University of Winchester
Dissertation title: “The Literary Web”
Supervisor: Dr Carolin Esser-Miles
Year of Registration: 2010 Date of completion: March 2014
Is the History of the Book the Future of Nabokov Studies?
The publication of The Original of Laura in 2009 marked a landmark in Nabokov studies, not for its aesthetic value, but rather for the material turn necessitated through the unfinished novel’s facsimile format. Nabokov’s authority has dominated critical interpretation of his works in the first few decades of intensive Nabokov studies since his death, as many critics have suggested that we must mine his works for the sanctioned solution of a literary puzzle. Such an approach ignores the presence of the many other agents of print who influence the composition of the printed text, most memorably visualised by Robert Darnton’s communication circuit of the book. Darnton evokes the pirates, rogue printers, bowdlerisers, reviewers and periodical publishers, not to mention the readers, who influence the ways in which a particular text is read and understood. A return to the material Nabokov – who wrote and revised on index cards, was greatly concerned with the cover art and typographical errors of the paperback editions of his works, and ensured that only his final drafts were preserved by the Library of Congress – reveals a more complex picture of the author than initially portrayed. Through re-assessing material evidence afforded to us in archives, reprints and extant manuscripts, as well as Nabokov’s obsession with agents of the book trade in Lolita, Pale Fire and Ada, the current project proposes that a book historical approach to Nabokov will expand the hermeneutic possibilities of analysing his oeuvre.