Katherina KOKINOVA
PhD in comparative literary studies, Department of Slavic Literature, Sofia University, Bulgaria
Dissertation Title: The self-reflection in the oeuvre of Vladimir Nabokov and Witold Gombrowicz
Enrollment date: 2012 Estimated year of completion: 2015
University adviser: Prof. Dr. Panayot Karagyozov

Training the Reader by Means of Self-reflection

This paper studies comparatively the self-reflective forewords and comments in parenthesis in Nabokov’s Despair and Gombrowicz’s Pornografia. There are at least two means of self-reflection used in the analysed novels: guidelines and doubles. Are the instructions a prerequisite for new discoveries or they rather suppress scientific passion, or maybe they are a stage in the process of training the reader? Do they facilitate the “author’s fondest dream to turn the reader into a spectator”? And how many times should one reread such a novel in order to “get nearer to reality” though not close enough? We may even observe the “implied reader” embodied, explicated in Despair. The other mean used in both novels in terms of self-reflection is the figure of the double, the alter ego. It raises questions such as: if Nabokov’s and Gombrowicz’s narrators are usually unreliable in regard to their perception about themselves and the world, in regard to their self-reflection, then can they be trusted in terms of guidelines? This study is an attempt to “get nearer” to what “the sailor has hidden” in terms of training the reader.

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. 



Title (estimated): Literary incest or the meaning of incest in Vladimir Nabokov’s work
Institution: Humboldt University (Berlin)         Name of the supervisor: Helga Schwalm
Registration: May 2013
Date of completion (estimated):  2016/2017

The meaning of incest in Nabokov’s work

The proposal of research is to analyse the works by Vladimir Nabokov, specifically three novels, which deal with incest – Lolita, Ada or Ardor: a family Chronicle and Look at the Harlequins! – in order to understand why Nabokov chose this controversial subject and what its meaning in his work. It is also intended to pursue the subject in the short stories and poems of the author, being able to explain how he dealt with incest through his career.

To precede this analysis, the present research is organized in three chapters: in the first part the meaning of incest in different literary periods will be examined; in the second, the sources of Nabokov’s late flowering use of incest and, than, to present an interpretation of incest in Nabokov’s work.

Amid Nabokov’s work it is only in Ada or Ardor (1969) that incest is a major subject. In Lolita (1955) it appears only indirectly or disguised and in Look at Harlequins (1977) it will be incorporated as a retrospective of the author’s favorite themes.

The theory is, that incest rises in the late work of Nabokov as a creative incestuous relationship between many generations of writers and styles. Nabokov traces the evolution of the theme in the European Literature and intercourses them in a creative process, as a reworking of a tradition, a literary incest.

In this context, the meaning of incestuous behavior – which is usually, associated with fear, in the Gothic tradition or, with rebellion and alienation in the romantic approach – shifts to a new light. Now incest concerns the process of writing, the literary inheritance of a tradition and the creative voice.  It is a new Nabokovian ripple, only possible in the 20th century within the metafictional writing.
Bibliographical References

ALDRIDGE, Alfred Owen. The meaning of incest from Hutcheson to Gibbon. In: Ethics, V.61, No. 4. Chicago. 1951. pp. 309-313.

ARIÈS, Philippe. Centuries of childhood: a social history of family life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962.

BOYD, Brian. Vladimir Nabokov: American Years. New Jersey: Princenton University, 1990.

BOYD, Brian. Vladimir Nabokov: Russian Years. New Jersey: Princenton University, 1991.

BIXLER, RAY. The multiple meaning of incest. The Journal of Sex Research, Vol. 19, No. 2 (May, 1983), pp. 197-201

BOLINGBROKE, Henry St. John, Lord Viscount. The Works of the late right Honourable Henry St. John, Lord Viscount Bolingbroke with the Life of Lord Bolingbroke. London, 1809. Vol. VII. p. 496.

DENBO, J. Seth. Speaking Relatively: a History of Incest and the Family in the Eighteenth-Century England.  Ph.D. Thesis Warwick – Department of History. September 2011.

FREUD, Sigmund. Totem and Taboo. New York: WW Norton Company, 1989.

FOUCAULT, Michael. History of Sexuality. Volume I: An introduction. New York: Hurley, 1978. p. 106.

FINNEY, Gail. Self-reflexive siblings: Incest as narcissism in Tieck, Wagner and Thomas Mann. The German Quarterly, Vol. 56, No. 2 (Mar., 1983), pp. 243-256.

