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Reviews 215 deeply gratified by the monument here erected to his talent. But I suspect we might just catch him playing hookey, stealing out of the book to "net" ephemera in the ether, for example. Michael Wood. The Magician's Doubts. London: Chatte & Windus, 1994. Review by Maurice Couturier, University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis. The Joycian is probably a much happier and more contented scholar than the Nabokovian: he never feels as if he were laboring under the law of a tyrannical author looking over his shoulder, despite the fact that he will never be able to fully sound the abysmal depths of Joyce's work; on the contrary , he has the impression of bringing his, albeit modest, contribution to the understanding of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake which, he rightly thinks, would remain all but unreadable without the learned exegeses, be they encyclopedic annotations or Freudian interpretations, which have blossomed since they first came out. We, Nabokovians, are more fragile creatures, constantly afraid to hear the rumble of VN's voice rising from a grave in Montreux. If only we could rely upon a dependable interpretative grid, like semiotics, narratology, psychoanalysis, or ethics, our self-confidence could be restored, but we feel that the author has already been there before, that we arrive too late and that the text we read and analyze already contains the gist of our well-meant interpretation. To be sure, the author's law has been challenged in a variety of ways since Nabokov's death. Some critics have bitterly turned against Nabokov's alleged perverseness, using his works as incriminating evidence; others, on the contrary, have tried to prove the celestial level of his moral standards, often counting upon his (and sometimes upon his wife's) pronouncements to introduce their demonstrations; others again have compared Nabokov's interpretation mania with that of Freud. And there have been those who undertook to rewrite some of the novels, offering shrewd, though unverifiable , interpretations of Lolita (Quilty was not murdered, after all) and of Pale Fire (Shade wrote the whole book) which the author is no longer in a position to sanction or challenge. Since the author's death, the critics, who no longer fear the kind of biting remark that Nabokov addressed to William Woodin Rowe after the publication of Nabokov's Deceptive World, have regained some confidence; yet, most of their interpretations, which purport to unveil the author's hidden message or repressed desires, give evidence that we, poor critics, still labor under the author's law. It is not so much the text which is being analyzed as the author's intentions or his unconscious. 216 Nabokov Studies In The Magician's Doubts, Michael Wood is acutely aware of the near impossibility of developing an author-free interpretation of Nabokov's novels. He opens his book with a fable, entitled "Tricks of Loss," about bis V, his Nabokov, or one of his Nabokovs, trying to distinguish between the first writer, "too self-sufficient, too armoured against doubt to have written Nabokov's later novels," and the other one who "has a humanity the first writer lacks" (6). The largely deserved success of this book is probably due to the fact that Wood openly acknowledges doubts that all critics entertain concerning Nabokov's work and shows how they often reflect the author's own uncertainties. It is refreshing to hear such an intelligent and welldocumented scholar, who is also a great admirer of Nabokov, descant so perceptively upon the maestro's own failures, as John Banville explains in his laudatory review of the book.1 Wood does not claim to offer a revolutionary interpretation of Lolita or Pale Fire, nor to put an end to the debate about Nabokov's ethics which has been gathering momentum these last ten years. He honestly tries to look at both sides of the coin, claiming for instance, in the case of Bend Sinister, that "[e]vil is if anything more styUsh than good, and to think of it as vulgar is mainly a way of refusing to contemplate its attractions," or refusing to believe "in Humbert's new love partly because there is nothing in his self-portrait...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9965
Print ISSN
1080-1219
Pages
pp. 215-222
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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