Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0016078, Tue, 11 Mar 2008 11:55:48 -0400

Re: "of Russian descent"
John Morris wrote: The "prevalence of Botkins" in Virginia is interesting
but irrelevant if our Botkin is an emigre, as he surely must be. The fact
that VN called him an "American scholar of Russian descent" only reflects
VN's preferred diction -- he used it for himself too, you will recall: "I am
an American writer, born in Russia..." etc

MR: While I'm not sure that "American" describes "scholar" in quite the
same way it describes "writer"-- in the latter the writing itself has a
national tint, while it's harder, though not impossible, to see scholarship
through a national lens -- I can certainly see the logic of this
association. The real problem lies with the word "descent," which clearly
(at least in my understanding of that phrase) denotes at least one step or
remove downward/away from the origin. So "American writer, born in Russia"
seems quite different to me than "American scholar of Russian descent." At
the same time, I have to acknowledge the fact that Mary McCarthy, without
any help from VN, concluded that Botkin was a "refugee pedant," so it
appears that she read "of Russian descent" in the way John Morris proposes.
And then, of course, we have VN's own words in that interview with the
NYHT--though I should say that he says a number of things in that
(unscripted?) interview which appear to be curiously inaccurate, as DBJ
points out in his "Field Guide" article.

Matt Roth (American scholar of Swiss descent)

PS. I am attempting to ILL that uncollected interview. When I get it, I
will at some point transcribe the whole thing and post it (or attach it as a
.pdf) since I don't believe it is available anywhere on the net at this

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