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Authors: Brian Boyd

Tags: #Literary Criticism/European/General

Stalking Nabokov

Stalking Nabokov

Stalking Nabokov


Brian Boyd

Columbia University Press New York

Columbia University Press

Publishers Since 1893

New York Chichester, West Sussex

Copyright © 2011 Columbia University Press

All rights reserved

E-ISBN 978-0-231-53029-3

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Boyd, Brian, 1952–

Stalking Nabokov : selected essays / Brian Boyd.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 978-0-231-15856-5 (cloth : acid-free paper)

ISBN 978-0-231-53029-3 (e-book)

1. Nabokov, Vladimar Vladimirovich, 1899–1977—

Criticism and interpretation. I. Title.

PG3476.N3Z587   2011

813′.54—dc22              2011008348

A Columbia University Press E-book.

CUP would be pleased to hear about your reading experience with this e-book at
[email protected]

To Bronwen

and to my friends in the Nabokov world



List of Abbreviations


Nabokov: The Writer’s Life and the Life Writer

1. A Centennial Toast (1999)

2. A Biographer’s Life (2001)

3. Who Is “My Nabokov”? (2007)

Nabokov’s Manuscripts and Books

4. The Nabokov Biography and the Nabokov Archive (1992)

5. From the Nabokov Archive: Nabokov’s Literary Legacy (2009)

Nabokov’s Metaphysics

6. Retrospects and Prospects (2001)

7. Nabokov’s Afterlife (2002)

Nabokov’s Butterflies

8. Nabokov, Literature, Lepidoptera (2000)

9. Netting Nabokov: Review of Dieter E. Zimmer,
A Guide to Nabokov’s Butterflies and Moths, 2001

Nabokov as Psychologist

10. The Psychological Work of Fictional Play (2010)

Nabokov and the Origins and Ends of Stories

11. Stacks of Stories, Stories of Stacks (2010)

Nabokov as Writer

12. Nabokov’s Humor (1996)

13. Nabokov as Storyteller (2002)

14. Nabokov’s Transition from Russian to English: Repudiation or Evolution? (2007)

Nabokov and Others

15. Nabokov, Pushkin, Shakespeare: Genius, Generosity, and Gratitude in
The Gift and Pale Fire

16. Nabokov as Verse Translator: Introduction to
Verses and Versions

17. Tolstoy and Nabokov (1993)

18. Nabokov and Machado de Assis (2009)

Nabokov Works

Speak, Memory
: The Life and the Art (1990)

Speak, Memory
: Nabokov, Mother, and Lovers: The Weave of the Magic Carpet (1999)

: Scene and Unseen (2006)

22. Even Homais Nods: Nabokov’s Fallibility; Or, How to Revise

23. Literature, Pattern,
; Or, Art, Literature, Science (2008)

24. “Pale Fire”: Poem and Pattern (2010)

: The Bog and the Garden; Or, Straw, Fluff, and Peat: Sources and Places in

26. A Book Burner Recants:
The Original of Laura





I would like to thank the late Vladimir Nabokov for giving readers, and especially this reader, such pleasure, the late Véra Nabokov for inviting me to sort out her husband’s archives and for trusting me enough to tolerate my researching his biography; and Dmitri Nabokov and the late Elena Sikorski for their support, hospitality, and friendship, and Dmitri also for permission to quote all unpublished Nabokov material.

