In the 1920s, during his émigré life in interbellum Berlin, Vladimir Nabokov wrote a number of Christmas stories. These stories—“Christmas,” “The Christmas Story,” and “A Reunion”—were all composed and published at Christmastime and set on the eve of Russian Christmas (first week of January). While involving the traditional motifs of the Christmas-story genre, such as the combination of joy and sorrow as well as the motifs of epiphany, gift, care, and forgiveness, these narratives expand the scope of the genre to represent not communal religious values but a private ethical stance. The purity of commitments emerges as a criterion for successful inner life. The gifts are usually the gifts of the memory, cherished in “Christmas” and “A Reunion,” and forfeited in “The Christmas Story,” as well as in a counter-story, “A Matter of Chance,” which was also written at Christmas time but set August and published with half a year’s delay.
When Gérard Genette drew the distinction between “voice” and “focus” in narrative, he pointed to two kinds of deviation from the monitoring of narrative details based on focalization. One is “paralepsis,” that is, giving the reader more information than is available to the focal character; the other is “paralipsis” – giving the reader less information than the focal character possesses. This paper suggests that the content of paralipsis – what the focal character knows but the reader is not told – is often the intentions and concrete plans of the focal character. The paper discusses the ending of Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities (1959) as a paradigmatic case: the precise intentions of Sydney Carton are not disclosed to the reader; the second reading is therefore qualitatively different from the first reading; and the intentions of the author (the implied author or even the historical author) for this temporary gap invite interpretation and raise the issue of the reasons and the causes for this feature of the narrative as a communicative act.
According to Vladimir Nabokov, exactness of detail in the composition and the reading of literary texts can yield “the sensual spark without which the book is dead”: one needs, for instance, to understand the topography of Mansfield Park in order to respond to Austen’s “stereographic charm.” Speaking after Stuart Gilbert’s chart of the episodes of Joyce’s Ulysses but before Gifford and Seidman’s maps in Ulysses Annotated, Nabokov protested against “the pretentious nonsense of Homeric, chromatic, and visceral chapter headings” and advised careful readers to “prepare maps of Dublin with Bloom’s and Stephen’s intertwining itineraries clearly traced.” Nabokov himself draws maps in his (posthumously published) lecture notes of the 1950s. This paper comments on the “stereographic” implications of his maps and then turns to Nabokov’s biography of Pushkin’s African great grandfather. Studying the possible origins of Abram Gannibal, Nabokov reads maps of Ethiopia. Though his essay is largely a matter of the critique of sources, the course of Ethiopian river-beds seems to give him “the sensual spark” which, despite his vexed insistence on the literal in Ulysses, follows Joyce’s novel in understated transmutation of stereographic detail into symbolism.
The work of writers in exile is generally expected to display the theme of nostalgia and the techniques of defamiliarization. It is seldom noted that the experience of a young emigrant is sometimes characterized by bouts of overwhelming poignant happiness, of joy yielded by the senses in response to the natural or even urban scenes. This happiness, against the background of a near-sublime self-sufficiency, is a distinctive feature of Nabokov’s experience of the twenties, despite the painful blows that he received; it is a recurrent theme in his poetry, fiction, and letters. By the late 1930s, for a variety of personal and political reasons, the waves of joy become rare. Instead, Nabokov’s other capacities deepen and gain further development, a modified axiology partly replacing the youthful happiness or compensating for the infrequency of its returns. This paper is devoted to the shift of emphases in Nabokov’s poetics and his thematic concerns after he could no longer base his eschatology on a recurrent experience of joyful oneness with the world.
In December 2019, Ms. Lan Yun interviewed Leona Toker during her academic visit to Shanghai Jiao Tong University. In this interview, Toker approaches the concept of cultural remission and Gulag and Holocaust literature from an ethical perspective, exploring the complex relationship between literary forms and their ethical consequences. She claims that ethical criticism is coming back in new ways and that analysis of the ethics of form may take over from that of the ethics of character behavior as a potential orientation for future studies.
Nabokov’s fictional retrospective first-person narratives rely on the “perfect-memory” convention, which is, however, sometimes laid bare or even subverted. This convention makes no inroads in Nabokov’s factorgraphic narratives, such as Speak, Memory and “Abram Gannibal.” This paper discusses the narrative techniques that replace the “perfect-memory” convention in the “childhood-adolescence-youth” part of Speak, Memory, and the way these techniques relate to Nabokov’s view of the workings of memory, in the context of some his literary and philosophical precursors.