An incomplete catologue of items towards which Vladimir Nabokov is dismissive

Nabokov1) Jean-Paul Sartre (and by extension, Existentialism in general)

In a 1949 review of the English translation to Sartre’s “Nausea,” Nabokov referred to the French author’s philosophical movement as “a fashionable brand of cafe philosophy, and  since for every so-called ‘existentialist’ one finds quite a few ‘suctorialists’…this novel should enjoy some success.”

This same review goes on to enumerate several problems with the translation, and mercilessly lambast Sartre: “Whether, from the viewpoint of literature, La Nausйe was worth translating at all is another question. It belongs to that tense-looking but really very loose type of writing, which has been popularized by many second-raters.”

2) Fyodor Dostoyevsky

A lifelong enemy of sentimentality in all its forms, Nabokov lumped Dostoyevsky in with a Russian literary tradition that, in his opinion, fell victim unfortunately to pathos.

From the same 1949 review of Sartre: “Somewhere behind looms Dostoyevsky at his worst, and still farther back there is old Eugene Sue, to whom the melodramatic Russian owed so much.”

If look at some of Nabokov’s essays there might be a tiny, miniscule bit of praise reserved for “Crime and Punishment”. Maybe.

3) Class discussion

No doubt informed by his many years as a professor of literature: “Discussion in class, which means letting twenty young blockheads and two cocky neurotics discuss something that neither their teacher nor they know.”

4) Saul Bellow (and by extension, most of American literature)

Bellow’s passionate empathy was just too broad a target to avoid Nabokov’s wrath. There is a quote somewhere (now lost to me), where Nabokov refers to Bellow and his compatriots by some delicious term like, “unipsychic regionalism.” It creatively insults American literature’s apparent (and for the most part actual) provincialism, and its regular tendency to fall into racial histrionics.

5) James Joyce…sort of

Though Nabokov’s collected lectures feature a paean to “Ulysses,” this essay also halts at many points to furrow its brow over Joyce’s nationalistic tendencies, and what Nabokov considered the Irish author’s failure to adequately imitate Flaubert.


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