Davis Center: "Of Sacrilege and Freedom: the Origins of Vladimir Nabokov's The Gift"


Thursday, March 12, 2015, 4:15pm to 6:00pm


CGIS South Building, S153, 1730 Cambridge St.

“Worship” is one of the first words that come to mind when we contemplate Nabokov’s attitude toward Pushkin, especially in connection with the compositions produced during his “Russian” years. Eastern Europe (for all the obvious reasons, sadly) has a particularly strong tradition of bardolatry – it is here, after all, where the “wieszczowie” of various origins and sizes are celebrated as if the news of Romanticism’s expiration date has not reached their devotees – but Nabokov’s personal brand of life-long active engagement with Pushkin sets a new standard of literary devotion, intensity, and, for want of a better word, fecundity. Before we give way to the understandable desire to move past these tired ecclesiastical tropes, however, let us dwell on what was at stake for Nabokov as he realized the futility of his early paeans to Pushkin and began his journey toward the remarkably uninhibited, radiantly humorous, and outwardly paradoxical glorification of Pushkin’s unenviable lot in The Gift. Reverent it was not, and no other document sheds more light on this critically important juncture of Nabokov’s career in letters than his unpublished Pushkin talk of 1931. This is a strong claim, to be sure, but I would insist that it merits consideration as a singularly eloquent formulation of Nabokov’s perspective on the poet’s place in his life while effectively amounting to his declaration of artistic independence from Russia’s most enduring myth.


Stanislav Shvabrin, Assistant Professor of Russian Literature, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

For more information, please call 617-495-4037.