Course Schedule

A Skeletal Reading Schedule (This skeleton is also on your paper syllabus.)

Any updates to the syllabus will be posted on this blog in color.

Note: This is a schedule subject to change. As the semester progresses, I will post reading questions, and link to various resources on the course blog. Texts listed next to a date will be discussed on that date. Start reading ahead—finish each novel before we start discussing it. (Plan ahead! The novels get longer as the semester progresses.) An asterisk (*) indicates reading is on sakai. Bring all scanned readings to class, please!


Jan 16              Introductions; Administra-trivia; “Good” readers and “good” writers.

Jan 18              Class Discussion: “Good Readers and Good Writers”*; “The Passenger”*;

Handout: “On Close Reading” (Regaignon)*. Read paper syllabus!

[Begin reading The Luzhin Defense; read Nabokov’s biography on zembla website.]


GRGW: We’ve already taken Nabokov’s “good reader” quiz from this essay. What other aspects of this lecture/essay strike you as interesting, surprising, or problematic? What does this lecture tell us about Nabokov as a writer? Does Nabokov posit an ideal reader of his own fiction? Who is (s)he? Mark a specific passage that you would like to discuss. (Extra: do you think Nabokov would have approved of my claim that “reading and writing are continuous rather than distinct activities”? And what about the notion of reading “against the grain” developed in the Regaignon excerpt”)

THE PASSENGER: This story is an early example of fiction about fiction. Nabokov plays here with the nineteenth-century fascination with the train car as a source of narrative. Look up Leo Tolstoy’s “The Kreutzer Sonata” to get a sense of the story Nabokov referenes most directly. Other very famous train scenes: opening and ending of Anna Karenina, Dostoevsky’s The Idiot.

Revisit the questions I asked in re GRGW. And be ready to discuss the following actors in this story: “the critic,” “the device,” “the foot.”

Jan 23              Class Discussion: “The Vane Sisters”. First Response Paper Due at NOON!

VS: This is a late work, written in English (unlike “The Passenger”). See Nabokov’s own note: “In this story the narrator is supposed to be unaware that his last paragraph has been used acrostically by two dead girls to assert their mysterious participation in the story. This particular trick can be tried only once in a thousand years of fiction. Whether it has come off is another question.” Do you see the acrostic? (Look for a while; if you don’t see it, go to trusty google…) Do you think the trick “came off”? And now, do you see how the story had bared its own device or method all along? Does knowledge of the acrostic significantly change the meaning or import of the story? Feel free to start discussion of these questions on blog!

Prompt for response paper (choose one):

  1. a) Reconstruct the order in which events “occur” in “The Vane Sisters” and reflect on the effect the narrator’s re-ordering of events has on our reading.
  2. b) Do a close reading of the story’s second paragraph in light of your reading of the whole story. Pick a few details and develop your analysis of them as carefully as you can.

Format of this and subsequent response papers: Write ca. 300 words. Fit them on a single page (the front of a single sheet). Save a clearly labeled .pdf (!) file in Sakai Assignments AND print out a copy and bring to class.

Jan 25              Class Discussion: “A Guide to Berlin” and “A Nursery Tale.”

We will focus primarily on “A Guide to Berlin” and make sure to spend at least 10-15 minutes on “A Nursery Tale” at the end of class.

Discussion prep “A Guide to Berlin”: This is another tricky Nabokov story, akin perhaps to “The Vane Sisters.” Look for a “clue.” Meanwhile, what do you make of this whole story being called a “Guide”? (Recall that the Russian emigration tended to live around the Berlin Zoo.) Is there a “detail” or “triviality” that you think might be meaningful? Think about the relationship of past, present, and future in this story. Can you reconstruct the final image in the pub? A drawing might be good … (The Good Reader Quiz today will be on “Guide to Berlin.”)

Discussion prep “A Nursery Tale.” Consider the title. What do you expect from the genre of a “nursery tale” or a “fairy tale” (in Russian, skazka)? This is one of those stories that changed in its (late, 1975, English translation). The Germans are more despicable, more stereotyped. The girl in question becomes less boyish. Lolita has been written (ahem…). You might want to think about this as a Faustian tale (look up if that doesn’t mean anything to you yet). What does Faust sell his soul for? And, since we’re on the topic of “hermeneutics of perversion,” think about that notions with its various implications.

