Nabokov and Cultural Synthesis

Fall 2014

Priscilla Meyer

212 Fisk Hall

Office hours: Tuesday/Thursday 1:10-2:30 or by appointment

X3127 or 347-0059

TA: Noah Gup (

Course web site:



Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin, Eugene Onegin (1823-1831), trans. James Falen

Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov (1899-1977)

            Speak,Memory (1954; 1966)

            Translation of Eugene Onegin   (1964)

            Commentary to Eugene Onegin (1964)

            Invitation to a Beheading (1938)

            The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941)

            The Gift (1952)

            Pnin (1953-1955)

            Lolita (1955)

            Pale Fire (1962)

“Signs and Symbols” (1948)

“The Vane Sisters” (1951)


On Print Reserve at Olin

Translations of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin

Walter Arndt

James Falen

Charles Johnston

Vladimir Nabokov, Eugene Onegin, translation and commentary


Biography, background, criticism

Brian Boyd, Nabokov: The Russian Years

Nabokov: The American Years

D. Barton Johnson, Worlds in Regression

Gene Barabtarlo, Phantom of Fact: Nabokov’s Pnin

Isaiah Berlin, Russian Thinkers


On e-reserve on line

G. A. Bürger, “Lenore”

Irina Paperno, “How The Gift is Made”

Robert Merrill, “Nabokov and Fictional Artifice,” Modern Fiction Studies, vol. 25, pp. 439-62, 1979

Priscilla Meyer,McAdam, McEve, McFate: Lolita and Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin

Charles Nicol, “Pnin’s History,” in Novel, Vol. 4, N. 3 (Spring 1971)

Nomi Tamir-Ghez, “Rhetorical Manipulation in Nabokov’s Lolita

Duffield White, “Nabokov’s Literary Polemic in The Gift

Student papers from past courses


Course Requirements

The course will be conducted as a seminar, and regular attendance is essential. Students will be asked to make two class presentations no more than 10 minutes long during the semester, working in pairs; be sure to discuss the topic with me a week before your presentation. There will be three formal written assignments: your “translation” of Onegin; a short motif study; and a hefty (~15-20 pp.) term paper at the conclusion of the course. A proposal for the term paper must be submitted and discussed with me in order to be read in its final form. There will also be several short written assignments, which constitute part of your course work. When the assignment says “write,” this means you are to hand in a printed page on the given topic at the class meeting for which it is assigned.




2     Introduction: The Reader as Detective

“An Evening of Russian Poetry”

Translation, literal and metaphysical


4     Speak, Memory: autobiography? fiction? (first half)

Student Presentation: The index

1, 2______Austin Barvin, Sara Swaminathan___________________________________


9     Speak, Memory: Prisms (finish)

Student Presentation: Patterning in Speak, Memory

3, 4____Katherine Lu_____________________________________


11   Eugene Onegin

                             Chapters 1-3

Chapter 1: Onegin and “Pushkin” (history, fiction, authorial persona)

5, 6 _____________Jeremiah Monk, Matt Finkel_________________________________

Chapter 2: Lensky and German Romanticism

7, 8 _____________David Whitney_________________________________


16   Eugene Onegin

Chapters 4-8

Student presentation: Pushkin’s characterization of Tatyana and The Muse

(note esp. 8, IV)

9, 10_____________Anna Bisikalo________________________________

Chapters 6—8: Metamorphoses

Student Presentation: Metamorphoses (Tatyana, Onegin) and

Pushkin’s Literary Aesthetics (narrator, hero, author)

11, 12 _____________Jeremiah Monk, Matt Finkel_____________________


18   Nabokov’s Translation of Onegin: What is translation?

Student Presentation: Literal vs. Paraphrastic translation (Nabokov, Johnston, Arndt, others?)

13, 14 ______________Leo Grossman, Susannah Greenblatt______________________________

Nabokov’s Index to his Commentary: What can we learn from it?

Student Presentation: heroes and villains of the Commentary (poets, translators, commentators)

15, 16______________ Austin Barvin, Connor Schon______________________________


23   PAPER DUE: Write you own “translation” of Eugene Onegin into the United States (or your native

country) of 2014, in whatever genre you deem appropriate. Be sure to include the

author’s persona and the characters’ metamorphoses. See web site for examples.

Nabokov’s Commentary to Onegin: Encyclopedic? Opinionated?

