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Title: Nabokov's comic vision
Author: Grant, P. B.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2004
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Vladimir Nabokov’s ubiquitous humour has prevented many critics from granting his work the seriousness it deserves. In this study, I argue that his humour does not preclude the underlying seriousness of his art - that, on the contrary, he is often at his most profound when at his most humorous. What he has written of parody is true of his humour as a whole: it functions ‘as a kind of springboard for leaping into the highest region of serious emotion’ (The Real Life of Sebastian Knight). Much recent criticism of Nabokov has concerned itself with these higher regions. In Nabokov’s Otherworld (1991), Vladimir E. Alexandrov argues that ‘an aesthetic rooted in [Nabokov’s] intuition of a transcendent realm is the basis of his art’, and claims that his ‘conception of the otherworld underlies the comedy’ in his work. This claim gains legitimacy in light of Nabokov’s comment ‘that the difference between the comic side of things, and their cosmic side, depends on one sibilant’ (Nikolai Gogol), which implies that his humour has a pronounced metaphysical dimension, and that his comic vision is, at its most profound regions, a cosmic one. This statement has far-reaching implications with respect to Nabokov’s humour, and points to a set of commonly-held assumptions which need to be revised. Many critics continue to regard him as a black humourist, an author whose fiction reflects an underlying belief in a meaningless universe. Nabokov’s faith in an otherworld gives an entirely new perspective to this argument. By aligning the comic with the cosmic, he is not suggesting that we should look upon life as a joke; on the contrary he posits the notion that it is meticulously patterned. The association he draws between the comic and the cosmic invites us to view his humour as an extension of his faith in an afterlife, the existence of which offsets the pain and losses encountered on the earthy plane of being, and relegates them to a position of relative unimportance.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available