Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0023805, Mon, 18 Mar 2013 22:54:58 -0400

Re: Pitzer's Secret History
Dear List: Pitzer's book is excellent and it show some superior research. i am an Nabokophile from childhood as were my parents, and she really dug out important data.

-----Original Message-----
From: Roth, Matthew <mroth@MESSIAH.EDU>
Sent: Mon, Mar 18, 2013 7:11 pm
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] Pitzer's Secret History

Dear list,

See below for a more uniformly positive review of Andrea Pitzer’s book (from the Boston Globe). It seems to me that Sniderman (in the Salon/LA Review review) is too dismissive of the book’s central concern—how VN embedded “the story of his family [and] the story of his century” within the weave of his novels. Sniderman claims that Pitzer is a “solemn reader” who sees VN’s work as “a mere apparatus for capturing history.” But that is a severely reductive reading of the book. Sniderman grudgingly gives credit to Pitzer for her historical research but then declares that Pitzer’s approach is out of bounds because “to read his works solemnly and solely for historical clues is to strip away the magic of that art.” But that criticism gives Pitzer power she does not have or, I am certain, desire. Nowhere does Pitzer claim that her reading is meant to negate other readings; she is not trying to reclaim territory in a turf war. I have read the book and found it engaging, revelatory in places, and exceedingly respectful of other interpretations and interpreters. Sniderman’s problem, it seems to me, is that she is too rigid in her own approach to VN. She sees Pitzer’s approach as a threat to her own, whereas a more generous reader might simply be grateful for the addition of another lens through which to view some of VN’s most important work.

Matt Roth

The Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov
By Andrea Pitzer
Pegasus, 432 pp., illustrated, $29.95
Unlike fellow Russian writers, from Solzhenitsyn to Pasternak, who openly grappled with history in their work, Vladimir Nabokov has long been understood as above all a master of form, an almost impossibly gorgeous stylist, a linguistic virtuoso whose works glided past the wars, revolutions, and genocides that scarred 20th-century Europe. This perception, argues Andrea Pitzer, is simply wrong. Born into aristocratic wealth in Imperial Russia, Nabokov watched his family’s way of life implode, was exiled as a teenager, lost his father to political assassination, fled from Berlin with his Jewish wife and son in the 1930s, and just managed to get out of Vichy France before that country began sending Jewish refugees to the Nazis’ camps. Rather than averting his writerly gaze from these horrors, she says, Nabokov grappled with them in his own way: Indeed, as Pitzer points out when describing his youth, “the violence of the world and the search to escape it would soon become a theme in Nabokov’s life and a dominant feature of his work.” In “Lolita,” “Pnin,” “Pale Fire,” and other books, Nabokov was able to “tuck history into the seams of his story in such a way that it becomes visible only on a return trip.”

Here, Pitzer takes readers on that trip, integrating Nabokov’s biography with a close reading of his works, asserting that amid some of the century’s most playful, glittering prose lurked the author’s “own private map, revealing the most profound losses of his life and the forgotten traumas of his age.” Pitzer sees “Lolita,” for instance, as not merely “a cruel book about cruelty,” as Martin Amis called it, but as an inventory of American anti-Semitism, “a shadow map with the coordinates of exclusion and bigotry.” Pitzer, like Nabokov, is a beautiful writer and gimlet-eyed observer, especially about her subject; even as an impoverished refugee living in America, she writes, “Nabokov was never shy about his sense of self.” Her attention to history’s moral components is refreshingly blunt: “The dead are not nameless,” she writes of the writers and others killed in Stalin’s Great Purge of the late 1930s. Inviting us to reconsider Nabokov, Pitzer also introduces herself as a writer worthy of attention.

Google Search the archive

Contact the Editors

Visit "Nabokov Online Journal"

Visit Zembla

View Nabokv-L Policies

Manage subscription options

Visit AdaOnline

View NSJ Ada Annotations

Temporary L-Soft Search the archive

All private editorial communications areread by both co-editors.

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors: mailto:nabokv-l@utk.edu,nabokv-l@holycross.edu
Visit Zembla: http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/zembla.htm
View Nabokv-L policies: http://web.utk.edu/~sblackwe/EDNote.htm
Visit "Nabokov Online Journal:" http://www.nabokovonline.com

Manage subscription options: http://listserv.ucsb.edu/