Doubles in Conrad and Nabokov

Ludmilla Voitkovska, University of Saskatchewan

Expatriate fiction abounds with doubles. Conrad's disconnection from both the parent and the adopted culture transforms as an escape into the specific worlds he knew intimately: the world of seamen and the worlds of exotic or non-existent countries, heavily populated with male doubles (Jim and Marlow, Jim and Brown, Jim and Brierly, Razumov and Haldin, Razumov and the Language teacher, Decoud and Nostromo, not to mention the Captain and Leggatt). Nabokov's literary universe is populated by doubles of both genders: Annabel and Lolita (Lolita), Kinbote and Shade in Pale Fire.

Framed by a specifically literary anxiety of identity (or, alternatively stated, by the problematic nature of literary freedom) the fictional double is best assessed and interpreted from within a socio-linguistic and anthropological context. In essence, the simple possibility of a non-referential literary universe, predicated on the simple fact that language can shape a double of the world, creates conditions wherein any self-conscious use of literary language involves, implicitly, the creation of duplicity and the doubling of the referential self. And, consequently, the change of the language, which happens with the change of the culture in case of expatriation, results in doubling of the self caused by the simultaneous existence of the two cultural and linguistic archetypes in the expatriate's psyche. In expatriate fiction, doubles particularly strongly demonstrate how major political structures and ideological constructs translate into the formation of an individual psyche and character, reflect in actions, emotions, and relationships.

Both Conrad and Nabokov dramatize their relationships with the parent and/or adopted culture through the protagonist's relationships with doubles and/or women. In Conrad's novels, the protagonist, is developing emotionally charged relationships with men symbolically representing his parent culture: Jim and Brierly, Jim and Brown, Razumov and Haldin, Decoud and Nostromo. The displaced protagonist develops intimate relationships with women who belong either to the culture different than the protagonist or to the same culture. These relationships never end in a happy marriage which is Conrad's statement of the protagonist's essential incompatibility with both parent culture (Razumov and Natalia Haldin, Decoud and Antonia Avellianos, Kurtz and Intended) and with the adopted culture (Jim and Jewel, Janko Gooral and Amy Foster, Verlok and Winnie).

Unlike Conrad, who prefers male doubles, Nabokov experiments with doubles of both genders. However, the doubling stays within the paradigm of the parent-adopted culture relationship. Lolita, a double of Humbert Humbert's first love, belongs to the protagonist's adopted culture, while Annabel is a part of his past in Europe. Humbert Humbert loses both women, and the difference in the circumstances of the loss reflects Nabokov's relationship with both cultures. Annabel, the woman from the parent culture, unexpectedly dies of typhus in her teens, leaving the protagonist with the sense of irretrievable loss. This relationship mirrors Nabokov's poignantly nostalgic relationship with Russia he lost as a teenager. Lolita, a "distinguishingly conventional" (Lolita 136) American girl who allures and eludes him at the same time, is an embodiment of Nabokov's feelings for America which he sees as "a combination of na‘vet» and deception, of charm and vulgarity" (Lolita 136) with its "sweet hit jazz, square dancing, gooey fudge sundaes, musicals, movie magazines" (Lolita 136).

Both Conrad and Nabokov use narrative doubles to represent the process of reading an expatriate text. The narrator and the reader are placed around the narrative which may belong yet to another speaker. In Conrad's fiction, the story is often told by the third party, the protagonist's narrative double, who represents either the parent culture (Marlow) or the adopted culture (English Teacher, Kennedy, the county doctor in Amy Foster).

Nabokov uses the figure of an editor who is either a protagonist of the narrative (Charles Kinbote in Pale Fire) or a figure uninvolved in the plot (John Ray Jr. in Lolita). Charles Kinbote and Shade's relationship revolves around writing an expatriate text. In Conrad, the story is told either from the perspective foreign to the protagonist, or from the perspective of the person who shares the same culture but does not have the experience of expatriation. Both writers use the device of a diary as the foundation of the narrative (Lolita, Under Western Eyes). The intricate narrative structure involving narrative doubles accounts for the implicit critical discourse about how one writes and reads an expatriate text, as well as for creating the atmosphere of retrospection, which is one of the essential archetypes of expatriate fiction.