Raised in an Anglophile family, Nabokov read English before he read Russian and called himself a “bilingual baby.” Yet he has described his “Conradical” switch, from writing in Russian to writing in English, as a loss that was “exceedingly painful—like learning anew to handle things after losing seven or eight fingers in an explosion.” Nabokov centers the pain of his American exile on his linguistic experience, giving it a violent physical image. However, not only was this loss self-imposed, it also made his fiction richer and gave him a new literary topic, inasmuch as multilingualism and the exile’s struggle with a new tongue become central themes in his American works. In Pnin and Ada especially, one can see the manner in which Nabokov develops characters in a way that mines linguistic complexities, and that would have been unthinkable had Nabokov not experienced a language switch himself.


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pp. 77-89
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