NABOKV-L post 0006281, Wed, 26 Dec 2001 15:54:02 -0800

Spelling of Anna Karenina. Responses from Aksenov & Diment (fwd)
From: Will Schultz <>

All -

This question has always had a certain charm for me, so here are my

We can explain the "inconsistency" . I strongly disagree that, at least
in the case of Nabokov and his philosophy of art, a scrutiny of
consistency is "a bugaboo of small minds". As we all know, VN would
relentlessly hound editors, translators and anyone who would alter so
much as a comma of his work. In this novel about a Russian immigrant
teaching literature whose life has many parallels with VN's, and who in
his working life continually heard the Karenina/Karenin pronunciations,
certainly the correct naming in English of one of the most treasured
works in the literary pantheon of his beloved mother language could not
have slipped by him as any kind of accident. It is rather another very
subtle and fine example of the use of precision in his art.

VN had made fun of those who had broken or would break the rule by
creating a character in Laughter in the Dark - a mediocre actress named
Doriana Karenina. VN mocks her by having the villain of the piece, Axel
Rex, who is "irritated" by her name, make a reference to Tostoi. Also,
in Pnin, a joke is made (whose meaning requires far less knowledge of
Russian or literature): rumor has it that upon completing the Russian
courses of a particularly demanding prof, one could practically "read
Anna Karamazov" in the original. Notice that, metrically, the four
syllables created by this hilarious hybrid match Karenina. Finally, in
Strong Opinions, VN again states that, when speaking or writing English,
it should be Anna Karenin, not Karenina, because "she was not a
ballerina" .

It is first necessary to understand that the termination -a is only
used when speaking or writing in Russian. Translations into English
eliminate the variable form, omitting the a and using the masculine
pronunciation of a surname, as in Countess Tolstoy or Madame Blavatsky.
One does not use Countess Tolstoya or Madame Blavatskaya when speaking

Pnin resides in, or is caught between two worlds, or is even two people
according to at least one interpretation. Further - this is a novel by a
Russian genius who delights in trompe l'oeils, puns and linguistic
double entendres, writing about the experience of Russians in the U.S.
trying to adapt to a new wolrd and communicate in its language. So this
confusion has of course been co-opted by the master as an element to
further dislocate Pnin and fool readers less familiar with this
particular issue in Russian-English translation. In chapter 4, Pnin is
speaking with Victor, but in a Russian linguistic as well as
psychological frame of mind - he goes on , in broken English, to
reminisce about his youth. When Pnin says "Anna Karenina", VN is showing
his linguistic limitation and also perhaps his difficulty in
relinquishing certain Russianisms. In chapter 5 we meet Bolotov - a
character VN mocks, but whose English is stronger than Pnin's (as is
almost any other Russian émigré's) so he uses the correct form.

I believe that in Pnin the master put this detail in place as
thoughtfully as he did any other. There was no "oversight".

(By the way - any opinion on whether Bolotov might be a masculine
rendering of Ayn Rand - whose work I find well summarized in the Bolotov

I am gladdened by the emergence of the Penguin Classic I purchased in
the late 80's, which uses the proper Karenin throughout and provides an
explanatory note on the translator's rationale.

Will Schultz