JOHNSON, Barton. The Labyrinth of incest in Nabokov’s Ada In: Comparative Literature. Vol. 38. No. 3, 1986. pp.224 – 255.

JULIAR , Michael. Vladimir Nabokov: a Descriptive Bibliography. New York: Garland, 1986.

LÉVI-STRAUSS, Claude. The Elementary Structures of Kinship. Boston: Beacon Press, 1969.

MASON, Bobbie Ann. Nabokov’s Garden: A Guide to Ada. Ardis: 1974.

MCCRACKEN, Timothy. Lolita talks back: giving voice to the object. He said, she says: An rsvp to the Male Text. London: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2001. 128-42.

NABOKOV, Vladimir. Ada or Ardor: a Family Chronicle. New York: Penguin, 2008.

_______. Nabokov’s Butterflies. Ed. An. BOYD, Brian. PYLE, Robert Michael. Boston: Beacon Press. 2000.

_______. The Annotated Lolita. New York: Penguin, 2000.

_______. The Gift. New York: Penguin, 1980.

_______. Look at the Harlequins. New York: Vintage International, 1990.

_______. Strong Opinions. New York: Vintage International, 1990.

NAGLE, Betty Rose. Byblis and Myrrha: Two Incest Narratives in the « Metamorphoses ». The classical association of the middle west and south. The Classical Journal, Vol. 78, No. 4 (Apr. – May, 1983), pp. 301-315.

NESTERUK, Peter. Referentiality and transgression: representation of incest and child sexual abuse in American literature of the twentieth century. Nottingham University. P.h.D Thesis. October, 1994.

OLSEN, Lance. Lolita: A Janus Text. New York: Twayne Publishers,1995.

PERRY, Ruth. Incest as the Meaning of the Gothic Novel In: English century. Vol.39. No. 3, 1998. p. 261 – 277.

PIPER, Ellen. Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita: a casebook. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

PLATO. Symposium. New York: Penguin books, 1999.

POLLAK, Ellen. Incest and the English novel: 1684 – 1814. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2003.

RANK, OTTO. Das inzest-motif und in dichtung und saga: Gründzuge einer psychologie des dichterischen Schaffens. Verlag Classic Edition, 2010.

RICHARDSON, Alan. The dangers of sympathy: sibling Incest in the English Romantic Poetry In: Studies in English Literature, 1500 – 1900, Vol. 25. No. 4, Nineteenth Century. pp. 737 – 754.

SCHWALM, Helga. Dekonstruktion im Roman : erzähltechnische Verfahren und Selbstreflexion in den Romanen von Vladimir Nabokov und Samuel Beckett. Heidelberg : Winter, 1991.

SHELTON, Jen. Issy’s Footnote: Disruptive Narrative and the Discursive Structure of Incest in « Finnegan Wake ». ELH, Vol. 66, No. 1 (Spring, 1999), pp. 203-221. John Hopkins University press.

STANSBURY, Heather Lyn. Romantic incest: gender, desire and defiance. Dissertation of Doctor on Philosophy. University of Washington, 2008.

WAUGH, Patricia. Metafiction: the theory and practice of self-conscious fiction. New York: Rutledge, 2000. 

RAPF, Joan E. The Byronic heroine: incest and creative process. Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 21, No. 4, Nineteenth Century (Autumn, 1981), Rice University. pp. 637-645.

THORSLEV, Peter L. Incest as a romantic symbol. In: Comparative Studies. v.2 No.1. Penn State University Press, 1965. pp. 41 -58.

KENNER, Hugh. Ulysses. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1987.


Gyöngyi MIKOLA
Title of PhD. Thesis: Narratives of Desire in Nabokov’s Russian Novels
University of Szeged (Hungary), Department of Russian Literature
Name of supervisor: Prof. Dr. Katalin Szőke
Year of registration: 2012.
Estimated date of completion of thesis: September 2015.

(Problem of Aesthetical Redemption in Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading and The Gift)

  Nabokov wrote his masterpiece Invitation to a Beheading interrupting his own work, writing another novel, The Gift. My hipothesis is that Invitation to a Beheading can be considered as a solution of a  problem or elaboration of an idea, which was arosed during the creation of the other, the „main” book.

  In my contribution I analyze  the water-motifs of the Invitation and The Gift with close reading method to demonstrate  the relationship of Nabokovian reader and/or writer heroes to the art of literature, and, besides, realisation of self-mimetic, self-reflective potentialities of literature as specific liquid mirror  in these novels.

