Colloque International : « Vladimir Nabokov et la France »

Les Chercheurs enchantés : Société Française Vladimir Nabokov

Paris, 30 mai-1er juin 2013


EELLS, Emily – Université Paris-Ouest Nanterre La Défense, France
Proust, Nabokov and “the language of rainbows”

    A few years after ranking ‘the first half of Proust’s fairy tale, In Search of Lost Time’ as the fourth ‘greatest masterpiece of twentieth-century prose’, Nabokov paid open tribute to Proust in his request that the cover illustration for the Penguin paperback edition of Ada should be a cattleya orchid. His works bear the imprint of his reading of Proust; to cite Lolita, they ‘prolong the Proustian intonations’ of time and memory which have been insightfully analyzed by Robert Alter (1991), John Foster (1995) and Michael Wood (2002), to name but three of Nabokov’s exegetes. The paper proposes to mark a departure from their work by concentrating on the Proustian reflections in the colored language Nabokov uses in Ada and Speak, Memory, including the first version of chapter five, published in French as ‘Mademoiselle O’. As suggested by the rest of the sentence in Ada from which the title of this paper is extracted (it refers to those “colored-chalk pencils whose mere evocation (Dixon Pink Anadel!) makes one’s memory speak in the language of rainbows”), a study of Proust and Nabokov’s literary relationship cannot ignore the question of memory and time. However, the particular focus here will be on the synaesthetic inflection of their language. Nabokov identified Proust as a synaesthesist who, like himself, “saw sounds in color” (cf. Lectures on Literature). This paper will highlight how both Proust and Nabokov filter experience through the prism of the senses. It will consider the importance of mauve in Proust’s novel which Nabokov singled out as ‘the color of time’. It is also the color of affect, from the emblematic cattleya of Swann and Odette’s love-making to the hue of amaranth evoked by the narrator’s infatuated reverie on the name of the Duchess of Guermantes. Nabokov uses that ‘purple passage’ to color Van Veen’s family’s name, and it will serve as the point of departure of a comparative analysis of the chromatics of Proustian and Nabokovian onomastics.

Emily Eells est professeur de littérature anglophone à l’Université de Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense. Depuis la publication de son livre Proust’s Cup of Tea: Homoeroticism and Victorian Culture (Ashgate, 2002), elle consacre ses recherches à Oscar Wilde et la France. Elle a publié une édition bilingue de l’adaptation théâtrale du Portrait de Dorian Gray par Jean Cocteau (Two Tombeaux to Oscar Wilde : Jean Cocteau’s Le portrait surnaturel de Dorian Gray et Raymond Laurent’s Essay on Wildean Aesthetics, Rivendale Press 2010). Elle dirige le groupe de recherche Confluences : Les Mots étrangers (CREA : Centre de recherches anglophones) qui travaille sur l’hétéroglossie et l’interaction des langues inscrite dans le texte.

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