Doubles in Conrad and Nabokov

Ludmilla Voitkovska, University of Saskatchewan

Expatriate fiction abounds with doubles. Conrad's disconnection from both the parent and the adopted culture transforms as an escape into the specific worlds he knew intimately: the world of seamen and the worlds of exotic or non-existent countries, heavily populated with male doubles (Jim and Marlow, Jim and Brown, Jim and Brierly, Razumov and Haldin, Razumov and the Language teacher, Decoud and Nostromo, not to mention the Captain and Leggatt). Nabokov's literary universe is populated by doubles of both genders: Annabel and Lolita (Lolita), Kinbote and Shade in Pale Fire.

Framed by a specifically literary anxiety of identity (or, alternatively stated, by the problematic nature of literary freedom) the fictional double is best assessed and interpreted from within a socio-linguistic and anthropological context. In essence, the simple possibility of a non-referential literary universe, predicated on the simple fact that language can shape a double of the world, creates conditions wherein any self-conscious use of literary language involves, implicitly, the creation of duplicity and the doubling of the referential self. And, consequently, the change of the language, which happens with the change of the culture in case of expatriation, results in doubling of the self caused by the simultaneous existence of the two cultural and linguistic archetypes in the expatriate's psyche. In expatriate fiction, doubles particularly strongly demonstrate how major political structures and ideological constructs translate into the formation of an individual psyche and character, reflect in actions, emotions, and relationships.

Both Conrad and Nabokov dramatize their relationships with the parent and/or adopted culture through the protagonist's relationships with doubles and/or women. In Conrad's novels, the protagonist, is developing emotionally charged relationships with men symbolically representing his parent culture: Jim and Brierly, Jim and Brown, Razumov and Haldin, Decoud and Nostromo. The displaced protagonist develops intimate relationships with women who belong either to the culture different than the protagonist or to the same culture. These relationships never end in a happy marriage which is Conrad's statement of the protagonist's essential incompatibility with both parent culture (Razumov and Natalia Haldin, Decoud and Antonia Avellianos, Kurtz and Intended) and with the adopted culture (Jim and Jewel, Janko Gooral and Amy Foster, Verlok and Winnie).

Unlike Conrad, who prefers male doubles, Nabokov experiments with doubles of both genders. However, the doubling stays within the paradigm of the parent-adopted culture relationship. Lolita, a double of Humbert Humbert's first love, belongs to the protagonist's adopted culture, while Annabel is a part of his past in Europe. Humbert Humbert loses both women, and the difference in the circumstances of the loss reflects Nabokov's relationship with both cultures. Annabel, the woman from the parent culture, unexpectedly dies of typhus in her teens, leaving the protagonist with the sense of irretrievable loss. This relationship mirrors Nabokov's poignantly nostalgic relationship with Russia he lost as a teenager. Lolita, a "distinguishingly conventional" (Lolita 136) American girl who allures and eludes him at the same time, is an embodiment of Nabokov's feelings for America which he sees as "a combination of naФvetИ and deception, of charm and vulgarity" (Lolita 136) with its "sweet hit jazz, square dancing, gooey fudge sundaes, musicals, movie magazines" (Lolita 136).

Both Conrad and Nabokov use narrative doubles to represent the process of reading an expatriate text. The narrator and the reader are placed around the narrative which may belong yet to another speaker. In Conrad's fiction, the story is often told by the third party, the protagonist's narrative double, who represents either the parent culture (Marlow) or the adopted culture (English Teacher, Kennedy, the county doctor in Amy Foster).

Nabokov uses the figure of an editor who is either a protagonist of the narrative (Charles Kinbote in Pale Fire) or a figure uninvolved in the plot (John Ray Jr. in Lolita ). Charles Kinbote and Shade's relationship revolves around writing an expatriate text. In Conrad, the story is told either from the perspective foreign to the protagonist, or from the perspective of the person who shares the same culture but does not have the experience of expatriation. Both writers use the device of a diary as the foundation of the narrative (Lolita, Under Western Eyes ). The intricate narrative structure involving narrative doubles accounts for the implicit critical discourse about how one writes and reads an expatriate text, as well as for creating the atmosphere of retrospection, which is one of the essential archetypes of expatriate fiction.

