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Vladimir Nabokov and the Art of Play$
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Thomas Karshan

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199603985

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199603985.001.0001

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Free Play and Childhood from The Gift to Ada

Free Play and Childhood from The Gift to Ada

(p.149) 5 Free Play and Childhood from The Gift to Ada
Vladimir Nabokov and the Art of Play

Thomas Karshan (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Over the course of the 1930s, Nabokov's writing moves ever closer to the terrifying prospect of play without rules. The fifth chapter is about free play and childhood in the 1940s and 1950s, and deals with Nabokov's poems and plays in the late 1930s and early 1940s, going on to substantial discussions of Bend Sinister, Speak, Memory, and Lolita, before finishing with a brief section on Ada. Meeting Joyce in Paris in 1938 and reading the already published parts of Finnegans Wake (1939)—the nearest literature has ever come to absolute free play—encouraged Nabokov's writing in its movement towards indeterminacy. The chapter of Finnegans Wake on children's games, ‘The Mime of Mick, Nick, and the Maggies’, is referred to in Lolita. Nabokov's son Dmitri had been born in 1934 and in all the American novels Nabokov confronted his fears about the well-being of children and the harm posed to them by free play. Yet for Nabokov as for Joyce, children's play was also desirable and in need of protection from control. Like dreams, it resists interpretation and it therefore served Nabokov as a figure for the aesthetic uncertainty towards which his art was progressively moving in the thirty years after The Gift.

Keywords:   Nabokov, play, childhood, freedom, indeterminacy, tyranny, death of the author, fatherhood, Joyce, Finnegans Wake

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