Russian Language Journal


rhetoric, research, translation, Nabokov, Pushkin


Nabokov’s change in attitude toward Pushkin—a change from passive worshipper of Pushkin to self-assured interlocutor with him—he remains quiet about why Nabokov’s theory of translation changed so radically concerning Onegin. Shvabrin sets 1955 as the year of Nabokov’s “literalist” turn, though he makes little matter of the date itself. I wonder about the potential influence of surrounding events. Before he adopted his literalist rhetoric, which presented the translator as a meticulous scholar, Nabokov claimed that a translator must be a “creative genius” on par with the original poet. In 1955 Nabokov also published the novel that he knew to be proof of his own genius. How might Lolita, and the attention it brought, have inflected his always histrionic self-presentation vis-à-vis Pushkin? And what of Nabokov’s many recent years of teaching, during which time he also devoted himself with particular zeal to publishing his lepidopterological research? How might these experiences have shaped the ways the translator felt about scholarship’s methods and objectives, about the responsibilities of enlightening an unfamiliar audience? Such questions likely do not have fast answers, but they merit consideration.