Student Presentation: Nabokov’s persona and the reader

17, 18 __________Susannah Greenblatt, David Whitney_____________________________________


25   Invitation to a Beheading (first half)
StudentPresentation: blue and red

19, 20__________Gillian Rochkind, Veronica Harrington_________________________________


30   Invitation to a Beheading (finish)

Student Presentation: the spider and the pencil

21, 22__________Asie Makarova, Connor Schon________________________________



2     The Real Life of Sebastian Knight: books (first half)

Student Presentation: Sebastian Knight’s bookshelf

23, 24__________Aryeh Lieber, Aaron Kelly-Penso_______________________________

     Write for next class: who wrote which book(s)? Write one clearly

formulated page with your reasoning; to do this, track traces of SK’s books

throughout VN’s novel.


7     The Real Life of Sebastian Knight: art invades life—Sebastian’s characters (finish)

Presentation: grey vs. silver; black and violet; ghosts; art and life; the hereafter

25, 26___________Jeremiah Monk, Emily Butcher_________________________


9     The Gift: fiction or autobiography? (chapters 1, 2)

Presentation: Speak, Memory and The Gift: points of contact

27, 28__________   Molly Hastings, Sara  Swaminathan______________________


14     The Gift (Chapters 3, 4)

Presentation: the Chernyshevsky biography

29, 30__________Nick Martino, Sam Wheeler_______________________________

cf. Sir Isaiah Berlin, Russian Thinkers, pp. 224-231


16     The Gift (finish)

Presentation: blues, buttterflies, prefiguration, apotheosis

31, 32___________Jonah Lipton, AJ Abrams_____________________________

Write for next class: what will happen to Fyodor after we leave him?


21     Fall break


23    PAPER DUE: motif study (~4pp.) See web page “motif study” guidelines.

As efficiently as possible, trace a motif and show how it creates meaning in the text,

using any of the last three novels we have read. Prepare to present your findings in

class in 2 minutes, with a handout containing page citations of your motif and a

paragraph summarizing its meaning. Remember that the goal is the interpretation,

and that motifs create connections among fields of meaning.


cf. D.B.Johnson, Worlds in Regression, “Alphabetic Rainbows in Speak, Memory

(on reserve in Olin)


Peer review

Exchange papers with a classmate after class, edit each other, and submit both your first and second

drafts, using your editor’s comments. See web page “peer review” guidelines.


Class discussion: The Gift, circularity, the key motif, Fyodor’s artistic growth.


28           Pnin: use Gene Barabtarlo’s Phantom of Fact as you Reread (first half)

Presentation: Squirrels, mermaids, glass slippers, fairy tales

33, 34________Molly Hastings, Sophie Chabon_______________________________

Article: Charles Nicol, “Pnin’s History,” in Novel, Vol. 4, N. 3 (Spring 1971)


30         Pnin (finish)

Presentation: Who is the Narrator?

35, 36________Asie Makarova, Emily Butcher________________________________



4           Lolita: Muses—Terpsichore, Mnemosyne and others (Part One)

Presentation: AnnabelLeigh/Annabel Lee

37, 38_________Avigayl Sharp, Jonah Lipton_______________________________


6           Lolita: Humbert as Romantic Narrator: the poet or the madman? (through Part II,19)

Presentation: 39, 40____Leo Grossman, Matt Finkel__________________________

Read:Tamir-Ghez, “Rhetorical Manipulation etc.”


11         Lolita: The Status of Quilty (finish)

Presentation: Quilty, Schiller and Doppelgangers

41, 42________Aryeh Lieber, Anna Bisikalo________________________________

cf. Otto Rank, The Double in Literature (Sci Li)

Ralph Tymms, The Double in Literature


13       Lolita as a treatise on literary aesthetics

Presentation: Lolita and Onegin

43, 44________Gillian Rochkind, Veronica Harrington_________________________

Read: P. Meyer, Find What the Sailor Has Hidden, Chap. 1

(xerox and book on reserve)



18       Pale Fire: Shade’s Poem (Start reading from Kinbote’s Foreword)
Presentation: Great Art? Parody? Wasteland?

45, 46________Nick Martino, Sam Wheeler__________________________


20       Pale Fire: Kinbote’s Commentary (through note to line 275)

Presentation: Mirrors and projections: Kinbote, Shade and Gradus

47, 48________Sophie Chabon, Avigayl Sharp__________________________


25     Pale Fire: Kinbote as Commentator (finish)

Write for next class: What “actually” happened in the final scene? Angles of distortion?


27       Thanksgiving




2         DUE: Proposal for final paper, submitted by e-mail to

Pale Fire: synthesis: Kinbote vs. Nabokov

Presentation: where do the disparate views come together?

49, 50_______AJ Abrams, Aaron Kelly-Penso___________________________


4     “Signs and Symbols” and “The Vane Sisters” (xerox)

Class interpretation: what are the problems posed by each story?

Final papers due first day of exam week, to be delivered to my mailbox in the Russian dept. office, 212 Fisk Hall