Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Epigraph

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Preface

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pp. ix-xii

Several years ago, while reading, without interruption, all the books on "the Nabokov shelf," I ceased to deplore the penalties one pays for having turned one's love of literature into a profession. A return to the same shelf became, time and again, an effective antidote for sundry vexations of the spirit. The magic lay in the earnestly playful eschatology that transpires through these books, as well as in the limpid sense of freedom...

Abbreviations

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pp. xiii-xvi

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-20

Vladimir Nabokov belongs among those writers who are continually exposed to distrust during their lives, whose first steps encounter inauspicious predictions, who must struggle against the prejudices of the audience yet have admirers as ardent as the general public is unjust. When such writers die, there often follows a reversal: their works almost instantly become part of the classical canon....

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2. Pnin: The Quest That Overrides the Goal

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pp. 21-35

Around 1950-51, with Lolita still unfinished, Nabokov started intermittently working on Pnin. Separate chapters first appeared in the New Yorker, and the book came out in 1957, four years after the completion and two years after the publication of Lolita.

Lolita deliberately excludes explicit Russian references, the only ex­ception being the Paris taxi driver Maximovich.1 The symbolic ele­ment in its story (see Chapter 11), is not...

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3. Mary: "Without Any Passport"

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pp. 36-46

Nabokov's first novel, Mary (Mashen'ka, 1926), initiates the theme of the need for a balance between human commitment and aesthetic pursuit, focusing on the conflict between sympathy and self-protective detachment. This conflict is reproduced in the tension be­tween the different layers of the novel's meaning: the moral value of the protagonist's actions clashes with their aesthetic value and their symbolic significance....

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4. King, Queen, Knave, or Lust under the Linden

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pp. 47-66

Nabokov's second novel, King, Queen, Knave (Korol', dama, valet, 1928), a self-reflexive satirical version of the novel of adultery, asserted his intellectual and artistic independence, his refusal to restrict himself to the genre of the "human document" (KQK, viii), or to cater to the emigre readers' need for explicit moral and ideological support.

The characters of King, Queen, Knave are Germans, people whom Nabokov during his stay in Berlin...

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5. The Defense: Secret Asymmetries

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pp. 67-87

The hwnan "warmth" (D, 10) that was largely kept out of King, Queen, Knave erupted in Nabokov's so-called "chess novel," The Defense (Zashchita Luzhina, 1929), a novel that deals more directly than any other of Nabokov's works with the problem of balance between intellectual pursuit and human commitment.

It would be an oversimplification to say that the major conflict of The Defense is between art and life. Chess is...

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6. Glory: "Good Example of How Metaphysics Can Fool You"

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pp. 88-106

Nabokov's Glory (Podvig, 1932), translated into English in 1971 (later than his other Russian novels), is probably the most underrated of his longer narratives. In the thirties, part of the émigré audience was antagonized by the book's refusal to keep what seemed to be its promise of a patriotic message;1 today, readers tend to show an interest mainly in its autobiographical element (images of the Cambridge life, of the Crimea, of visits...

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7. Laughter in the Dark: Guinea Pigs and Galley Slaves

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pp. 107-122

The years 1929-32 saw an outburst of creative activity: upon completing The Defense, Nabokov wrote a number of shorter works, including The Eye, and two novels, Glory and Kamera obscura. In 1938 his own considerably revised translation of Kamera obscura came out in America under the title Laughter in the Dark.

There is a close thematic relationship between Glory and Kamera obscura. Both are devoted to a metaphysical...

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8. Invitation to a Beheading: "Nameless Existence, Intangible Substance"

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pp. 123-141

The first draft of Invitation to a Beheading (Priglashenie na kazn', 1935, published in 1938) was written "in one fortnight of wonderful excitement and sustained inspiration" (SO, 68). Like most products of a great writer's burst of creative energy, this novel is characterized by a strong element of overdetermination. Cincinnatus C., a citizen of a totalitarian anti-science-fictional dystopia, is accused of an ob­scure crime called "gnostical...

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9. The Gift: Models of Infinity

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pp. 142-176

The Gift, serialized (with the significant omission of its fourth chapter) in 1937-38, is Nabokov's portrait of an artist as a young man. By the end of the novel the protagonist, Fyodor Godunov-­Cherdyntsev, is on the threshold of a full-fledged literary career, ready to fulfill his girlfriend's prophecy that he will be "such a writer as has never been before" (G, 376). Paradoxically, however, The Gift marks the end of its author's career...

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10. Bend Sinister: The "Inner" Problem

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pp. 177-197

Bend Sinister was written five or six years after Nabokov's immigration to the United States in 1940; it was published in 1947. In the 1963 foreword, Nabokov notes that it was composed "at a particularly cloudless and vigorous period" of his life, yet he calls its main characters his "whims and megrims" (BS, v, viii) . The reference to "whims" should remind the reader of the deliberate overstatement with which Emerson proclaimed...

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11. "Reader! Bruder!": Broodings on the Rhetoric of Lolita

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pp. 198-227

A novel that deals with a broken sexual taboo is suspected either of sensationalism or of a defiantly callous aestheticism that pro­motes insensitivity to crime and suffering. It is no longer necessary to defend Lolita from the former imputation; yet Nabokov's much­-quoted remarks about the priority of "aesthetic bliss" may still leave him exposed to the latter charge. What all too often remains unno­ticed, however, is that these remarks...

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12. Conclusion

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pp. 228-230

"By all means place the 'how' above the 'what,'" is Nabo­kov's advice to critics, "but do not let it be confused with the 'so what' " (SO, 66). If the "how" stands for the local felicities of good writing, then the "so what" refers to their integration into a work's general design. But if the "how" stands for the general design, then the "so what" must be the mystery of the literary structure, the moral aspect of the relationship between...

Bibliography of Works Cited

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pp. 231-238

Index

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pp. 239-245