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Vladimir Nabokov et la France

Yannicke Chupin
Agnès Edel-Roy
Monica Manolescu
et al.

III. Langue française et modèles culturels français

Monsieur Nabokov and Mademoiselle O

Samuel Schuman

Texte intégral

1As we broaden our understanding of Vladimir Nabokov to include the Gallic dimension of his life and literary oeuvre, it is essential to revisit his most important work written in the French language, the short piece “Mademoiselle O.” This brief survey is in five parts. First, I review the biographical facts surrounding Nabokov and his family’s interaction with Cécile Miauton, who appears in several places in his works, but is the central subject only of “Mademoiselle O.” Then I recapitulate the rather Byzantine publication of this work, a history that spans the three quarters of a century from 1936 to 2007 and three languages. I briefly summarize and cite a few of the most cogent critical comments on the piece—some of which were authored by others represented in this volume. Finally, I want to raise, or re-raise two of the fascinating questions the work invites us to ask: issues of language and of genre. Why did Nabokov write this story in French? It is the sole item in his fictional oeuvre originally cast in that language. And what are we to make of a work which appears in identical form as a fictional short story, and as factual autobiography?

I. Biographical Matters

2Brian Boyd’s Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years gives us the facts. Cécile Miauton arrived from her native Switzerland at the Nabokovs’ Vyra estate in the winter of 1905-1906, when the senior Nabokovs were in St. Petersburg. The wholly imagined scene of her midwinter arrival at the railroad station, and the sleigh ride through the night to the estate is surely one of the most vivid and beautiful passages in Nabokov’s autobiography and in all his writings. Vladimir took an immediate dislike to the new French governess, and, with his brother Sergei, rather cruelly ran away on her first afternoon of responsibility for the boys. From her, however, he quickly learned French: “by the summer of 1906 he had at disposal all three of the languages he would later wield with such skill” (Boyd, 1990, 61). She read aloud to her charges, especially focusing upon Corneille, Racine and Hugo. Soon, however, Mlle Miauton was assigned strictly to the Nabokov girls, leaving the two brothers to other tutors and valets. One such tutor, Filip Zelenski (portrayed as “Lensky” in Speak, Memory), was a constant trial to Miauton. Following multiple theatrical vows to depart after perceived insults from Zelenski, in 1915 she was allowed to consummate her threat and return to the shores of Lake Geneva/Lac Léman. About a decade later, in 1922, Nabokov paid her a visit with his friend Bobby de Calry. As Nabokov recounts in “Mademoiselle O,” after pining for Switzerland during her years in Russia, now that she was back in her homeland, she romanticized her years at the Nabokovs’, and misperceived her relationship with Vladimir as a warm and sentimental one. Nabokov and de Calry bought her a hearing aid, which she vowed enabled her to hear every word they spoke, but, unfortunately, doubting the efficacy of the device, Nabokov had not said a word. As Don Johnson has pointed out, it “beggars plausibility” that Nabokov and Miauton both lie today in graves on the shores of Lake Geneva (Johnson, np).

  • 1 Weirdly, a Google search turns up a resident of Coralville, Iowa named Ada Lariviere who passed awa (...)

3Shades of Cécile Miauton appear in other works by Nabokov. The 1925 story “Easter Rain,” depicts “a Swiss governess (drawn from Nabokov’s own, whose portrait he drew in ‘Mademoiselle O’)” according to Priscilla Meyer (121). Josephine is a lonely old Swiss woman who served a Russian family for twelve years. She retains Cécile Miauton’s black-rimmed pince-nez. She recalls how, in Russia, she had been homesick, but now she misses St. Petersburg, even “the coachman’s fat bottom,” which also appears in “Mademoiselle O.” Interestingly, “Easter Rain” also includes the image of an “enormous old swan” trying to pull itself out of a lake, the very image which is transmuted into the conclusion of “Mademoiselle O.” Don Johnson observes that Nabokov also “inserted bits and pieces of his one-time governess into The Defense” (np). In the preface to the 1963 English version of that novel, Nabokov comments that “I gave Luzin my French governess” (3). Johnson also points out that the old governess in The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941), like Miauton, “longs for the lost Russian paradise where, in fact, she passed her years bewailing her exile from Switzerland” (np). Finally, and perhaps most importantly, most readers have seen echoes of Miauton in Mlle Larivière in Ada. Here, while still a French governess to a “Russian” aristocratic family, she is not just a reader of inferior French literature, but a creator, ultimately a successful one, of it as well. Boyd notes that in Ada, we find again Miauton’s parasol, her ample bosom, and her deplorable literary taste.1

