‘The mental rimmed the sensuous’: Nabokov and the singularity of literary experience

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Vladimir Nabokov’s writing is widely recognised for its intensely philosophical and poetical character, yet how these two qualities relate to one another remains a vexed question. The most compelling critical responses to this issue are those of Brian Boyd and Martin Hägglund, who have offered conflicting interpretations of Ada or Ardor, arguably Nabokov’s most challenging and moving work of fiction. This essay begins by examining a recent published debate between Boyd and Hägglund – paying particular attention to their differing methods of close reading – to develop a more nuanced account of how literary fictions engage with human experience, and of how we as literary critics can most adequately respond to them. I argue for the need to capture the specifically literary qualities of a novel, and particularly the vital interconnections between textual descriptions of characters’ experiences and the experiences – both cognitive and affective – those descriptions solicit from readers. The reading of Ada or Ardor illustrates how this approach makes possible a richer and more accurate response to the singular qualities of Nabokov’s fiction.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)605-621
Number of pages17
JournalTextual Practice
Issue number4
Early online date17 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - 21 Apr 2019


  • Affect
  • Chronolibido
  • Close reading
  • Style
  • Vladimir Nabokov

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