Colloque International : « Vladimir Nabokov et la France »
Les Chercheurs enchantés : Société Française Vladimir Nabokov
Paris, 30 mai-1er juin 2013
PERHONEN, Mikko – Helskinki, Finland
Master and Disciple: Nabokov Teaches Flaubert
In this paper I propose to (re)discover Vladimir Nabokov’s lecture on a French masterpiece, Madame Bovary, which evidences a peculiar master/disciple relationship between the two novelists. Drawing inspiration from Borges’ famous statement that writers create their precursors, I will show how Flaubert is endowed with the status both of a creator and a creature within the frame of Nabokov’s lecture.
“We shall discuss Madame Bovary as Flaubert intended it to be discussed,” writes Nabokov in his lecture. Part of this paper will follow through the assumptions behind this statement, whilst also reflecting upon the many paradoxes in which Nabokov, as reader and writer, places himself by dint of this apparently specular relationship with his peer. Among these paradoxes, special attention will be given to Nabokov’s view of Flaubert’s heroine. In order to broaden our perspective on the subject, we will compare this view with other writers’s interpretations, before broaching upon other female figures created by Nabokov.
This discussion also springs from another master/disciple relationship, that between Myra Dickman Orth and Vladimir Nabokov, traces of which are visible thanks to the Berg collection of the New York Library, where part of Vladimir Nabokov’s manuscripts may be found, along with some enlightening material donated by Ms Orth, a former student of Cornell University, who during the academic year of 1954-55 had taken Nabokov’s course on ‘Masters of European Fiction’. Among the donated belongings are her painstaking notes to his lecture on Madame Bovary, which closely mirror the teacher’s own notes but which also reveal aspects of her master’s lecture which are absent from the published version and which thus shed new light onto Nabokov’s stance as both reader and writer.
Mikko Perhonen wrote a doctoral thesis at Helsinki University on writers teaching French literature. His special interest is in 19th century European writers, among which Emile Zola, Dostoievksi and Chateaubriand, and, more recently, diasporic literature. He has also produced screenplays for the Alliance Française aiming at introducing French literature to foreigners. He is currently writing a book on the cultural relationship between French, Russian and Finnish writers in exile.