II. Bibliography—The History of the Text

4Nabokov famously describes the translational and publication odyssey of Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited:

This re-Englishing of a Russian re-version of what had been an English re-telling of Russian memories in the first place, proved to be a diabolical task, but some consolation was given me by the thought that such multiple metamorphosis, familiar to butterflies, had not been tried by any human before
Speak, Memory, 12-13)

  • 2 The early evolution of the material is carefully described in an appendix to Grayson.

5The multiple metamorphosis of “Mademoiselle O” is even more complex, adding a third language and at least two more translators!2

6In January 1936, Nabokov had been invited to give a reading in Brussels. According to Boyd, “in two or three days at the end of the first week in January he dashed off ‘Mademoiselle O.’ Suspicious of the ease of its composition, he thought it third-rate. He read the story to the Pen Club on the evening of January 24, and it was a ‘dazzling success’” (Boyd, 1990, 422). He apparently read the story again in Brussels at the Russian Jewish Club, and then in Paris in February (Gomory, 17). The story was then published by Jean Paulhan in Mesures (April 15, 1936). Next, the work was translated from French to English by Hilda Ward, with some revisions by Nabokov himself, and published in The Atlantic Monthly in January, 1943. In the same translation, it appeared in 1947 in a collection entitled Nine Stories. In 1951, Nabokov re-translated the story, again into English, where it appeared in the first English version of his autobiography, Conclusive Evidence. Then, in 1954, Nabokov translated the English Conclusive Evidence into the Russian Drugie berega, including, of course, the chapter on Cécile Miauton. Then, in 1966 came the re-Englishing of the Russian re-version as Chapter 5 of Speak, Memory. The piece has been reprinted in 1947 in Nine Stories, 1958 in Nabokov’s Dozen and 1997 in The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov.

  • 3 Thirlwell is fascinated by translation and translation theory. He sees translated works less as sha (...)

7There the story might have ended, were it not for the contemporary British novelist and critic Adam Thirlwell, who developed an interest in literary exile, travel and translation. In 2007, Thirlwell wrote a book which was called in Britain Miss Herbert, and in the United States given the remarkable title: The Delighted States: A Book of Novels, Romances, and Their Unknown Translators, Containing Ten Languages, Set on Four Continents, and Accompanied by Maps, Portraits, Squiggles, Illustrations, and a Variety of Helpful Indexes. At the end of this book (or at the beginning, because the volume flips over, and starts upside down at the back with a new page1), Thirlwell offers, first, his English translation of the original French version of “Mademoiselle O” followed by the 1936 French text (1-52).3

8In chronological order, this complex journey appears thus:

91936 – French (for readings and Mesures)
1943 – English (Tr. Hilda Ward;
The Atlantic Monthly)
1947 – English (
Nine Stories)
1951 – English (re-translated by Nabokov;
Conclusive Evidence)
1954 – Russian (Tr. Nabokov;
Drugie berega)
1958 – English
Nabokov’s Dozen (short stories); same as Conclusive Evidence (autobiography)
1966 – English (re-translated by Nabokov;
Speak, Memory)
1995 – English (
The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov, the same as Speak, Memory)
2007 – French, English (Tr. Adam Thirlwell,
The Delighted States/Miss Herbert)

10In Speak, Memory, Nabokov speaks of the amount of bibliographic information necessary to hypnotize jittery critics. I trust that many who have perused this publication and translation history are, in fact, hypnotized! I know I am.

