Friday, 15 May 2009

A Fairy Tale for Grown-Ups: Nabokov’s Ada or Ardor

‘Great novels are great fairy tales,’ Vladimir Nabokov declared in Lectures on Literature, a work of criticism compiled posthumously from his Cornell University teaching notes. Such a statement might be deceptive, until you are familiar with what Nabokov took a ‘fairy tale’ to be. A devout stylist, Nabokov was perhaps the last great exponent of ‘art for art’s sake’. As writer and as reader, he formulated an aesthetic approach — influenced by the formalist school which was in vogue before his exile from Russia — that enabled him to satisfy his taste for style before all else. He was derisive of the politico-historical theories that had invaded American academia by the time he began teaching, and dismissive of any reader who delved into literature for morality or history, or even for emotion.