  I collate Niven Kumar’s mimetopia-conception  with the utopian viewpoints in Russian aesthetic tradition (first of all with the materialist utopia of Nabokovian hero, Nikolay Chernyshevsky’s and the „real” Chernyshevsky’s, of course) and study the parallels and differences between the so called ‘zhiznyetvortsestvo’, the aesthetic utopia of Russian symbolist movement with the meaning of creative act for Nabokovian writer/reader heroes. At that point I will briefly analyze the future-oriented ornamental prose and poetics of transparency in Andrei Bely’s Petersburg to highlight some important  similarities of „liquid” fiction formatting metods in  Nabokovian prose.

  At the end I examine the relevance of Nietzschean concept of aesthetic redemption in connection with Nabokovian novels, and I suggest a special, synchronous, simultaneous idea of this philosophical term: in my opinion Nabokovian aesthetic redemption is confined only to the duration of writing or reading. But this real, empirical time of literary process works as a gap, transforms to a secret passage, a way through to the unknown, timeless outside.

PhD Candidate, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of California, Berkeley
Enrolled Fall 2009; estimated date of completion Spring 2015
Title of dissertation: “The Problematic Individual”: The Lives of Characters in Dostoevsky and Tolstoy
Supervisors: Irina Paperno (chair, Slavic), Eric Naiman (Slavic), Dorothy Hale(English) 

 “A Variety of Forms”: Reading Character in Nabokov

My project, an extension of my broader interest in character and the novel form, explores Nabokov’s approach to character in the novel. Nabokov’s style poses a curious dilemma: while a wealth of concrete descriptive detail tempts readers to immerse themselves in the fictional worlds of his novels, the flamboyance of their formal organization offers an equally tempting view from above or outside the frame. One of the many problems this hybrid form presents is the status of Nabokov’s characters. As a reader and teacher, Nabokov repeatedly dismissed the “lowly kind of” imagination that prompts novel-readers to identify themselves with particular heroes (“Good Readers and Good Writers,” 4). This dismissal mirrors what has been called a “pronouncedly anti-polyphonic feature” in Nabokov’s own novels (Tammi, Problems of Nabokov’s Poetics, 100), a leaning toward a hieroglyphic rather than a moral view of the literary “character.” From the vivid but ephemeral interlocutors – some of them ghosts – who pass through the mind of the fictional author Fyodor Godunov-Cherdyntsev in The Gift (1938/1963), to the personified vegetables encircling Hugh Person, the weirdly abstract hero of Transparent Things (1972), the figural characters of Nabokov’s novels are both arresting in themselves, and pointedly instrumental. My project aims to illuminate the sometimes-troubled place of the embodied human figure in Nabokov – the figures of the characters, their occasionally spectral narrators, and (eventually) their implied author and readers. Working outward from the suggestion, in Transparent Things, that “human life can be compared to a person dancing in a variety of forms around his own self” (92), I argue that the function of figural character in Nabokov’s novels is intimately connected with the project of making a central, private consciousness apprehensible to an external sensory world. I concentrate on Lolita (1955) and Pnin (1955, pub. 1957) as telling examples, but expand my conclusions to the level of what might be called Nabokov’s theory of character, evidenced both in his own novels, and his approach to reading the works of the “good writers” of the 19th and 20th century. My work thus attempts to place Nabokov in a longer tradition of tension between character and form in the novel, examining him as a successor to and reader of Dickens, Flaubert, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy, and reflecting on his (post-)modernist response to the problems of character their novels pose.

Works Cited:

Nabokov, V. “Good Readers and Good Writers.” In Lectures on Literature. Ed. F. Bowers. San Diego, New York, London: Harvest, 1980. 1-7.

——— Transparent Things. New York: Vintage Books, 1989 [1972].

P. Tammi. Problems of Nabokov’s Poetics: A Narratological Analysis. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 1985.

Douglas J. M. BATTERSBY, University of York (1st year PhD candidate)
Thesis title: ‘Our Glassy Essence: metaphors of the mind in modernist literature’
Supervisors: Derek Attridge, John Bowen
Expected completion date: October 2016

Eroticism, Reality, and the Mind in Nabokov’s Ada or Ardor


My PhD thesis explores representations of the mind in modernist novels, focusing on rhetorical figures and descriptions of conscious experience. The nature of the mind and its representation in language is a central concern of Vladimir Nabokov’s fiction, and no more so than in Ada or Ardor.