III. Survey of Criticism

11Although a short work, “Mademoiselle O” has been discussed in several critical studies of Nabokov’s works, especially his stories, but it has not been the subject of major scholarly studies. There have been a number of valuable comments upon the piece which merit review. What follows makes no claim to be a comprehensive critical survey, but rather, a, selective anthology of criticism.

12As noted above, Brian Boyd’s definitive biography is the primary source for factual information about Cécile Miauton and her work in the Nabokov household. Jane Grayson, in Nabokov Translated, nicely summarizes the history of the text of the piece. So, too, does John Burt Foster in “An Archeology of ‘Mademoiselle O’: Narrative between Art and Memory,” a chapter in Charles Nicol and Gennady Barabtarlo’s A Small Alpine Form. A number of writers have probed the generic issues raised by “Mademoiselle O.” For example, Claus-Peter Neumann suggests the ways in which the piece blurs the boundaries between short story and autobiography. John Burt Foster, Jr. finds that the text moves from equating memory and invention in the French version, to “a complex and unresolvable oscillation between fictive and autobiographical modes” (132).

13A very impressive undergraduate honors thesis was submitted by Stephanie Gomory at Wesleyan University in 2010. It is entitled Found in Translation: Revision, Revisitation, and Rewriting in the French Émigré Works of Vladimir Nabokov and Milan Kundera. A section of the thesis focuses upon “Mademoiselle O,” especially the differences between the early French version and the final English text. Gomory points out that the French version spends much more time on Nabokov’s relationship with the French language (30), saying, for example (in Thirlwell’s translation): “I have always had the desire to revive for my own pleasure, and also as a sign of posthumous gratitude, the exact inflection which the French language gave to my life in Russia” (Thirlwell, 2). Similarly, Nabokov apologizes, in the French version, for his inept French: “I have lost the habit of it” (Thirlwell, 2). And, only in the first version, he gives a brief history of the use of French by the Russian aristocracy in the early 20th century.

14In “The Distinguished Writer vs. the Child” Maurice Couturier deals (in my opinion, winningly) with the question of a “text which was alternately presented by Nabokov as autobiography and fiction.” He contends that there is no decisive criterion in terms of style or plot to distinguish the two genres, and “it is the reading contract which changes the nature of the text or rather the way we read it and interact with its author. The problem with Nabokov […] is that the contract is not always stated at the start, or that it keeps changing” (Couturier, 2008). Couturier notes that, in the original French reading and publication, the status of the text was not stipulated. He pinpoints some of the important differences between the French and the first English versions: the opening lines of the English text are “much more general and decontextualized,” and the French audience is addressed in “a long development about the French language, absent from the English translation.” Nabokov is asking the French audience to excuse his use of their language, although in fact Couturier finds his French “on the whole marvelously poetic.” He notes that, in naming his central character “Mademoiselle O” and affirming that that is her “real name” not an abbreviation, he is obviously fictionalizing Cécile Miauton. By fictionalizing his past, he protects it from being “plundered by his readers” (Couturier, 2008). Finally, Couturier cites Nabokov’s letters about Conclusive Evidence, which state: “This will be a new kind of autobiography, or rather a new hybrid between that and a novel. To the latter it will be affiliated by having a definite plot. Various strata of personal past will form as it were the banks between which will flow a torrent of physical and mental adventure” (Selected Letters, 69).

  • 4 This work was nicely reviewed by Jacqueline Hamrit in Nabokov Studies and by Leland de la Durantaye (...)

