Slot:       28B–4        Dec. 28, 10:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.                                              

Panel:     International Vladimir Nabokov Society

Chair:     Julian Connolly, University of Virginia


Title:       Fedorov's Resurrection of the Dead in Nabokov's “Mechtal ia o tebe…,” and Solovyov's Death Into Life in “Blizko, daleko, ne zdes′ i ne tam…”: Comparative Analysis of Two Poems

Author:   Gennady Denisenko, University of Virginia


…И ныне, наяву, ты, легкая, пришла,

И вспоминаю суеверно,

Как те глубокие созвучья – зеркала

Тебя предсказывали верно.

This paper is a continuation of a comparative investigation of Nabokov and Solovyov’s art. Although Solovyov formally never finished his work on aesthetics, its principles clearly derive from his ethics and metaphysics. Also recognized as a distinguished poet, Solovyov harmoniously introduces his philosophical ideas of Beauty into his poems. Particularly, in his “Blizko, daleko, ne zdes i ne tam” he reinvents the spatial image tam as a demonstration of his Uni-totality’s super-consciousness. The poem’s narrator submits himself unconditionally to the beautiful Goddess, the messenger of tam that stays “there” - in the metaphysical plane. In other words, Solovyov denies the possibility of heaven on Earth. The restoration of Beauty is expected as a result of an artist’s theurgic act of faith that leads him into the absorption by the beautiful being that a “human eye has not seen, and a human ear has not heard.”

Neither does Nabokov believe in earthly paradise. His two world model also presupposes an upper level of consciousness whose sparkles can be grasped by a lucky hero. His poem “Mechtal ia o tebe” resembles Solovyov’s “Blizko…” in style and tonality. The narrator also meets a female that he has been dreaming about, and he experiences changes in the quality of his “I.” However, there are certain elements that allow us to put the poems into Nikolai Fyodorov’s plan of resurrection of the dead that is different from Solovyov’s ultimate metaphysical transcendence.

First of all, Nabokov’s art often includes the resurrection of earthly environment that follows a narrator into his hereafter. Contrary to Solovyov’s estrangement from his “I” in a religious trance, Nabokov’s narrator preserves his personality when controlled by his “I.”  In the last stanza his ability to control his “I” is weakened. Instead of submission he just accepts what has come. He was “dreaming” and was “sensing” (chuial) a woman’s image in “delightful and clear poetry.” Thus, Nabokov places his metaphysical plane into “mirrors” of poetry’s “deep assonances” that were “foretelling” the image “correctly.” “Light” as an epithet of the woman that comes “in reality” (naiavu) makes us doubt her appearance in flesh. The poem was written on July 6, 1921 after Nabokov had seen Valentina Shulgina last time in Summer 1917. There is no evidence of any female appearing in Nabokov’s life at “that time” (nyne). Do the “long years of life” change the “reality” of the last stanza? Does it describe life after the narrator’s death? Is he a subject of Fyodorov’s resurrection?


Title:       Nabokov’s Dialogue with Chekhov: Ladies with and without Dogs

Author:   Kirsten Rutsala, University of Oklahoma

Although Nabokov's admiration for Chekhov's work is well-documented, relatively little critical attention has been paid to the connections between the two writers' works. Simon Karlinsky and Maxim Shrayer are among the few who have explored these links in detail. This paper concentrates on two of Nabokov’s stories as part of his larger dialogue with Chekhov. "The Reunion" and "That in Aleppo Once. . ." carry thematic, narrative, and structural echoes of "The Lady with the Little Dog" in particular. In analyzing "The Reunion" in conjunction with Chekhov’s story, I focus on the theme of deception in both stories, particularly the notion of secret, double lives. The analysis also includes an examination of the stories’ structural similarities, including the continual overturning of both characters’ and readers’ expectations. The expected endings do not occur in either story, and the ultimate conclusions are open-ended and ambiguous.

While "The Reunion" is a relatively straightforward story, "That in Aleppo Once. . . " is considerably more complex. Nabokov deliberately complicates matters by creating both an unreliable narrator and a second character (the narrator’s wife) who invents stories about her experiences. Thus Nabokov takes Chekhov’s ambiguity a step further: not only is the future of the characters uncertain, the past is as well. The Chekhovian subtext appears throughout the story, beginning with a direct reference to Chekhov early in the story. As we progress through the narrative, however, it turns out that the story is a reversal or subversion of Chekhovian details and devices, including parodic references to the relationship between Gurov and Anna Sergeyevna, and the appearance of "a solemn but pleasant old doctor" who is a multi-layered allusion to both Chekhov’s characters and Chekhov himself.