Class handout: “The Hermeneutics of Perversion”*

[Meanwhile finish The Luzhin Defense]


Jan 30              Class Discussion: The Luzhin Defense
Today we will focus on the “Foreword” and on Chapter 1. There will be a Good Reader Quiz on these two sections only.

Feb 1               The Luzhin Defense

Discussion prep: Today we will think about scenes of reading in the book. Your task: Find a passage about reading or writing anywhere in the book; copy your chosen passage onto the blog; have something to say about it in class. There will be a Good Reader Quiz on reading scenes.

 [Start reading Invitation to a Beheading]

Feb 6               Class Discussion: The Luzhin Defense [Second response paper due]

Paper Prompt: Write about a single case of REPETITION in the novel. (You will by now have noticed that certain motifs and very specific images repeat with increasing intensity toward the end of the book. You might write about a character from the beginning of the book who suddenly reappears later, or about on a wall that show up again. A recurring pattern of color or design. Describe its appearance; try to make sense of it. Of course, give page numbers.)

Discussion Prep: Your paper is the main prep for today, but think also about the architecture of the novel. If you were to sketch out the 14 chapters or draw a picture of them, what would it look like? (I encourage you to make this sketch and bring it to class, but that’s not mandatory.)

Feb 8              Class Discussion:  The Luzhin Defense + “Rowe’s Symbols”* (from Strong Opinions)

Today, I’m going to present to you some scholarly readings of the novel, focusing especially on one that deals with 2-D and 3-D images in The Luzhin Defense. Have you noticed this pattern? Do you feel like trying to trace it in advance of my lecture? Read “Rowe’s Symbols” as an example of how Nabokov would reach into the critical discussion of his own work (in re hermeneutic anxiety and anxiety of perversion!).

[Continue and finish reading Invitation to a Beheading]

! Feb 11          First Version of Essay 1 due in Sakai Assignments.


Feb 13             Class Discussion:  “Cloud, Castle, Lake”

Feb 15             Class Discussion: Invitation to a Beheading

! Feb 18          By today, you’ll have met with Jack and received suggestions for paper revisions

                        [Start (re-)reading Lolita]


Feb 20             Class: Invitation to a Beheading [Third response paper due]

Feb 22             Class: Invitation to a Beheading

! Feb 25          Revised Version of Essay 1 due in Sakai Assignments.

                        [You should be deep into Lolita by now]


Feb 27             Class Discussion: Invitation to a Beheading

Mar 1              Class Discussion: Lolita: “Foreword” and opening paragraphs of “Part One.”

[You should be close to finishing Lolita by now.]

! Mar 4           First Version of Essay 2 due in Sakai Assignments


Mar 6             A Day of Tying Together Loose Ends


J SPRING BREAK: March 12-16 J [Finish Lolita, Read all or most of  Pnin]

Mar 20            Class Discussion: Lolita [Fourth response paper due]

Mar 22            Class Discussion: Lolita

            [Don’t Forget Pnin is coming!]

! Mar 25         Revised Version of Essay 2 due in Sakai Assignments


Mar 27            Class Discussion: Lolita and ‘On a Book Entitled Lolita’ (311-317)

Mar 29            Class: Scholarly Article TBA [Worksheet due]

                        [I know you’re busy, but get started on Pale Fire. And think about “how” to read it.

Front to back? Looking up each note to the poem? Reflect on the disorienting form.]


Apr 3               Class Discussion: Pnin [Fifth response paper due]

Apr 5               Class Discussion: Pnin

                        [Of course, you’re working on Pale Fire now.]


Apr 10             Pnin

Apr 12             Pnin

! Apr   15        TBA Preparatory Writing Assignment Due

                        [Finish Pale Fire]


April 17           Class Discussion: Pale Fire [Sixth response paper due]

April 19           Pale Fire

! April  22       First Version of Essay 3 Due Today


Apr 24             Pale Fire

Apr 26             Pale Fire


May 1             All sorts of loose ends. “Good Reader” PRIZES!

                        Graduating Seniors turn in Revision of Essay 3 and Final Reflection.



All other students:

Revised Version of Essay 2 and Final Reflection due Thursday, May 10. No in-class final.