Nabokov, ou le vrai et l'invraisemblable
by Jeff Edmunds
page three of twelve

L’Arc, no. 24, printemps 1964; rpt. 1986 as no. 99.

McCarthy, Mary. "Pale Fire"
Nabokov, Vladimir. Fragment de Pale Fire.
Nabokov, Vladimir. "Le nuage, le lac, le château" [French translation of “Cloud, Castle, Lake”]
Robbe-Grillet, Alain. "La notion d’itinéraire dans Lolita"
Bernhard, Edmond. "La thématique échiquéenne de Lolita"
Karlinsky, Simon. "Dar"
Brenner, Conrad. "Nabokov divisé"
Bishop, Morris. "Nabokov à Cornell"
Daiches, David. "Nabokov à Cornell"
Zimmer, Dieter E. "L’Allemagne dans l’oeuvre de Nabokov"
Lecomte, Marcel. "L’homme du bonheur"
Nabokov, Vladimir. "Notre représentant M. Tchitchikov"
Bibliographie [fairly extensive, listing entomological articles, translations of VN’s works into other languages, etc.; compiled by Véra Nabokov]

Michel Gresset, in his introduction to the 1986 reprint of the 1964 edition, notes that “ce numéro est épuisé depuis longtemps—ce qui en dit long sur le fait qu’il ne manque pas de nabokoviens de langue française” [this issue has been out of print for a long time—which says a lot about the fact that there is no dearth of French language Nabokovians]. Their existence notwithstanding, three quarters of the material in this, the first special issue of a French periodical devoted to Nabokov, are translations—eight from English and one from German. (In the introduction to the original 1964 edition, René Micha had bemoaned the fact that in France “les articles qu’en vingt ans on a consacrés à Nabokov […] sont rares et sauf exception—en particulier Dominique Aury—médiocres” [the articles that have been devoted to Nabokov in twenty years are rare and without exception—in particular Dominique Aury—mediocre].

With a fragment from Pale Fire (both poem and book—which would not appear in French until 1965) and French versions of both the story “Cloud, Castle, Lake” and a portion of Nabokov’s study of Nikolai Gogol, this issue of L’Arc is a well-rounded introduction to Nabokov’s work. Contributions by Morris Bishop, David Daiches, and Marcel Lecomte provide a smattering of biographical detail. Simon Karlinsky’s article on Dar (The Gift), which includes a publication history of the novel as well as analysis of the text itself, is an excellent introduction to the book, of which a French translation did not yet exist. Conrad Brenner’s essay is remarkable for its form—an imaginary dialog—and for its ranking of Nabokov’s works relative both to his oeuvre as a whole and to the work of other writers. Edmond Bernhard overlays Lolita with chess to demonstrate in detail the relationship of some of the novel’s structures and themes to the game. Dieter E. Zimmer discusses Nabokov’s portrayal of Germans and Germany in his fiction. Mary McCarthy’s essay on Pale Fire, though guilty of a few flights of fancy, remains a superbly exuberant and insightful reading of the novel.

Aldridge, Alfred Owen. “Essais sur les personnages des Liaisons dangereuses en tant que types littéraires,” Archives des Lettres Modernes, no. 31, novembre 1960, pp. 45-52.

A portion of this article, in which Lolita is compared with Laclos’ character Cécile, is reprinted in Christine Raguet-Bouvart’s 1996 book on Lolita.


Gezari, Janet K. “Roman et problème chez Nabokov,” Poétique, no. 17, 1977, pp. 96-113.

Gezari analyzes in detail two of Nabokov’s chess problems (the first published in Rul’ [The Rudder] in April 1923, the second in Speak, Memory) with specific emphasis on clés virtuelles—possible solutions to the problems that turn out to be wrong. She then applies an analogous analysis to specific narrative puzzles in Lolita (whom did Humbert murder?) and The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (who was Sebastian’s final love?). Gezari ably argues that for Nabokov “l’intérêt du problème réside alors dans les relations thématiques entre les multiples fausses clés et la seule vraie clé” [the interest of the problem thus lies in the thematic relationships between the multiple false keys and the sole true key]. The difficulty the reader encounters in finding the solution(s) to such problems is one that “implique la distinction soigneuse entre le vrai et le faux, l’actuel et le virtuel, le réel et le imaginaire, mais qui n’affirme nullement une quelconque prérogative du vrai, de l’actuel ou du réel” [involves the careful distinction between the true and the false, the real and the imaginary, but which is no way affirms any prerogative of the true, the actual, or the real].

(Like much of L’Arc, this article was translated from English. Six years prior to its appearance, Gezari wrote a dissertation at Yale entitled Game Fiction: The World of Play and the Novels of Vladimir Nabokov.)

Couturier, Maurice. Nabokov (Lausanne: L’Age d’homme, 1979).

The first French monograph on Nabokov, Couturier’s book is an abridged version of his thèse de doctorat d’état (defended before Roland Barthes in 1976), entitled Enonciation du roman nabokovien. Conversant with literary theory and skilled at using its jargon as a tool rather than a mystifying prop, Couturier takes us behind Nabokov’s velvet backdrop to reveal how his textual tricks work. The book is explicative rather than interpretive. Couturier respectfully observes in his introduction that every commentator on Nabokov is “finalement condamné à se taire” [ultimately condemned to fall silent].

Couturier’s second book on Nabokov (v. infra) expands on the arguments developed here.

[1930s-1950s] [1960s-1970s]
[1980s] [1990s]

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