Perhaps most striking are the authors’ respective treatments of their heroines. While Chekhov creates a character in Anna Sergeyevna who at first appears to be a literary type and then transforms her into a complex individual, Nabokov reverses this course. The narrator’s wife continually evades his and the reader’s understanding; the more we seem to learn about her, the less we really know. Finally, the narrator declares that his wife never existed at all, that she is simply "a phantom" who exists only on the page. From a metaliterary angle, of course, this is entirely accurate, since she is a fictional character. Thus Nabokov’s story simultaneously pays tribute to Chekhov and lays bare the mechanics of storytelling, narrative decisions, and the creative process itself.


Title:       Khodasevich’s Legacy in Nabokov’s Biographical Studies and in Scholarship on Onegin

Author:   Anastasia Lakhtikova, Washington University in St. Louis

This paper situates the origins of Vladimir Nabokov’s method of commentary on Eugene Onegin in debates on biography in the European Russian diaspora, thereby placing the innovative aspects of his method in the context of an intellectual debate disrupted by history and emigration. Because Commentary is not usually considered in terms of biographical genres and because Nabokov’s Onegin was published twenty-five years after Nabokov’s emigration to the United States, critics do not consider the diaspora as a possible intellectual source for Nabokov’s method of commentary.

Vladislav Khodasevich especially influenced and reinforced Nabokov’s ideas about writing on Pushkin, as can be shown by a comparative analysis of such issues as biography and its limitations, the role of the critic-biographer, and the creative process as a fulcrum of critical and biographical inquiry in Khodasevich’s and Nabokov’s texts. Particularly significant here is Khodasevich’s Poeticheskoe Khoziaistvo Pushkina, an early example of what could be viewed as a poststructuralist textual analysis, a study of the creative process, and by extension, a biography of a creative mind. In essence Poeticheskoe Khoziaistvo represents the rudimentary methodology and provides a rubric for Nabokov’s Commentary.

This paper traces the metamorphoses of the biographical genres from Khodasevich’s resistance to hagiography to his fragmented representation of the poet’s mind in a biographical context; from Nabokov’s distrust of documented witness and rejection of the search for “human” aspects of a writer’s life to study and imitation of a writer’s style, and through style, to a reconstitution of the dynamics of a writer’s mind—the latter being the foundation of Nabokov’s method of translation and commentary on Onegin.



Khodasevich, Vladislav. Poeticheskoe Khoziaistvo Pushkina. Leningrad: Mysl’, 1924.

Nabokov, Vladimir, trans. Eugene Onegin: A Novel in Verse. By Aleksander Pushkin, 4 vols. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1975 .


Title:       “J’en sais d’immortelles qui sont de purs sanglots”: Alfred de Musset in Nabokov’s Eulogy of Khodasevich

Author:   Stanislav A. Shvabrin, University of California, Los Angeles

This paper will be concerned with a single phrase in Vladimir Nabokov’s pivotal intimation of his vision of the disparity between the artist’s lofty calling and the exigencies of his mundane existence – the essay “On Khodasevich” (1939; 1973). Delivered in a manner that is rich in implicit evocations of poets akin to both the author and the subject of his eulogy (see Strong Opinions. NY: Vintage, 1973: 224), it is at once a paradoxical affirmation of the vitality of the tradition to which Nabokov and Khodasevich both belong and a polemic with their adversaries (“a few poets of the émigré generation… still on their way up” [ibid.: 225]).

Nabokov’s stance to the problem of human suffering in its relation to artistic creation is of particular importance here, as is the means by which the writer chooses to articulate his position. In my paper I shall seek to prove that the phrase “purs sanglots” (“even the most purs sanglots require a perfect knowledge of prosody, language, verbal equipoise,” ibid.: 225) constitutes a reference to a text that played a significant role in the artistic self-determination of Vladimir Nabokov – “La Nuit de Mai” by Alfred de Musset (1835). 

The phrase “purs sanglots” (“pure sobs” – or “rydanii chistyi zvon” in Nabokov’s own poetic transposition of 1927) alludes not only to the original text by Musset, but also to Nabokov’s Russian version of “La Nuit de Mai”, both components of an elusive, mercurial unity that is the writer’s life-long dialogue with Musset. I will pursue the implications deriving from the attribution of the phrase in question to the French poem of 1835 and its Russian version of 1927.