The "Right" versus the "Wrong" Child: Shades of Pain in Bend Sinister (with Reference to Pnin)

Elena Sommers, University of Rochester

As the reader finishes the last page of Bend Sinister, he might find himself on shaky ground. After being made a silent witness of an elaborately thought out and staged torture of the eight-year-old David, the curtain is drawn and one is left on his own to deal with the haunting mental picture of the little boy's terrible end. While trying to determine why Nabokov chose to go into such excruciating detail in his portrayal of violence against the most vulnerable, this essay will analyze the means by which the writer communicates the most "language-resistant" phenomenon--"the intense physical pain of another."

Brian Boyd argues that "only through the imagination can we mortals act with sufficient thought for another's pain, and on this level of our real lives even a novelist's or a novel-reader's imagination--this novelist, Vladimir Nabokov, this reader, you and I--will often fall short" (AY, 287). In Bend Sinister and Pnin Nabokov forces one to picture the circumstances of the victims' deaths by providing different scenarios of what could have happened. I will show how Nabokov deconstructs the process of torture in order for the reader to then reconstruct it in his imagination, which results in a literal, physical feeling of pain.

Continuously upsetting the reader's world, in Bend Sinister Nabokov transforms a nanny, a nurse and a female doctor, the figures traditionally associated with nurturing and mothering, into the members of a fine-tuned murder team. Followed by a curious reader, the trio of the Bachofen sisters (Mariette, Linda and Doktor Amalia), will carefully and professionally carry out specifically assigned roles instrumental to David's torture and murder.

According to Richard Rorty, the inability to notice someone else's suffering (an echo of Humbert's failure to notice Charlotte's mourning the death of her two-year old son, and Lolita's dealing with the loss of her brother) is the ultimate example of incuriosity--a form of cruelty which concerned Nabokov the most. Bend Sinister tests the level of the reader's curiosity by briefly introducing the figure of another child, who is brought to Krug by mistake after he agrees to cooperate with the government on the condition of his son's immediate release. The cruel irony of the situation is that for desperate Krug, "a thin frightened boy of twelve or thirteen," obviously beaten, with his head "newly bandaged," is just "someone else's child," the "wrong boy," who being labeled as one ends up being disposed of just like David himself. Crucial details of the novel may be missed during the first reading, something Nabokov no doubt realized. Writing his introduction in 1963, seventeen years after completing Bend Sinister, Nabokov makes sure Arvid Krug is mentioned. Pointing out the accompanying theme of the novel, "the theme of dim-brained brutality which thwarts its own purpose by destroying the right child and keeping the wrong one" (165), the writer is setting up the disturbing "right" child/"wrong" child opposition, challenging the reader's attention to detail--a challenge which in Nabokov's terms should translate into curiosity and therefore compassion.

"You know what's so dreadful about dying is that you are completely on your own," says Lolita referring to her little brother who died at the age of two. In Bend Sinister Nabokov does not patronize us with a happy ending and does appear to leave David and Arvid completely on their own without suggesting any otherworldly or emotional way out. Ellen Pifer notes that in Nabokov's world "betraying the child's innocence signifies the greatest evil known to man or constitutes nothing less than a crime against the cosmos." Struggling with the issues of pain, death and afterlife Bend Sinister makes a point of challenging our sense of compassion, testing the level of our curiosity and exposing our sensitivity to the graphic images of torture, so that after finishing the novel, the image of David peacefully looking into the reader's eyes before going "down the few steps that remained" to meet his eight executioners, is still with us as the image of the ultimate betrayal.



