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Nabokov Studies 5 (1998/1999) SUELLEN STRINGER-HYE (Nashville) The Weed Exiles the Flower (Melville and Nabokov) Vladimir Nabokov adopted a new identity as well as a new country when he moved to America. In his mind, he soon ceased to be Sirin, the Russian poet and novelist, but was now an American writer, however unpronounceable his last name. Nabokov's vision of himself as American citizen and writer is chronicled in countless interviews and conespondence dating from 1962 until his death. "I think of myself as an American writer who has once been a Russian one."1 "I am as American as an April in Arizona."2 Commenting on the weight gained when he quit smoking, Nabokov said, "I am 1/3 American —good American flesh keeping me warm and safe."3 Never one to be taken at his word, Nabokov was, no doubt, talking about more than mid-life corpulence. Still, it has been difficult to place him in an American context. Although Leona Toker has argued Nabokov's connection to Nathaniel Hawthorne,4 many critics see him as much an abenation in the American tradition as he was in the Russian.5 Susan Elizabeth Sweeney discusses Nabokov's emotional attachment to the landscape and lepidoptera of America and, while finding temperamental affinities, does not associate him with a 1. Vladimir Nabokov, Strong Opinions, New York: McGraw-Hill (1973), p. 63. 2. Ibid., p. 98. 3. Ibid., p. 26-27. See also p. 124, "I am an American, I feel American, and I like that feeling"; p. 131, "An American writer means..."; p. 192 "I see myself as an American writer...." 4. Leona Toker, "Nabokov and the Hawthorne Tradition," Studies in American Civilization XXXII (1987), 323-49. 5. Alexei Zverev, "Nabokov, Updike and American Literature," in Vladimir E. Alexandrov, ed. The Garland Companion to Vladimir Nabokov, New York: Garland Pub. (1995), p. 538. Zverev states: "...for Updike, Nabokov is all the more attractive precisely because he has no analogue in either the American literary tradition or among his contemporaries. ...Is it really possible to speak of Nabokov as an American writer?" 118 Nabokov Studies particular American literary tradition.6 With most we can agree that Nabokov was a writer who does not fit neatly into traditional linguistic, cultural or generic categories, and perhaps we should not force him to do so.7 But neither should we discount Nabokov's professed love for his adopted homeland, a love that had been nurtured from youth, by reading such diverse specimens of American culture as Mayne Reid's Wild West novels and William James' psychological works.8 Literary culture was, for Nabokov, a living entity.9 When naming himself an American, he was implicitly positioning himself within the self-constructed framework of American cultural elements for which he had an appreciation. Nabokov was candid about the American writers in whom he had no interest; Faulkner especially, Hemingway and Henry James for the most part.10 He was equally vocal about his loves: in his youth, Poe, some of Emerson's poetry, the short story "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" by J. D. Salinger. He liked John Updike.11 The highest praise, however, he reserved for Herman Melville. When Alfred Appel asked him in 1967 which American writers he admired, he responded "When I was young I liked Poe and I still love Melville."12 Nabokov's handwritten notes for a Book World interview record the response, "Dear Anton, Dear Leo", to a query about favorite Russian authors; "Melville" to the query about favorite Americans.13 The inclusion of 6. Susan Elizabeth Sweeney, "As American as an April in Arizona," American Literary History, 6 (1994), 325-35 (p. 325). 7. See "Extraterritorial" in Nabokov: Criticism, Reminiscences, Translations and Tributes, ed. Alfred Appel and Charles Newman, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson (1971), 119-27. 8. D. Barton Johnson, "Vladimir Nabokov and Captain Mayne Reid", Cycnos 10 (1993), 99-106, and D. Barton Johnson, "Tenor': Pre-Texts and Post-Texts" in A Small Alpine Form: Nabokov's Short Fiction, eds. Charles Nicol and Gennady Barabtarlo, New York: Garland (1993), 39-64. Johnson also says "VN was friendly with James' son who lived in Cambridge, Mass...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9965
Print ISSN
1080-1219
Pages
pp. 117-127
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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