15In his Nabokov ou la Cruauté du désir. Lecture psychanalytique (2004), Couturier focuses upon “Mademoiselle O” as an important example of Nabokov’s theme of loss.4 Couturier speculates that in some ways Cécile Miauton was a kind of mother figure to the author, and raises the interesting idea that in moving to Switzerland in the concluding decades of his life may be a kind of return to the mother/motherland.

16A quite different perspective on Switzerland, Miauton, and Nabokov is found in a 1999 online essay by Don Johnson, “The Black Swan of Lac Léman.” Johnson stresses that Nabokov had three “native” tongues, including French as well as Russian and English. The reason that Cécile Miauton reappeared so often in his works is her importance in his life and art, as the first and primary introducer of French language and literature to the young writer. Johnson notes that “Mademoiselle O” follows “My English Education” in the autobiography. The second reason Miauton is so important to Nabokov is that she also embodies “one of his great themes—exile and nostalgia.” Switzerland, Miauton’s home, stood, for Russians and others, as an emblem of neutrality and refuge, a temporary haven for the world’s exiles. Johnson concludes by noting that Switzerland has been host and haven to writers of Russian, English, and French, “although rarely, if ever before, embodied in a single author.” Recalling the image of Miauton as an aging swan, Johnson reminds us that Nabokov lived in the “Le Cygne” wing of the Montreux Palace.

17Jacqueline Hamrit takes up the theme of Nabokov and French culture in “French Echoes in ‘Mademoiselle O’.” She asserts that the piece demonstrates “Nabokov’s anchorage in and heritage of French culture.” Since this work was, according to Nabokov, the initiation of his autobiographical writing, it seems evident that French language, literature, and culture played an important role in his life and works. She recalls Nabokov’s assertion in Strong Opinions when asked which of his languages he thought the most beautiful, he responded “My head says English, my heart, Russian, my ear, French” (49). It was, of course, Cécile Miauton who first caressed that ear with the sounds of French literature. Hamrit finds that “Mademoiselle O” belongs to “a French tradition of introspection” going back to Montaigne and Rousseau. In particular, it is a species of literary introspection in which, citing Paul de Man, “a man observes himself in the act of writing” (de Man quoted by Hamrit). The author, in other words, creates a portrait of the author, as an author. That portrait links with what Hamrit sees as another related Gallic theme, the search for happiness and an affirmation of life in recollecting childhood. Hamrit cites especially André Gide’s Fruits of the Earth as exemplifying this motif. Finally, Hamrit discusses the curious way in which Nabokov, in the first, French, version of the piece concludes with the impression that he has invented his governess through the act of writing about her, a theme which appears in the later, English, versions, but less strongly. Mademoiselle O is real not because she actually existed, but because “he has given her an existence in the process of writing.” Nabokov’s assertion, it seems to me, both raises and makes even more vexing the issues circling around the piece’s genre.

18Foster, likewise, finds strong evidence of the influence of French modernism, “specifically to the memory-oriented art of Baudelaire, Flaubert, and Proust.” He sees in the story “the impact of French models on his art of memory” (112).

19At nearly fifty pages in length, J. E. Rivers’s “Alone in the Void: ‘Mademoiselle O’” is more nearly a monograph than an article. Rivers notes that in the 1930s Nabokov was known as an “up-and-coming writer of French” (85), favors the French text over the Russian or any of the English versions, and considers it “a neglected masterpiece” (87). He focuses upon the richness and emotional power of the characterization and the foregrounding of the French language itself. Rivers cites Nabokov’s comment to Andrew Field “I might have been a great French writer” (Field, 141). The work is neither fact nor fiction, but a hyper-generic combination. Rivers finds the French Mademoiselle O an attractive character, indeed, one Nabokov in some ways “loves.” She is, he argues, “dignified though downtrodden, funny but more than a little heroic” (100). This is in part because he sees a clear equation between her and Nabokov (103). Rivers spends several pages on the name/letter “O.” It can represent Cécile Miauton’s fat body; her human plenitude; an emblem of the entire world. The sound of “O” becomes a “hologram,” but only in the French version because that tongue is “orotund.” Rivers contends that “it is not possible to do in another language everything French can do for a quintessentially French character” (129). He reminds us that the story was written to be read, in French, aloud. He concludes “at the end, as in the beginning, she is nothing—and everything” (131).