In the first part of my paper, I discuss Brian Boyd’s seminal book, Nabokov’s Ada: The Place of Consciousness, which continues to exert a hegemonic influence on Nabokov studies. Boyd claims on the first page that for Nabokov ‘the world resists the mind so thoroughly because it is so real, because it exists so resolutely outside the mind.’[1] However, a cursory reading of Ada demonstrates that ‘reality’ in the novel is used to signify intense mental experience, rather than a mind-independent world. Boyd rushes to probe the metaphysical and ethical dimensions of the text, leaving unexamined the way Nabokov subtly problematizes philosophical ideas about the mind, carelessly reducing the novel’s representation to the generality of a dualist metaphysics. Further, Boyd’s resistance-solution method, in its focus on inter-textual allusion and authorial intention, neglects the descriptions of mental experience through which Ada depicts the mind’s relation to reality, imagination, and desire.

My reading of scenes of erotic fantasy in Ada suggests that Nabokov complicates traditional philosophy’s view of the distinction between sense perception and imagination. The derivation of metaphors for the mind from somatic stimulation and Van’s masturbatory intent further indicates the way Nabokov complicates the terms of mind, world, and reality in the text. The conclusion of my paper will argue that Ada represents the mind as contributing to the world in the act of perception in a post-Romantic mode.

By presenting my paper at the Doctoral Day on Nabokov at Strasbourg University, I hope to explore how my idiosyncratic interpretative strategy and philosophical view of Nabokov might complement or be in tension with other PhD scholars in the field.

[1] Brian Boyd, Nabokov’s Ada: The Place of Consciousness (Christchurch, New Zealand: Cybereditions, 2001), p. 19

« Valeurs et enjeux d’une littérature polémique : jeux de langues et stratégies de l’indicible dans Lolita de Vladimir Nabokov et The Satanic Verses de Salman Rushdie »
Année d’inscription: Septembre 2008 – Soutenance: Novembre 2014
Thèse de doctorat en préparation sous la direction de Mme le Professeur Charlotte STURGESS – Université de Strasbourg, littérature anglaise.

The Sweet Game of Anaesthesia : a Selection of Nabokov’s Playful Conditioning Strategies in Lolita. 

The analogy between literature and games was dear to Nabokov, especially when it came to the realm of chess and its problems, which pervade the mechanics of many of his novels. The very principle of « game » involves, as the definition of the term has it, the notion of pleasure drawn from playful activity. Nabokov, who himself advocated the « tingle in the spine » (Lectures in Literature) and « aesthetic bliss » (On a book entitled Lolita), has a vision of literature as a game that should be pleasurable both to the writer and the reader. Each on their own, author and reader draw pleasure from the act of writing or making sense of what is written ; together, they sometimes frolic in the excitement of shared knowledge, or in the fun of playing hide-and-seek. At other times yet, they contend in solving conundrums that will leave the slower-minded participant a loser in the game.

Those games and other assimilated activities are not only diversions that take the reader’s mind off the topic he reads about, they are also a way to have the reader who is willing to play accept a new order. The reader who embarks on the game has to accept some rules and to project himself in an environment that obeys those rules. A novel such as Lolita, that takes the reader on a very subversive trip, has to teach him to correctly read the new world it offers, for fear of losing him. Proper teaching only guarantees that the reader will take his part in the game and will stop perceiving some subjects as offensive.

Lolita uses many rhetorical, literary or linguistic games that help set up a literary context in which taking offense will no longer be the most appealing option. In this paper, I will dwell essentially on the role of dialogism and poetry, as well as on some specific figures of speech. I will try and show how they are used to lull the reader’s attention, but also to condition his reactions, and finally how they prompt him to have his share in the buoyantly deviant potential of Lolita. Whenever it is relevant and helps conceive of a common treatment of polemical subjects, I will compare Nabokov’s strategies in Lolita with Rushdie’s in The Satanic Verses, the second object of my study.

Beyond Lolita: A “Reverse” Analysis of the Film Adaptations of Three Novels by Nabokov: King, Queen, Knave, Despair, The Luzhin Defence.

Stefano Ghislotti (Università degli studi di Bergamo, Italy)


From a linguistic point of view, film adaptation can be considered as a particular type of translation. Following Roman Jakobson, novels become films via an intersemiotic translation. However, this idea of adaptation leads to an evaluative approach, strictly bound to the concept of fidelity.

