Nabokov's most explicit expression of his lifelong fascination with games is his December 1925 essay, "Breitensträter – Paolino," which begins with the claim that "Everything in the world plays." In the same month, however, he published a short story, "A Guide to Berlin," whose central section is entitled "Work." In these two pieces Nabokov explores competing visions of life and art as play and as work, which he had found discussed in an essay of 1922, "Praise of Idleness," by his early mentor Iulii Aikhenval'd. The vision of play goes back to Friedrich Schiller, that of work to Marx, Tolstoy, and other nineteenth century writers. Each entails a profoundly different style, ideology, and set of assumptions about the mind. We cannot identify Nabokov exclusively with either vision.
It is well known that Nabokov's short story "Cloud, Castle, Lake" abounds in allusions to Tiutchev's lyrics, functioning as its metatextual "re-reading." The article takes its departure from calling attention to an unexplored Tiutchevian allusion in the story—the image of "the fine hair of a spiderweb," the pivotal image of Tiutchev's famous nature lyric "There is in early autumn …" ("Est' v oseni pervonachal'noi …"; 1857). I propose to examine the recurrence of this Tiutchevian topos in Nabokov's Russian writings, focusing on its function as a nostalgic sign of a Russian "paradise lost." I will also take into account Nabokov's possible polemic references, in "Cloud, Castle, Lake," to two other Russian readers of the same Tiutchev poem, Leo Tolstoy and Osip Mandelstam.
Vladimir Nabokov possessed an acute sensitivity to gradations of color, and he rebuffed attempts to attach broad symbolic meanings to specific colors in his work. Yet although Nabokov's work displays an impressive range of color images, one color combination perhaps carried a special resonance in his fiction. In several works the combination of black and white appears conspicuously associated with the theme of death. The essay focuses on the use of black and white in Laughter in the Dark and Lolita in an attempt to explore and explain the thematic association.
This article takes issue with the notion that Nabokov ignored or repressed the historical in his fiction. It proposes that Nabokov's formal innovation in The Real Life of Sebastian Knight constitutes a complex response to modernity. Through examination of the novel's historical-cultural location, its high modernist intertexts, and its manipulation of various forms of temporality, I demonstrate how Nabokov here engages with "the modernist impasse," a perceived crisis in autonomous, experimental fiction during the 1930s.
Although Nabokov's short story "Lips to Lips" is usually considered to be an implied satire of the events and personalities in the colony of Russian émigré writers in Berlin (as Nabokov himself suggests in the commentary to the English version), by keeping in mind literary tricks of the sort Nabokov used in "The Vane Sisters" and by comparing the Russian version of "Lips to Lips" with its English version, this paper discloses a certain trick in the story suggestive of a rather different reading. When Nabokov translated the story into English, he revised the trick because the original Russian-language trick is based on a grammatical fact that resists translation into English. The approach taken in this paper reveals the advantages of comparing the Russian and English versions of Nabokov's works.
Taking as metaphor Nabokov's apothegm about the cosmic and comic side of things, we apply this to Canto Three of Pale Fire and come up with a surprise: Not only does our illusionist poke solemn fun at the absurdities of the Institute of Preparation for the Hereafter, as we'd expect. He also allows amid the particolored confetti some somber themes to unfold their black striations, and illuminate the dark design of the whole.
Charles Kinbote's aesthetic frustrations with his beloved poet John Shade reach their apex at the start of Pale Fire's final canto, which features long descriptions of the poet shaving in the bathtub. Kinbote tries to elevate the passage with a desperate (and faulty) reference to a similar moment in the oeuvre of A. E. Housman. Kinbote unwittingly sends the reader on an allusive journey in which we find that that the act of shaving is the figure used by both Nabokov and Housman in describing the agony of poetic composition and the transient bliss of inspiration. What Kinbote originally reads as a mocking parody turns out to be a genuine, though playful, statement of artistic method.
Enigmatic murals on the walls of the Enchanted Hunters Hotel create an ambiguous setting for Lolita's "seduction" of Humbert. Images of hunters entranced by a young nymph imply Lolita's putting a spell on her lover and seem to support Humbert's idea of the innate viciousness of his nymphet. Why did Nabokov need such a paradoxical inversion of his presentation of Lolita as a "courageous victim"? This article attempts to solve the puzzle by analyzing the novel's references to John Ruskin and Lewis Carroll as notorious admirers of young girls. It also points out such Victorian contexts as the Oxford Union Murals created by Pre-Raphaelites in 1857 under Ruskin's guidance and The Idylls of the King by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, on which the frescos were based. The accumulation of textual and intertextual clues leads to the interpretation of Lolita as Nabokov's critical commentary to the Victorian discourse on art, beauty, and child sexuality.
A surprising number of Lolita's critics have described Lolita in the most derogatory tones, citing what they see as her vulgarity, banality, plebian lack of cultivation and predatory sensuality. Still other critics have seen in her a "symbol" of such things as America and artistic creation. In many of these cases these tendencies are accompanied by a relative disinterest for the fate that befalls her in the book—a tendency Nabokov's wife Véra tried to correct as early as 1959 by pointing out: "She cries every night and the critics are deaf to her sobs." The essay seeks to follow what elements in the novel give rise to this reaction and to elucidate what the phenomenon reflects about the conflicting demands placed on the novel's readers.