NABOKV-L post 0014375, Thu, 14 Dec 2006 11:24:09 -0500

VN as an American writer
CHW wrote:
>SES remarks that VN influenced many American authors, but my question about the reverse influence of American authors on VN is not addressed. [. . .] In what other country could VN’s works be logically catalogued, and under what heading? I would have thought that VN’s very “best reader”, no contest, would have been Graham Greene

I believe that Edgar A. Poe, one of the young VN's favorite writers, had a deep, varied, and lasting influence on him -- even though he later claimed to have outgrown Poe. (Interestingly, Poe too fits oddly into the canon of American literature.)

Actually, most libraries, at least in the U.S., divide his works between "Russian Literature" and "American Literature"; I have encountered a few that catalogue all of them as "Russian Literature." As far as I know, there are no libraries that categorize his entire oeuvre as "American," as he had suggested. (Suellen Stringer-Hye, can you shed light on this?)

The context for VN's remarks on "best readers" suggest that he was thinking in terms of a popular audience rather than critics and reviewers. (He may have once considered Edmund Wilson one of his "best readers," but then thought better of it.)

Nevertheless, I am quite willing to agree with Charles that to some extent VN remained only "technically" American -- although I think that this was a deliberate choice on his part, especially after LOLITA. In my most recent essay on the subject,* I argue that VN's complicated relationship to his adopted country -- especially as an expatriate -- consciously mirrored his relationship to his Russian homeland. As he himself explained in an interview: "I think I am trying to develop, in this rosy exile, the same fertile nostalgia in regard to America, my new country, as I evolved for Russia, my old one" (SO 49).


* “‘By Some Sleight of Land’: How Nabokov Rewrote America.” Cambridge Companion to Vladimir Nabokov. Ed. Julian Connolly. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. 65-84.

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