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216 Nabokov Studies Tony Sharpe. Vladimir Nabokov. London: Edward Arnold, 1991 (Distributed in the United States by Routledge, Chapman and Hall, NY). 116 pp. $10.95 (paper). Tony Sharpe's Vladimir Nabokov is part of a series called "Modern Fiction," under the general editorship of Robin Gilmour. The intent of these volumes is to provide "a series of authoritative introductory studies" of major twentieth-century English-language fiction, in which "each volume is written by an expert in the field and offers a fresh reading of the writer's work" [p. vi. italics mine]. And there is, of course, the rub: can a book simultaneously be an authorative introduction and a fresh reading? My initial response, both in general and in the particular of this work, was negative. And I still remain a bit skeptical. But Professor Tony Sharpe has done a remarkable job of combining original insights and readings with a solid and un-eccentric perspective on Nabokov and his writings. At times one feels still the tug between originality and a certain responsibility to the critical main stream. But taken overall (and at only 113 pages, it is not difficult to take overall), Vladimir Nabokov has enough freshness to engage the (sometimes skeptical) attention of the veteran Nabokovian, and enough clear solidity to be a reasonably safe introduction for the neophyte. Professor Sharpe does not attempt to cover the entire Nabokov oeuvre. Instead, he makes the strategic choice to illustrate what he finds to be the princi pal themes and strands of his subject by focusing upon a handful of novels and Speak, Memory. He concentrates rather heavily upon 4he very4ate Russian works and the early and mid English writing: more-or-less the two and a half decades between Invitation to a Beheading in the late 1930s and Pale Fire in 1962. In largely ignoring short stories and poetry, and the very early and very late novels, Sharpe is obviously presenting a somewhat condensed and simplified Nabokov. Still, it certainly can be argued that this choice includes most of Nabokov's very best work. I would question whether it is possible to write an "authoritative" study which does not devote major attention to either The Gift or Ada, but no volume can cover everything, and Professor Sharpe's work seems to gain in brevity (no minor virtue in an "introductory" effort) some of what it loses in texture and com pleteness. Vladimir Nabokov begins with a chapter entitled "The Life and Times," which concentrates largely on Speak, Memory. Sharpe pays particular attention, as do most biographers, to Nabokov's unique multinationalem, focusing upon the selfdefinition offered in Strong Opinions, "an American writer raised in Russia, educated in England, imbued with the culture of Western Europe" (192). Quite rightly, Sharpe shows that while each of these cultures exerted a real and a strong influence upon Nabokov, the whole was none of its parts. The physical wanderings of the Nabokov family are linked, Sharpe suggests, with the novelist's belief that life "actively shapes itself through memory and imagination" (7). Nabokov emerges from this biographical sketch, rather as he would want to appear, as a absolutely unique monad. Citing Antony's jesting description of a crocodile ("It is shap'd, sir, like itself, and it is as broad as it hath breadth. It is just Book Reviews 217 so high as it is, and moves with it own organs," Antony and Cleopatra, II, vii, 4244 ), Sharpe concludes that "a similarly self-referential definition might be best for Nabokov, whom we cannot satisfactorily assign to any easy category; he would, I think, be perfectly happy to be left as a nonpareil or nonesuch, uncageable by any zoo in literary criticism" (p. 16). Invitation to a Beheading and Bend Sinister are the subject of the following chapter, and here again Sharpe concentrates upon Nabokov's strong insistence upon particularity. Sharpe suggests that the political themes of these two novels are in actuality versions of the struggle between generalization or totalitarianism (the transparent society surrounding Cincinnatus; Ekwilism in Send Sinister) and the unregimentable individuality of both works' central characters. Perhaps the most interesting portion of this discussion is the manner in which...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9965
Print ISSN
1080-1219
Pages
pp. 216-219
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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