IV. Language

  • 5 One other work of non-fiction, “Pouchkine, ou le vrai et le vraisemblable” (1937) was also original (...)

20“Mademoiselle O” poses two interesting and important questions. The first engages his choice of the French language as medium; the second, meta-literary, considered in the next section. Why, in the large and diverse panoply of Nabokov’s fiction, is this work of fiction, and only this one, written in French?5 There are, I suspect, at least three answers. First, rather obviously, Nabokov had been invited to give a reading to an audience, in Belgium, which was largely French speaking. A story in English or Russian might have emptied the house rapidly! A somewhat more nuanced explanation might be that, at this time of personal, professional, and European upheaval, Nabokov is entertaining the idea of becoming a French author, rather than the English writer into which he eventually translated himself.

21Second, a bit more interestingly, “Mademoiselle O” is a story about Nabokov’s learning French and coming to learn about French literature. Surely, if he was to write a story about the graceless swan whose spoken French was a miracle of graceful music, and who first introduced him to the treasures of French literature, it made sense to write that story in that language. This motif is reinforced by the fact that the original French-language version of the piece focuses considerably more intensely on the subject of Cécile Miauton’s French (and Nabokov’s as well) itself than does the later, English telling. So, for example, the very first sentence of the French version is “Dans un livre, j’ai prêté à l’enfance de mon héros l’institutrice à qui je dois le plaisir d’entendre le français” (“Mademoiselle O,” 7). (Thirlwell: “In a book, I lent my hero’s childhood the governess to whom I owe the pleasure of understanding French”, 1). The English iteration goes straight to the issue of theme of fiction replacing fact: “I have often noticed that after I had bestowed on the characters of my novels some treasured item of my past, it would pine away in the artificial world where I had so abruptly placed it” (“Mademoisello O,” 480).

22Third, I think a good case can be made that “Mademoiselle O” is a contribution to a literary genre, the “confession” in which the French contribution is paramount. Indeed, as I suggested above, Jacqueline Hamrit has made that case: “‘Mademoiselle O’belongs to a French tradition of introspection, and its use of the autobiographical mode goes back to Montaigne’s Essays and Rousseau’s Confessions, which Nabokov had read” (Hamrit, np). Of course all autobiography is a kind of introspective inspection, but the confessional mode, in which the speaker seems both passionate and intimate in self-revelation is, if not uniquely, certainly most notably, French. There is a kind of relatively un-filtered self-reflexiveness to the French “Mademoiselle O,” which is not present in the English, where the more self-consciously authoritative authorial voice is heard, and the more direct, confessional narration is diminished. Grayson describes the shift from French to English: “The seven years of her stay are evoked in the French version with a gentle flow of associations which prompt description and anecdote. In the revisions, Nabokov imposes a more rigid structural pattern on these reminiscences […]. In later versions he takes a longer look at his past […] a more critical, detached, and humorous appraisal of character and event” (147-48, 150, 155). Here is an illustration of this tonal difference from one of the more memorable passages, from Nabokov’s visit to Miauton after she returns to Switzerland, first in Thirlwell’s literal translation of the French version, and then from Speak, Memory:

Since our interview had been made terribly difficult by the deafness of Mademoiselle, the next day I brought her one of those gadgets which promise the deaf more than they can perform. When she installed the tube, she thanked me with a dazzled look and swore that she could hear the slightest whisper. She was lying, she could hear nothing at all, and was lying to give me pleasure, and this naïve, delicate, adorable lie is the last memory I possess of Mademoiselle.
(Thirlwell, 25-26)