I would like to thank the following writers, editors, publishers, colleagues, students, and friends for inviting me to contribute to conferences, journals, books, talks, or discussions, or for ideas or feedback, or for giving me permission to reproduce the material that follows: Martin Amis, Harold Augenbraum (then of Mercantile Library of New York), André Bernard (then of Harcourt), Marijeta Bozovic (then of
), Matthew Brillinger, Lisa Browar (then of the New York Public Library), Patricia Carr Brückmann (Trinity College, University of Toronto), Linda Corman (Trinity College Library, University of Toronto), Mo Cohen (Gingko Press), Julian Connolly, Peter Craven (then of
), Galya Diment, Alexander Dolinin, Kristin Eliasberg (then of PEN Center, New York), George Gibian, Jane Grayson (then of SEES, University of London), R. S. Gwynn, Jean Holabird, Don Barton Johnson (including as editor of
Nabokov Studies
), Kurt Johnson, Frederic R. Karl (
Bibliography and Source Studies
), Zoran Kuzmanovich (including as editor of
Nabokov Studies
), Shoko Miura (Nabokov Society of Japan), Akiko Nakata (Nabokov Society of Japan), Fred Neubauer (Einhard Foundation), Will Norman, Mitsuyoshi Numano (Nabokov Society of Japan), Stephen Jan Parker (including as editor of
The Nabokovian
), Rodney Phillips (then of the New York Public Library), Robert Michael Pyle, Stanley J. Rabinowitz, Stanislas Shvabrin, Claudio Soares, Vadim Stark (then of the Institute of Russian Literature and Art, St. Petersburg), Mio Suda (
), Anthony Uhlmann (Australasian Association for Literature), Deanne Urmy (then of Beacon Press), Frédéric Verger (
La Revue des Deux Mondes
), Olga Voronina (then of the Vladimir Nabokov Museum, St. Petersburg), Tadashi Wakashima (Nabokov Society of Japan), Duncan White, Robert Wilson (
American Scholar
), Dieter E. Zimmer, and Irene Zohrab (
New Zealand Slavonic Journal
). There are many other Nabokovian friends, including some of the most gifted, distinguished, and treasured, with whom I have exchanged ideas and information or from whom I have received invitations, whose names are not listed here only because space is finite and gratitude endless, and because I do not remember specific debts to them in any of
pieces. But for other debts, friendship, and common interests, you are certainly included in the dedication, after Bronwen, to whom I owe most.


Books by Vladimir Nabokov unless otherwise noted. For full bibliographical details, see the bibliography.

Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Bend Sinister
Conclusive Evidence
Dear Bunny, Dear Volodya: The Nabokov-Wilson Letters, 1940–1971
Alexander Pushkin,
Eugene Onegin
, trans. with commentary by Vladimir Nabokov
The Gift
Invitation to a Beheading
King, Queen, Knave
Lolita: A Screenplay
Look at the Harlequins!
Lectures on
Don Quixote
Lectures on Literature
The Annotated Lolita
, ed. Alfred Appel Jr. (1st ed., 1970)
Lectures on Russian Literature
The Man from the USSR and Other Plays
Brian Boyd,
: The Place of Consciousness
(2nd ed., 2001)
Nikolay Gogol
Brian Boyd,
Pale Fire:
The Magic of Artistic Discovery
Nabokov’s Butterflies
Pale Fire
Poems and Problems
The Real Life of Sebastian Knight
The Song of Igor’s Campaign
Selected Letters, 1940–1977
Speak, Memory
Strong Opinions’
Stories of Vladimir Nabokov
Transparent Things
Vladimir Nabokov Archive, Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection, New York Public Library
Brian Boyd,
Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years
Brian Boyd,
Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years


I was born two generations after Vladimir Nabokov. A butterfly location label in the Cornell Lepidoptera collection tells me that on the day of my birth, at Scout Creek near the “altogether enchanting little town of Afton,” Wyoming (
323), Nabokov stalked and caught a female of a butterfly of a new subspecies he had named three years earlier (
Lycaeides argyrognomon longinus
Nabokov 1949).
That day, I could express myself only by squalling, but Nabokov almost certainly added to the manuscript of
, perhaps even the passage in the Men’s Room of the Enchanted Hunters Hotel— “There a person in clerical black—a ‘hearty party’
comme on dit—
checking with the assistance of Vienna, if it was still there, inquired of me how I had liked Dr. Boyd’s talk, and looked puzzled when I (King Sigmund the Second) said Boyd was quite a boy”—or the fatal passage describing the next morning: “and for some minutes I miserably dozed, and Charlotte was a mermaid in a greenish tank, and somewhere in the passage Dr. Boyd said ‘Good morning to you’ in a fruity voice, and birds were busy in the trees, and then Lolita yawned” (
127, 134).

In high school, long before I became Dr. Boyd, I began reading Nabokov so intensely that his way of seeing the world partly shaped mine. I started a doctoral dissertation on his work while he was still alive, but to my shock and consternation learned that he was not time-proof and that I would be writing most of it after his death. For Véra Nabokov I catalogued the paper pile he had left behind in Montreux, Switzerland, and for his biography I followed his trail across Russia, England, Western Europe, and America. Since completing the biography I have explored new fields, but Nabokov keeps pulling me back. By now I have published a pile of my own on him, some of it well known, some not. When recently I had reason to consult one of my less well-known efforts, I decided others might like to see this stuff.

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