Vladimir Nabokov and Arthur Schopenhauer

Savely Senderovich, Cornell University, and Yelena Shvarts,
Independent Scholar

Arthur Schopenhouer was a major philosophical influence in Russian culture of the second half of the nineteenth century (esp. Tjutchev, Turgenev, Fet, L. Tolstoj), but his major impact can be seen in the beginning of the twentieth century, with the Symbolists and more widely with the artists of avant-garde. While his importance in the nineteenth century has been more or less studied, early twentieth century remains in this regard little illuminated. But the reliance of the next generation of Russian writers on Schopenhauer's philosophy hardly has been touched on. Vladimir Nabokov is a case in point.

Brought up in the atmosphere of the Silver Age of Russian culture, Vladimir Nabokov fully absorbed it, and his own art is permeated by it in the most profound way. The Silver Age was centered on the avant-garde theater, the theory of which was largely based on Schopenhauer's conception of the world as will and representation.

The main metaphor used by the philosopher for the representation of his world was theater which made his philosophy a splendid tool for treating theater as the most important phenomenon in the world. Vjach. Ivanov, Sologub, Blok, Mejerxol'd and Evreinov used it just in this sense. Nabokov conceptualized the avant-garde theater as the phenomenal foundation of his novelistic world. A number of our papers have been dedicated to the illumination of this point. This paper is intended to show that Schopenhouer's philosophy became a favorite frame of reference of his intertextually oriented language.

The paper is going to analyze several passages from Nabokov's novels and demonstrate that they can be understood vis-э-vis corresponding passages in Schopenhauer and then explain the significance of the language of these passages for the novelist's artistic world and in the broad context of the philosopher's thought. In this light, minuscule components of Nabokov's language will become seen as indices of principal features of his world .


What If Nabokov Had Written
"Dvojnik": Reading Dostoevskij Preposterously

Eric Naiman, University of California, Berkeley

My paper brings together two different narrative strategies from the worlds of narratology and
history. In Pnin Nabokov uses the phrase "preposterous oversight." In its superficial context, the
phrase is used to refer to Pnin's fear of forgetting something that will, as a result, have a
catastrophic influence on his life. Yet the phrase has larger, metafictive implications, for
preposterous oversight is a fine description of the various stories other characters --and the
narrator--tell about him. Finally, preposterous oversight refers to the duty of the ideal
Nabokovian reader. As originally used, "preposterous" meant backwards, placing the end
before the beginning. And that is precisely how Nabokov's novels must always be read--you
can't grasp the beginning until you have read the end. Recently historians have appropriated a
term originally developed in philosophy and cognitive psychology: counterfactual analysis. They
use it to engage in creative speculation about what would have happened had a specific
historical event not occurred (or if it had occurred differently). Much recent work has focused
on the end of World War II, but counterfactual articles have also been written about the end of
the Cold War and the Decembrist "uprising."

I want to bring these two modes of reading together to envision a "preposterous" model for
intertextual studies. This paper will be resolutely anachronistic, asking how we would read
Dostoevskij's "Dvojnik" if Nabokov had written it, or--more precisely--how we would read it if
we believed it to have issued from Nabokov's pen. I believe that this approach will have a
number of pay-offs.

First, it treats literary history as if it were not only about fiction but were fiction, fiction that is
best read preposterously (in the etymological sense of the word). We should remember that
those of us who read novels pretend to segregate our reading of fiction from our reading (and
writing) about fiction's history, but this segregation is not hermetic. Moreover, our reading of a
particular work of fiction is often preposterous, colored by works written after it but which we
readers have already read. Second, the paper will raise questions about what Nabokov might
have learned from Dostoevskij, how his own, anachronistic understanding of Dostoevskij might
have affected his approach to his own fiction.

Third, in its chronologically perverse reading of Dostoevskij, the paper will attempt to shake
new meaning from an old work through temporal defamiliarization. More specifically, I want to
see if I can make a convincing case for Dostoevskij as the precursor of modern metafiction. It is
no discovery that Dostoevskij wrote about fiction, but I want to portray him--and "Dvojnik" in
particular--as a text in which author and hero are adversaries within the text. (A glance at
Baxtin's early essay "Author and Hero" will also be included and read (a bit less)
preposterously--as if it were already informed by his study of Dostoevskij's poetics.)