As no conversation was possible because of Mademoiselle’s deafness, my friend and I decided to bring her the next day the appliance which we gathered she could not afford. She adjusted the clumsy thing improperly at first, but no sooner had she done so than she turned to me with a dazzled look of moist wonder and bliss in her eyes. She swore she could hear every word, every murmur of mine. She could not for, having my doubts, I had not spoken. If I had, I would have told her to thank my friend, who had paid for the instrument. Was it, then, silence she heard, that Alpine Silence she had talked about in the past? In that past, she had been lying to herself; now she was lying to me.
Speak, Memory, 116)

V. Genre

23Finally, I want to come back to an issue which has engaged almost everyone who has studied “Mademoiselle O,” the question of the relationship between autobiographical fact and literary fiction. Grayson puts it nicely: “But what is extremely rare is for an author to present his personal experience—the same personal experience, to his public in both forms: as fiction and as autobiography” (156). Of course, almost all fiction has within it some kernel of factual memory, and in many cases there are autobiographical links to imaginative literature. But in this case, the exact same material appears, in Speak, Memory and Nabokov’s Dozen and The Stories. Exactly the same words, offered as fact and as fiction. And one naïve but accurate definition of “fiction” is “not fact.” So, the question is: is “Mademoiselle O” the same or different when it appears as “fact” in Speak, Memory and “fiction” in The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov? There are at least three answers to this puzzle, all of which, unfortunately, I find not just attractive, but even convincing.

24Answer number 1. I am a product of a literary education of the mid-twentieth century, which cultivated a vigorous new critical approach. What counts is the text itself, alone, uncontaminated by historical, biographical, bibliographical or any other external facts. Thus, Hamlet is the same play, whether it was written by William Shakespeare at the beginning of the seventeenth century, or by Misha Pupick at the beginning of the twenty-first. The play’s themes, characters, poetry stand by themselves. It might be interesting to know Hamlet’s relationship to The Revenger’s Tragedy, but finally that has nothing to do with Hamlet. Everything we need to know about this work is what happens between when Bernardo says “Who’s there?” (the best opening line every written in English, I believe) and Fortinbras says “Go bid the soldiers shoot” (Shakespeare, 1985, 87, 255). In this critical paradigm it would make no difference what one calls “Mademoiselle O”: it is what it is, it sets its own rules, creates its own universe, it is a self-contained, self-sufficient document. Nabokov himself, although he would not affiliate himself with any particular critical school, certainly inclines towards such a new critical stance: he rejects the notion that literature is linked to any historical context. And he rejects with vigor any philosophical, political, social or ethical interpretation of his works. He denies, for example, that Bend Sinister is “about” the oppression of Nazi or Communist social systems.

25Of course, in the case of “Mademoiselle O,” this argument is undercut, or at least rendered more complex, by the changing nature of the work itself: which of its language iterations is the definitive version? Is the piece an independent unit, or a segment of a larger work? Is each version, even if identical, a separate work? The elusive nature of the piece leaves the new critic somewhat adrift.

26Answer number 2 is nicely articulated by Maurice Couturier: that the reading contract between author and reader “changes the nature of the text or rather the way we read it” (Couturier, 2008). From this perspective, it can be said that we read exactly the same words differently if they come to us as autobiographical or as fictive. We ask different questions, we are looking for different values. If autobiography, for example, it seems legitimate to ask “does this work tell us something revealing about its author, something which helps us to understand the whole of the author’s life and work?” If fiction, we might ask something like “why has the author made this character look this way; why is Mademoiselle so fat; why has he chosen to give her room an unpleasant odor?” and the like.

