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Recourse to Eden: Tracing the Roots of Nabokov’s Adamic Themes

From: Nabokov Studies
Volume 12, 2009/2011
pp. 63-127 | 10.1353/nab.2009.0002

Abstract

Abstract:

This essay examines both the breadth and the depth of Nabokov's engagement with the biblical myth of Eden and its many resonant, interrelated themes: divine creation, Adamic man, paradisal love, diabolic temptation, exile and loss, the persistence of memory, and the desire to regain—either in this world or the next—one form or another of Edenic bliss. While focusing principally on the "roots" of Nabokov's Adamic and Edenic themes as they appear in several early poems and short stories, in the autobiography, Speak, Memory, and in his first novel, Mary, this essay also argues more broadly that the biblical myth of a lost paradise (and the subsequent echoes of this biblical tradition in later representational art and literature) continued to influence and inform Nabokov's writings significantly throughout his entire career, particularly in such later masterworks as Lolita and Ada. Since the author regularly dismissed all claims of "influence" upon his works, this essay aims chiefly at establishing and exploring, with fresh appreciation, Nabokov's substantial understanding of, and sustained intertextual reliance upon, biblical narrative and the extended tradition (Dante, Milton, Marvell, etc.) of Edenic paradise and Adamic fall.