Normal, Will. Nabokov's Wrong Turns. 2021

Bibliographic title
Nabokov's Wrong Turns
Periodical or collection
Nabokov Online Journal
Periodical issue
v. 15
Publication year

In his essay “Nabokov’s Wrong Turns,” Will Norman (University of Kent) traces the concept of history as it appears in the work of Vladimir Nabokov, and makes the claim that Nabokov’s mid-career works such as Bend Sinister (1947) show the way in which he participated in a distinctive crisis in liberal historiography corresponding to World War Two and totalitarianism. The figure of the “wrong turn,” described in his introduction to Bend Sinister, offers a way of grasping Nabokov’s historical engagements dialectically, and distinguishing between different concepts of history as they relate to one another: the idea of history as a pure contingency; as a coherent process; and as nightmare logic. The essay situates Nabokov in relation to several traditions of historiography, including ancient Greek, Hegelian and Marxist, as well as comparing Nabokov’s views to those of émigré coevals such as Hannah Arendt and Karl Popper. Norman concludes by suggesting some of the ways in which key Nabokovian concerns, such as immortality and style, might be reframed in the light of these discussions.