27Answer number 3 is Nabokov’s answer: this is something different, and it is neither autobiography nor fiction, but both. Memory and imagination are not enemies but siblings. Jacqueline Hamrit speaks of Nabokov’s “desire to create a new kind of writing” (np). Nabokov is clearly trying—successfully, I suspect—to sabotage our understanding of the fact/fiction paradox. Recall that in his letters, as he was working on Conclusive Evidence, he speaks of “a new kind of autobiography, or rather a new hybrid between that and a novel” (Selected Letters, 69). Thus, the French version of the work begins, as does the English, with comments about how the appearance of Cécile Miauton in Nabokov’s fiction depopulates his own past. But it ends with an affirmation that she was not ever actually “real” until he invented her: “Did she truly live? No, now that I think about it hard—she never lived. But from now on she is real, since I have created her, and this existence I give her would be a very candid sign of gratitude, if she had ever truly existed.” (493); “Si elle avait vraiment existé” (36). What is it to “truly exist?” Is that different than to “really exist?” In an interview with Alfred Appel Jr., Nabokov declares that “imagination is a form of memory” (Strong Opinions, 78). Memory recreates people, places and events which once existed, but do no longer. In that sense, both memory and imagination involve acts of creation. Where there was nothing, now there is something “real.”

28Does not “imagination body forth the forms of things unknown” and “the poet’s pen turn them to shapes and give to airy nothing a local habitation and a name”? (Shakespeare, 2003, 123). And does not memory “journey back in thought” to restore the reality of things which have passed out of existence? And, “Mademoiselle O” invites us to ask, is there any difference?


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Neumann, Claus Peter. (November 2004): “Consciousness as Creative Force and Prison Cell in Nabokov’s ‘Mademoiselle O’.” Revista Alicantina de Estudios Ingleses 17, p.5-24.

Raguet-Bouvart, Christine. (2000): «“Mademoiselle O”: les images appartiendraient-elles plutôt à une langue? De la transposition en langue anglaise de souvenirs en français de Russie. » Revue des études slaves 72/3, p.495-503.

Rivers, J. E. (2000): “Alone in the Void: ‘Mademoiselle O’.” In Torpid Smoke: The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov. Eds. Steven Kellerman and Irving Malin. Amsterdam, Rodopi, p.85-131.

Shakespeare, William. (1985): Hamlet [1603]. Ed. Philip Edwards. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, The New Cambridge Shakespeare.

Shakespeare, William. (2003): A Midsummer Night’s Dream [1600]. Ed. R. A. Foakes. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, The New Cambridge Shakespeare.

Thirlwell, Adam. (2007): Miss Herbert. London, Jonathan Cape.


1 Weirdly, a Google search turns up a resident of Coralville, Iowa named Ada Lariviere who passed away in 2011!

2 The early evolution of the material is carefully described in an appendix to Grayson.

3 Thirlwell is fascinated by translation and translation theory. He sees translated works less as shadows of the original and more as a kind of second original composition. He believes that translations have played a major role in our perceptions of major works of literature. Although he declares himself sympathetic to Nabokov’s literal theory of translation, he is also very interested in what elements of theme, style, and perspective can survive the shift from one language to another.

4 This work was nicely reviewed by Jacqueline Hamrit in Nabokov Studies and by Leland de la Durantaye in The Nabokov Online Journal.

5 One other work of non-fiction, “Pouchkine, ou le vrai et le vraisemblable” (1937) was also originally composed in French.


(1942-2014) a été Président de la Société Internationale Vladimir Nabokov de 1980 à 1982. Il a été Garrey Carruthers Distinguished Visiting Professor à l’Université du Nouveau-Mexique et Chancelier Émérite de l’Université du Minnesota (Morris) et de l’Université de la Caroline du Nord (Asheville). Auteur de Vladimir Nabokov : A Reference Guide (G. K. Hall, 1979) et Nabokov’s Shakespeare (Bloomsbury Academic, 2014), il a présenté des communications sur Vladimir Nabokov aux congrès de la MLA et de l’Association américaine des slavistes, au Musée Nabokov de Saint-Pétersbourg, aux colloques consacrés à Nabokov à Kyoto et Auckland. L’article publié ici est issu de sa toute dernière communication à un colloque.

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