagery, wordplay,
setting ("The Enchanted Hunters Hotel"), and embedded text (Quilty's
play "The Enchanted Hunters"). The foremost enchanted hunter, of
course, is Humbert himself. Accordingly, I compare Humbert's own state
of enchantment--his solipsistic fantasy of Lolita as "another,
fanciful Lolita--perhaps, more real than Lolita" (62), and as a fairy
princess marooned on her "intangible island of entranced time"
(17)--to the prince's magic voyage to Beauty's castle. (The passages
in which Humbert describes his lust for little girls, his attraction to
Lolita in particular, and their night at The Enchanted Hunters alludes
frequently to plot, staging, set design, and even choreography of the

My paper also shows how Nabokov used this ballet--which is, in more
than one sense, about the attempt to rescue beauty from time--to
express his own aesthetics of enchantment. (I discuss, for example,
how Nabokov uses the imagery of enchanted hunting to characterize his
art.) I argue, finally, that in <italic>Lolita</italic> Nabokov has
taken one of the most important works of art of
<italic>fin-de-siècle</italic> Russian culture--<italic>Sleeping
Beauty</italic>--and translated it into another culture, another
language, another medium, and another artwork, which has become, in
turn, one of the most significant expressions of its own place and
time: mid-twentieth-century America.

Nikolai Gogol: Doing Things in Style

Leona Toker
Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

For all its elegant lightness, Nabokov's monograph on Gogol is based on
an intensive study of primary and secondary materials. It must present
serious problems for those translators who are not sufficiently versed
in the Gogol lore: even minute changes in the wording or style may
seriously distort the author's meaning. Nabokov had a relatively small
textual space at his disposal, hence many of the fruits of his
preparatory study of Gogol are reflected not in what the book says
explicitly, but in the shape of its reticences, in the lexical choices,
the turns of the phrase, the structure of chapters. My paper deals with
some cases of the influence of the elided information, such as, for
instance, Gogol's treatment of Jews in <italic>Taras Bulba</italic>,
upon the style of the monograph and the deployment of its material.


Silentology in Nabokov

Joanna Maria Trzeciak
University of Chicago

In this paper, I will identify methodological considerations crucial to
the analysis of silences in Nabokov's work. Previous scholarship has
drawn attention to the importance of this phenomenon, either treating
Nabokov's aesthetics of silence as the outcome of a Neo-Platonic
groping towards the ineffable (Brian Oles, "Silence and the Ineffable
in Nabokov's <italic>Invitation to a Beheading</italic>), or as a
consequence of ruptured communication with the reader-as-interlocutor
(Thomas Seifrid, "The Death of the Addressee: Some Forms of
Noncommunication in Nabokov's Works"). Both of these contributions
have been intertextual and synthetic in approach.

From specific instances where silence is conspicuous, I will work
toward a general schema for a contextual understanding of the literary
function of silences, looking at the ways in which context structures
silences. Here I borrow from sociolinguistic theory on silence in
cultural context and develop a literary application for it. In
particular, I draw on Michael Silverstein's concept of metapragmatics.
I will argue that Nabokov developed an aesthetics of silence, which is
implicit in his critiques of Freud and Dostoevsky. I will draw
examples from Nabokov's short story "Signs and Symbols", his novel
<italic>Dar</italic>, as well as the three book versions of his
autobiography, <italic>Conclusive Evidence</italic>, <italic>Drugie
Berega</italic>, and <italic>Speak, Memory: An Autobiography
Revisited</italic>, including an examination of the development of
Nabokov's use of silence throughout the three successive versions.

Vladimir Nabokov and the Age of Reason

Lisa Zunshine
University of California, Santa Barbara

A re-evaluation of Nabokov's engagement with the eighteenth-century
British literature is long overdue. It does not suffice anymore to say
that Nabokov "despised" the aesthetics of that "pedestrian age" (quoted
in Boyd 2: 346), as more and more allusions to the rich and
unpredictable world of eighteenth-century prose and poetry (most
notably, to various works of Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift, and
Samuel Richardson's <italic>Clarissa</italic>) are uncovered in his
American oeuvre. In my present analysis, I demonstrate that we gain
new understanding of textual dynamics of <italic>Pale Fire</italic> by
exploring its multiple, hitherto unacknowledged connections to
Alexander Pope's mischievous 1712 epic <italic>The Rape of the
Lock</italic>. I also suggest that we can trace the origins of
Nabokov's professed disregard for the Age of Reason to the
peculiarities of the general scholarly attitude toward the
eighteenth-century literature prevalent in the American academy in the
forties and fifties.

Jenka T. Fyfe
Administrative Assistant
Russian Literature
Cornell University
236 Goldwin Smith Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
Ph: 607 255 8350
Fax: 607 255 1454