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Stalking Nabokov$
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Brian Boyd

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780231158572

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231158572.001.0001

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Tolstoy and Nabokov

Tolstoy and Nabokov

(p.229) 17. Tolstoy and Nabokov
Stalking Nabokov

Brain Boyd

Columbia University Press

This chapter compares Leo Tolstoy and Vladimir Nabokov by looking at the openings of their respective novels, Anna Karenina and Lolita. Rather than setting an example of “classical realism” against an example of “postmodernism,” the chapter focuses on the individuality of Tolstoy and Nabokov. In line with his general reestimation of Anna Karenina, Nabokov's response to its first two paragraphs changed revealingly over twenty years. In late 1939 or early 1940, before arriving in the United States, he began to prepare lectures on Russian literature in the hope he would find a university literature post much sooner than he did. In teaching Tolstoy, Nabokov stressed the visual detail. But if you look at the opening of Anna Karenina, Tolstoy incorporates far less visual detail than so-called classical realists are supposed to employ. In Lolita we find in its author someone who revels in art, in artifice, in pattern. This chapter suggests that Nabokov focuses on the wild divergences of the world, whereas Tolstoy searches for a common humanity.

Keywords:   art, Leo Tolstoy, Vladimir Nabokov, novel, Anna Karenina, Lolita, classical realism, postmodernism, Russian literature

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