ASSOCIATION : Manifestations – Colloque 2013 – SCHUMAN

Colloque International : « Vladimir Nabokov et la France »

Les Chercheurs enchantés : Société Française Vladimir Nabokov

Paris, 30 mai-1er juin 2013

SCHUMAN, Samuel – University of Minnesota, USA
The Riddle of Genre in ‘Mademoiselle O’

    The short story “Mademoiselle O” was, according to its author Vladimir Nabokov, first written in French, in France, and published in Paris in 1939.  It reappeared, in an English translation by Nabokov and Hilda Ward, in The Atlantic Monthly, then in Nine Stories. It re-reappeared, in a “final, slightly different version, with stricter adherence to autobiographical truth” as Chapter 5 in Conclusive Evidence/Speak Memory.  Brian Boyd discusses the real-life Cecile Miauton, the model for Mademoiselle O in Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years, and French echoes and influences in the story have been described and analyzed by Jacqueline Hamrit.
  My interest is in the “meta questions” raised by this work. Can essentially the same utterance be understood to be a fictional short story and a non-fiction autobiographical essay? To what extent does the publication context of a work determine its genre (that is, if it is published in an autobiography is it “fact” and if the same words appear as a short story, does it become “fiction”)? What does this tell us about how VN sees the relationship between fiction and fact? Is the border between fact and fiction one of those transparent things, through which it is easy to fall? What does all this tell us about how VN sees the relationship between his imagination and his life? To what extent is it relevant that this work grew in part from the French cultural context and did that cultural context influence these generic issues?


Dr. Samuel Schuman served as President of the Vladimir Nabokov Society in 1980-82.  He is the author of Vladimir Nabokov:  A Reference Guide, and has published over 25 articles on VN.  He has presented papers on Nabokov at the MLA and AATSEEL Conferences, at the Nabokov Museum in St. Petersburg, and at the international Nabokov meetings in Kyoto and Auckland.