Changing our perspective, we could consider the films primarily as films, and study their “natural generativity”. Screen information, processed by the viewers, gives rise to a new diegetic dimension: the world described by the novels. Let’s consider from this perspective what these three films have to offer to Nabokov’s literary works.

Biographical details

Stefano Ghislotti teaches the history of cinema at the University of Bergamo. He has published a number of books in this field, notably Vietnam e ritorno (Vietnam and Back) with Stefano Rosso in 1996, Il cinema nella scrittura (Cinema in Writing) withBenvenuto Cuminetti in 2000, Riflessi interiori. Il film nella mente dello spettatore (Inner Reflections. The Film in the Mind of the Viewer) in 2003, Repetita iuvant. Mnemotecniche del film narrativo (Repetition Helps. The Mnemotechnics of Narrative Film) in 2008 and Ai confini della comprensione. Narrazione complessa e puzzle films (At the Confines of Understanding. Complex Narration and Puzzle Films) in 2011. He is currently a Visiting Fellow of SEARCH at the University of Strasbourg and is conducting new research on the film adaptations of Nabokov’s works.



Julie LOISON-CHARLES est inscrite en thèse de Littérature Américaine sous la direction du Professeur Emily Eells, Université Ouest Nanterre La Défense.
Thèse : « Les langues étrangères dans les romans américains de Nabokov »
Université de rattachement : Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense
Première inscription : 2009.              Date de soutenance : 10 mai 2014.

Nabokov et le Formalisme russe

« I have never belonged to any club or group.
No creed or school has had any influence on me whatsoever[1]. »

Cette célèbre déclaration de Nabokov est, pour le chercheur nabokovien, une tentante invitation à prendre l’auteur à contrepied, à l’image de Maurice Couturier qui, en 2004, publiait une lecture psychanalytique de l’œuvre de Nabokov malgré les régulières attaques de celui-ci contre Freud[2]. Dans ma communication, je soulignerai donc certaines similitudes entre l’écriture de Nabokov et les Formalistes russes, et s’il sera difficile de prouver l’appartenance de Nabokov à ce groupe, il est clair que son écriture présente des ressemblances troublantes avec l’esthétique formaliste.

Deux grandes directions sont à distinguer dans ce mouvement. Tout d’abord, pour les Formalistes, il faut renouveler la vision des objets dans leur description. Chklovski commence ainsi son essai « L’art comme procédé[3] » en écrivant « L’art, c’est la pensée par l’image », ce qui bien sûr évoque la citation de Nabokov « I don’t think in any language, I think in images[4] ». Nous ne traiterons que brièvement ce point pour souligner que c’est plutôt sa période russe qui présente des descriptions rappelant les préceptes formalistes. Le deuxième point souligné par cette école est que le renouveau de la vision doit aussi porter sur le langage, et plus particulièrement sur la forme du signifiant et son rapport avec ce qu’il désigne.

Dans les romans américains de Nabokov, c’est bien une défamiliarisation de la langue anglaise qui est à l’œuvre, grâce à son bilinguisme qui lui confère une position d’étranger dans sa propre langue. Dans ma communication, j’étudierai particulièrement les néologismes de Nabokov et sa remotivation d’expressions figées en insistant sur les procédés de décomposition et de recomposition du langage.

[1] Vladimir Nabokov, Strong Opinions (New York : Vintage, 1990), p. 3.
[2] Maurice Couturier, Nabokov ou la cruauté du désir : lecture psychanalytique, Essais (Seyssel: Champ Vallon, 2004).
[3] Viktor Chklovski, « L’art comme procédé » in Théorie de la littérature: textes des formalistes russes, p. 75-97.
[4] Strong Opinions, p. 14.


Doctoral Day on Vladimir Nabokov

2nd May 2014

at the MISHA (Strasbourg University)



Back to the conference program


Conference venue:

MISHA (Maison Interuniversitaire des Sciences de l’Homme – Alsace)

Campus Esplanade

5 allée du Général Rouvillois, Strasbourg, France




How to find us?

– From Strasbourg Centra Station, take the C Tram, and get off at OBSERVATOIRE (15-minute ride).

– From the Entzheim Airport: take the TER train to the Central Station, and then the C Tram (see above).

Consult the Strasbourg Public Transportation Network Website


If you have any questions regarding this event, please contact the organizers:

Lara Delage-Toriel ldelage@unistra.fr,  and Sophie Bernard-Léger bernard.sophie1@gmail.com