Complicity and Dissent: Literature in the Cold War

Lecture | April 9 | 4-6 p.m. | 300 Wheeler Hall

 Duncan White, Lecturer on History and Literature, Harvard University

 Department of English, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures

At the outbreak of the Second World War Vladimir Nabokov stood on the brink of losing everything all over again. The reputation he had built as the pre-eminent Russian novelist in exile was imperilled. In Nabokov and his Books, Duncan White shows how Nabokov went to America and not only reinvented himself as an American writer but also used the success of Lolita to rescue those Russian books that had been threatened by obscurity. Using previously unpublished and neglected material, White tells the story of Nabokov the professional writer and how he sought to balance his late modernist aesthetics with the demands of a booming American literary marketplace. As Nabokov's reputation grew so he took greater and greater control of how his books were produced, making the material form of the book--including forewords, blurbs, covers--part of the novel. In his later novels, including Pale Fire, Ada, and Transparent Things, the idea of the novelist losing control of his work became the subject of the novels themselves. These plots were replicated in Nabokov's own biography, as he discovered his inability to control the forces the market success of Lolita had unleashed. With new insights into Nabokov's life and work, this book reconceptualises the way we think about one of the most important and influential novelists of the twentieth century.