Colloque International : « Vladimir Nabokov et la France »

Les Chercheurs enchantés : Société Française Vladimir Nabokov

Paris, 30 mai-1er juin 2013

CONNOLLY, Julian W. – University of Virginia, USA
Fluid Spaces, Illusive Identities: Nabokov’s Depiction of France in the Late 1930s

    In “Time and Ebb,” a story written in April 1944, Nabokov’s narrator makes reference to “those little European towns one half of which is in France and the other half in Russia” (Stories of Vladimir Nabokov, Vintage, 2002, p. 585).  This curious phrase—“one half of which is in France and the other half in Russia”—turns out to apply extraordinarily well to the plot of an earlier story, “The Visit to the Museum” (written in October 1938), in which a man enters a museum in a small town in France and exits onto a street in Soviet Leningrad.  This strange warping of spatial dimensions, however, is not confined to “The Visit to the Museum.”  An examination of Nabokov’s handling of French settings in his fiction of the late 1930s and early 1940s reveals that locale to be an unusual realm in which time, space, and even identity are fluid, unstable, and unreliable.  It is the premise of this paper that Nabokov’s experience in France in the late 1930s involved a considerable element of dislocation and anxiety, and that he reflected this condition in his fiction.  The chronotope of France depicted in his fiction of this period is not the happy, tranquil, and stable site recalled in his memoirs of summers spent at the French seashore.  Rather, it is an ambiguous, disorienting locale tinged with intimations of a nightmare.  Works to be analyzed in this papar include “The Visit to the Museum,” “Lik,” “‘That in Aleppo Once…’,” and The Real Life of Sebastian Knight.


Julian W. Connolly is Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Virginia, where he served as Chair of the Slavic Department from 2001 to 2011.  He is the author of Ivan Bunin (1982), Nabokov’s Early Fiction: Patterns of Self and Other (1992), The Intimate Stranger: Meetings with the Devil in Nineteenth-Century Russian Literature (2001), and A Reader’s Guide to Nabokov’s Lolita (2009).  He also edited the volumes Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading: A Course Companion (1997), Nabokov and His Fiction: New Perspectives (1999), and The Cambridge Companion to Nabokov (2005).   He has written over seventy articles on nineteenth- and twentieth-century Russian literature, and he is currently working on a reader’s companion to Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.