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  People > V.Nabokov
Lankomumo reitingas Print version Print version
Lectures on Literature

Stories of Nabokov's presence on campus and his lecture style have grown beyond local legend. Cornell alumni recall Véra as a near appendage to the professor - she passed out papers, wrote notes on the "grey board," graded papers, held his office hours, and, in extreme circumstances, delivered his lectures, which she read carefully from his prepared manuscripts. Fredson Bowers, the editor of the published Lectures on Literature and Lectures on Russian Literature, observes that Véra likely made routine editorial decisions in preparing several of the typescript versions from such notes.

Nabokov taught the same authors and books for nearly a decade, almost without exception: Flaubert (Madame Bovary), Dickens (Bleak House), Austen (Mansfield Park), Joyce (Ulysses), Kafka ("The Metamorphosis"), Stevenson ("The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"), and Proust (Swann's Way). Bowers notes that "Nabokov was prohibited from teaching American works at Cornell because he was not a member of the English Department." Embedded in the text of the published lectures themselves is his philosophy that one must teach books, not ideas. Two of the best-known examples of this philosophy in action are his diagram of Stephen's and Bloom's paths through the streets of Dublin for Joyce's Ulysses, and the anatomy of the Gregor Samsa domed beetle for Kafka's The Metamorphosis. Nabokov had planned to include many academic anecdotes in the final installment of his memoir, the unrealized Speak On, Memory; among the notes that survive are his instructions to students to separate from their comrades during exams, to write in ink, and not to plan to use the bathroom if they hadn't brought a doctor's note.

Nabokov offered a volume of his lectures to Viking Press in the course of negotiations in 1951 that ultimately came to nothing. In 1954, he began actively revising some of the lectures with an eye to their ultimate publication, but a decade passed before he offered them to Putnam's. Finally, in 1972, they were included as part of his second McGraw-Hill contract - though he had recently added a note to the Archive that read, "My university lectures (Tolstoy, Kafka, Flaubert, Cervantes, etc. etc.) are chaotic and sloppy and must never be published. None of them!" That contract was nullified by his death in 1977, but Véra and Dmitri took on the task of assembling the lectures from notes, manuscripts, and typescripts, and they were eventually published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich in 1980 and 1981.

Despite the rewards of teaching, Nabokov repeatedly lamented its necessity. In 1951, Véra wrote to Katharine White that her husband was having "probably the worst year of his life and though he derives much pleasure from his big course and from the students' reaction, the necessity to neglect his writing often makes him feel miserable." He himself wrote to Edmund Wilson: "I am sick of teaching, I am sick of teaching, I am sick of teaching." But he did not immediately resign his Cornell post in the wake of Lolita's American success in 1959. He requested a semester's leave and, fully expecting to return in the fall, stored many possessions locally before sailing for his European sojourn. But the demands of his new-found international fame, coupled with his own ambitious projects, proved too much. After almost a year in Los Angeles working on the Lolita screenplay, the Nabokovs would live out their remaining years abroad, settling into the Montreux Palace Hotel in the fall of 1961.

The items listed below pertain to Nabokov's life and career and are the contents of the exhibition at the Humanities and Social Sciences Library, on view from April 23 through August 21, 1999. This checklist, primarily of items from the Library's Nabokov Archive, is included here to provide a sense of the rich holdings in this special collection.

Véra and Vladimir Nabokov, Ithaca, New York, 1954
Photograph by Dmitri Nabokov
Berg Collection

Vladimir Nabokov
"Introductory Lecture for Literature 311, Cornell University"
Holograph and typescript manuscript, ca. 1950
Berg Collection

Vladimir Nabokov
"Bleak House"
Holograph and typescript notes for lectures, ca. 1950
Berg Collection

Vladimir Nabokov
"Ulysses"
Holograph and typescript notes for lectures, ca. 1950
Berg Collection

James Joyce
Ulysses
New York: Random House, 1934
Nabokov's teaching copy, with his copious holograph annotations
Berg Collection

Franz Kafka
Selected Short Stories
Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir, with an introduction by Philip Rahv
New York: Random House/Modern Library, [1952]
Nabokov's teaching copy
Berg Collection

Franz Kafka
The Metamorphosis
Translated by A. L. Lloyd
New York: Vanguard Press, 1946
Nabokov's copy, with his holograph annotations and retranslations
Berg Collection

Jane Austen
Mansfield Park
London: J. M. Dent and Sons, [1948]
Nabokov's teaching copy, with his copious holograph annotations
Berg Collection

Gustave Flaubert
Madame Bovary
Translated by Eleanor Marx Aveling
New York: Rinehart, 1948
Nabokov's teaching copy, with his copious holograph annotations
Berg Collection

Robert Louis Stevenson
Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
New York: Pocket Books, 1941
Nabokov's teaching copy, with his holograph annotations
Berg Collection

Vladimir Nabokov
"Preliminary Test, Friday, December 1st, 1950"
Mimeograph, with Nabokov's holograph corrections
Berg Collection

Vladimir Nabokov
"Term Examination, January, 1951"
Mimeograph, with Nabokov's holograph corrections
Berg Collection

Vladimir Nabokov
"Final Exam 1958, last lecture"
Holograph manuscript
Berg Collection

         
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1. Nabokov by Peter Shaw
2. Berlin and Early Translations
3. Lolita. Paris, 1955
4. Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov)
5. Vladimir Nabokov by Wilma Slaight
6. Crimea and Cambridge
7. A masterpiece of subtle literary meaning
8. Early Life and Poems
9. Reading Nabokov, James, Austen, Fitzgerald
10. Annotated version helps a lot
1. Early Life and Poems
2. Nabokov by Peter Shaw
3. Lolita. Paris, 1955
4. Lectures on Russian Literature
5. Lolita and Mr. Girodias by Vladimir Nabokov 2
6. Crimea and Cambridge
7. The Second Time Through
8. A masterpiece of subtle literary meaning
9. Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977) - pen name Vladimir Sirin
10. Annotated version helps a lot
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