Sometimes, we don’t know what a thing is. Fyodor Godunov-Cherdyntsev, the protagonist of Vladimir Nabokov’s novel The Gift, in Chapter Two describes some witch doctors collecting “Chinese rhubarb, whose root bears an extraordinary resemblance to a caterpillar, right down to its prolegs and spiracles—while I, in the meantime, found under a stone the caterpillar of an unknown moth, which represented not in a general way but with absolute concreteness a copy of that root, so that it was not quite clear which was impersonating which—or why.” How to tell original from copy? Which is the source and which the subsidiary? This uncertainty makes an excellent figure for the complexities in The Gift, with its elusive, shifting narrative voice. Does Fyodor, from a variety of proximities and distances, control that voice? Or is there a superior “authorial” figure nestled between Fyodor and the ultimate author, Nabokov himself? This play with the relationship between narrative form and knowledge connects Nabokov tightly with Dostoevskii’s early experiment in epistemological fiction, The Double.
Nabokov’s The Gift, Dostoevskii, and the Tradition of Narratorial Ambiguity
Periodical or collection
The Slavic Review
v. 76, no. 1