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,  and Sophie Bernard-Léger




a guide to berlin1

Exposition Nabokov à Strasbourg: « A Guide to Berlin »  de Natalia et Maria Petschatnikov

29-30 avril, 2, 5, 6 mai 2014.     8h-19h

a guide to berlin1

Dans le cadre de la journée doctoriale Nabokov à Strasbourg, l’oeuvre de Natalia et Maria Petschatnikov, inspirée par la nouvelle de Nabokov « Guide de Berlin » (1925) est exposée à la MISHA de Strasbourg.

Lire la suite


La Société Française Vladimir Nabokov « Les Chercheurs Enchantés » organise une journée doctorale internationale le 2 mai 2014 à l’Université de Strasbourg.

Cette journée, organisée par Lara Delage-Toriel et Sophie Bernard-Léger, rassemblera des doctorants ou jeunes docteurs venus de France, d’Europe et des Etats-Unis pour présenter leurs travaux consacrés à Nabokov.

Cette journée est également l’occasion de présenter l’oeuvre de Natalia et Maria Petschatnikov, « A Guide to Berlin », inspirée de la nouvelle de Nabokov « Guide de Berlin » (1925).

Lire la suite


“A Guide to Berlin”

Une exposition de Maria and Natalia Petschatnikov (Allemagne)

inspirée de la nouvelle de Nabokov « Guide de Berlin »


a guide to berlin1

Cette exposition a été montrée au Musée Vladimir Nabokov à St Pétersbourg du 5 au 29 juillet 2013. 

Elle sera pour la première fois en France à la Salle Europe de la MISHA de l’Université de Strasbourg, au printemps 2014.

Salle Europe (rez-de-chaussée MISHA)             29-30 avril & 2, 5, 6 mai 2014    Horaires:  8h-19h.

MISHA (Maison Interuniversitaire des Sciences de l’Homme – Alsace)
Campus Esplanade
5 allée du Général Rouvillois, Strasbourg


 « Dans l’installation « A Guide to Berlin » de Maria and Natalia Petschatnikov, ce qui a tout d’abord l’air d’un collage visuel de motifs hétérogènes d’une scène de rue (trams, graffitis, pigeons, entre autres) se révèle être une exploration des effets déstabilisants de l’exil et de la perte. Inspirées par la nouvelle « Guide de Berlin » (1925) de leur compatriote Vladimir Nabokov qui se joue des grands sites touristiques en leur préférant les icones des humbles et du quotidien (trams, auberges, canalisations…) les deux artistes créent une installation reconfigurable qui rend à la fois hommage aux icones nabokoviennes et construit un nouveau vocabulaire des repères négligés du présent de Berlin. Nabokov, qui vécut à Berlin de 1922 à 1937 et y écrivit tous ses romans russes, portait son regard d’étranger sur les « véritables » autochtones, ces lieux et choses qui passent le plus souvent inaperçus. Il pourrait même être l’un des passagers des deux trams accueillants et inquiétants qui permettent de pénétrer à l’intérieur de l’installation « A Guide to Berlin ». Ces trams construits par les artistes, surgissant du passé et se dirigeant vers un avenir encore inconnu, nous rappellent que nous sommes tous, que nous soyons des « locaux » ou des exilés, en transit dans cette vie. Mais leur geste le plus brillant (et le plus nabokovien) est sans doute que l’ensemble de l’installation est en trompe-l’oeil: les images qui semblent dessinées au fusain sur le mur sont en réalité de grands morceaux de tulle, qui peuvent être suspendus en des ensembles plus ou moins cohérents visuellement en fonction du lieu où est installée l’oeuvre, et qui reflètent donc la relation nécessairement conditionnelle de l’exilé à son environnement. Les deux artistes, aujourd’hui locataires de Berlin, créent donc une filiation avec leur ancêtre de St. Pétersbourg à travers cette oeuvre magistrale, ce régal visuel, qui entrelace l’éphémère et l’éternel, et nous invite à repenser notre relation au monde que nous rencontrons chaque jour ».

Donna Stonecipher

Poétesse américaine, notamment auteur de Cosmopolitan. Elle vit à Berlin.

texte traduit de l’américain par Marie Bouchet.



Doctorial Day on Vladimir Nabokov

2nd May 2014
at the MISHA (Strasbourg University)



9:00 Words of Welcome

Presentation of the Exhibition “A Guide to Berlin” by Natalia and Maria Petschatnikov 

Part 1: Respondent: Lara Delage-Toriel (Strasbourg University, France)

Keynote address : Stefano Ghislotti (Bergamo, Italy)

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

Part 2: Respondent: Cornelius Crowley (University Paris-Ouest Nanterre La Défense, France)

10:00 Doug Battersby (York, United Kingdom) 

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

10:40  Nathalia Saliba Dias (Humboldt – Berlin, Germany)

“Literary Incest or the Meaning of Incest in Vladimir Nabokov’s Work”

11:20-11:40 Coffee Break

11:40 Michael Federspiel (Strasbourg, France)

“The Sweet Game of Anaesthesia : A Selection of Nabokov’s Playful Conditioning Strategies in Lolita

12:20 Chloë Kitzinger (Berkeley, USA)

“ ‘A Variety of Forms’ : Reading Character in Nabokov”

1:00-2:00 Lunch Break (buffet at the MISHA)

Part 3: Respondent: Eric Naiman (Berkeley University, USA)

2:00 Julie Loison-Charles (Paris-Ouest Nanterre La Défense, France)

“Nabokov and Russian Formalism”

2:40 Udith Dematagoda (Glasgow, United Kingdom)

“Ideology, Epistemology and the ‘Modernism of Underdevelopment’ in The Eye and Despair

3:20   Gyöngyi Mikola (Szeged, Hungary)

“ ‘As Water to Ophelia’ : The Problem of Aesthetical Redemption in Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading  and The Gift

4:00-4:20 Coffee Break


Part 4: Respondent: Sophie Bernard-Léger (University Paris IV-Sorbonne, France)

4:20 Katherina Kokinova (Sofia, Bulgaria) 

“Training the Reader by Means of Self-Reflection”

5:00 Simon Rowberry (Winchester, United Kingdom)

“Is the History of the Book the Future of Nabokov Studies?”
6:00 Guided Tour of the Exhibition “A Guide to Berlin” by Natalia and Maria Petschatnikov
7:30 Dinner in town