NABOKV-L post 0014384, Thu, 14 Dec 2006 12:38:47 EST

Re: VN as an American writer
SES wrote:

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.)

In pursuit of this thread I looked up EAP, and was rather surprised to learn
that he'd been educated in Scotland and England between the ages of 15 and
20. I do think of him as an American writer, but of a rather peculiar kind. He
was popular in England, among the neurotic middle classes, and even more so
in France, I believe, among the upper intelligentsia. I wouldn't like to fix
a postal address on the House of Usher. It seems to hover in a sort
Neo-Gothic country of its own. Not exactly American Gothic, though.

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.)

Perfectly true. I was fencing a bit sneakily. Greene was nevertheless an
extremely important, almost a key "reader" for VN. Comparative national sales
figures would no doubt answer this question.

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

I was led on to wonder if Conrad could truly be described as an "English"
writer. I believe Karen Blixen never even set foot in England, nor would one
call her precisely a "colonial" writer. She features, incongruously, in the new
DNB, a publication with which I am seriously at odds. Can Beckett really be
called a "French" writer? Eliot eventually became quite English, unlike (ugh)
Pound. This sort of categorization is perhaps unworthy of any discussion of
"art", which I suppose should be above and beyond any such petty
constrictions. I still find it misleading, however, to describe VN as an American writer,
as it seems to me that all his works, without exception, are the products of
a very distinctive European sensibility, and European culture. Not that I've
read everything he wrote.


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