The Author is Dead—Long Live the Author: Expatriation Archetypes in Nabokov and Conrad

The present proposal brings Nabokov and Conrad together as expatriate writers. Existence of major recurrent patterns which appear in different variations in their major works suggests an essential connection between the authors’ exilic condition and their thematic and formal choices. The present work is an attempt to analyze expatriation archetypes on all the levels of their fiction: thematic and narrative structure as well as formal organization of the text.

Conrad’s and Nabokov’s major exilic patterns can be summarized as having the following features:

1. The protagonist is an expatriate figure (Pnin, Humbert Humbert, Charles Kinbote, Jim, Razumov, Decoud, Kurtz, the Captain, Yanko Gooral, Verloc, the spy).

2. The émigré protagonist enters a very complex and ambivalent relationship with the parent and/or adopted culture.

3. The protagonist’s relationships with the parent and/or adopted culture are dramatized through his relationships with the doubles and/or women.

4. The text dramatizes the clash of cultures, and the underlying foundation of the conflict is the essential incompatibility between the communal Eastern culture and the individualistic Western culture.

5. The outcome of the clash of the cultures is mutually destructive. The protagonist inflicts death and/or major disaster on the people who surround him, or is viewed as the threat for the culture, and consequently dies or is destroyed himself (Humbert Humbert, Jim, Razumov, Kurtz, Verloc, Decoud).

6. The protagonist’s journey, the major organizational principle of the plot, does not reach any final destination or satisfactory closure.

7. The narrative is laid in an exotic or imaginary setting.

8. The implicit concept of the text is displacement, which translates into the characters’ extraordinary angst, loneliness, rootlessness, and unease.

9. The complex narrative structure is intended to create the atmosphere of retrospection, which accounts for the overall design of telling the story as the major organizational principle of most of Conrad’s texts and the confession format in Nabokov’s Lolita, and explains as well the framework of elaborate editorial commentaries in Nabokov’s Pale Fire.

10. The expatriation paradigm is reflected in the narrative structure when the text dramatizes the relationships between the expatriate writer and the reader from the parent or adopted culture (Lord Jim, Under Western Eyes, Pale Fire).

11. Conrad’s and Nabokov’s narrative is highly self-conscious.

12. Symbolic mode is not merely a narrative device but the major organizational principle of the narrative (Jim’s jump, silver in Nostromo, doubling in The Secret Sharer, writing a poem in Pale Fire, obsession with Lolita).

The existence of these obvious patterns in Conrad’s and Nabokov’s fiction demands a reassessment of current critical debate concerning the place of the author in his/her own narrative and presents a significant reinterpretation of Conrad and Nabokov. The major post-structuralist premise that the text belongs to the language and not the author is challenged by the existence of expatriation archetypes in Conrad’s and Nabokov’s narrative. The text of the writer who uses English as a second language is informed to a great extent by the primary culture with its distinct concepts, codes, myths, and forms of linguistic expression. The examination of Conrad’s and Nabokov’s expatrial discourse, therefore, showing the powerful impact of the cultural forces which contribute to the formation of the author and then, in turn, transmutate into their literary patterns, calls for a revival of the author, returning him to the critical frame of reference, and redefining him as a cultural construct.