ASSOCIATION : Manifestations – Colloque 2013 – LOISON

Colloque International : « Vladimir Nabokov et la France »

Les Chercheurs enchantés : Société Française Vladimir Nabokov

Paris, 30 mai-1er juin 2013

LOISON-CHARLES, Julie  Université Paris-Ouest Nanterre La Défense, France
French xenisms  in Look at the Harlequins! : Are these French words symptomatic?   

    This paper will focus on Nabokov’s last complete novel, Look at the Harlequins!, from the perspective of its self-referential and metaliterary dimension with the hope that our conclusions could be broadened to apply to Nabokov’s other works. We will try and see whether the use of French words is merely a consequence of Nabokov’s multilingualism and if it serves a diegetic purpose. In Look at the Harlequins!, three general trends can be found in the use of French words and references to France.
   First of all, many are circumstantial and illustrative; they reflect the narrator’s francophilia but also Nabokov’s cosmopolitan world: France was an unavoidable place of transition and exile for Russian émigré writers, and French was widely spoken by the Russian aristocracy to which Nabokov belonged.
   Secondly, French often enables Nabokov a great deal of linguistic play, as ornamentation, but also with the aim of arresting and drawing the reader’s attention to specific humoristic or verbal prowess.
The third, and probably more interesting, use of French is the revelation of the plot to the reader. French is often used to point either to the problematic relationships the narrator has with his wives, or to his madness; French can therefore be seen as “symptomatic” of the narrator’s schizophrenia. 
    The link between madness and multilingualism has often been made by psycholinguists or by critics such as Todorov, and in the novel under study, it is hinted at by the use of italics. We will question why French specifically, and not Russian, is the privileged language to indicate the polyglot’s schizophrenia. We’ll end with a reflection on whether this symptomatic aspect of French is an involuntary aspect of Nabokov’s writing or whether it is one of his numerous literary strategies.


Julie Loison-Charles est ATER à l’Université de Paris Ouest La Défense Nanterre. Elle écrit son doctorat en littérature américaine sur l’utilisation des mots étrangers russes et français dans l’œuvre de Nabokov. Elle incorpore à son étude littéraire des approches traductologiques (comparaison des traductions russes et françaises), linguistiques (emprunts et xénismes), psycholinguistiques (le bilinguisme et la perception de soi) et philosophiques (Bakhtine, Deleuze, Glissant).