Fall 2020

Nabokov's Art and Terrors

Listed in: English, as ENGL-315  |  Russian, as RUSS-225

Formerly listed as: ENGL-75  |  ENGL-95  |  RUSS-25

Moodle site: Course


Polina Barskova (Section 01)


(Offered as RUSS 225 and ENGL 315) This course undertakes a sustained examination of the works of Vladimir Nabokov (1899–1977). Drawing on the literary masterpieces of Nabokov’s Russian and English periods, we seek to gain a critical appreciation of his literary art and the cultural and aesthetic contexts from which they emerged. Throughout the course, we will consider his abiding themes such as the complex relationship between art and life, and between the poet, the state, and society; the narration of the experience of time; metafiction, its possibilities and constraints; bad art; the experience of exile; and the privileged position of art and aesthetics. The latter are variously inflected as refuge, asylum, or a space of revolt, as well as what enables the artist to counter, but also to inflict, cruelty. The course will also situate Nabokov’s work with the currents of literary modernism; to that end, readings are also drawn from such figures as Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka, Marcel Proust, and Virginia Woolf. Our access into these themes and the author’s narrative art will be through attentive reading, itself a preeminent theme of Nabokov’s work. No familiarity with Russian history or culture expected. All readings in English.

In 2020-21, this course will be taught online. Course materials, including readings, will be provided in advance, and all student work can be submitted electronically. Please contact the instructor for any questions regarding the course format.

Fall Semester. Visiting Associate Professor Barskova.


Attention to Issues of Gender and Sexuality, Attention to Writing, Languages Other Than English, Online Only, Transnational or World Cultures Taught in English


2020-21: Offered in Fall 2020
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Spring 2011, Fall 2013, Spring 2016, Fall 2018, Fall 2020