Profound Dislikes & Spiritual HeroismnVladimir Nabokov: Lectures on RussiannLiterature; Harcourt Brace Jovanovich;nNew York.nRonald Hingley: Nightingale Fever:nRussian Poets in Revolution; Alfred A.nKnopf; New York.nby Charles A. MosernVladimir Nabokov, exiled from hisnhomeland for art’s sake, is the only mannever to have established a reputation as anmajor writer of fiction both in Englishnand in Russian. He was also a scholar withnwide interests and strong opinions whondid much to bring the riches of Russiannliterature within the consciousness of thenuninitiated American reader.nThe pieces gathered in his Lectures onnRussian Literature consist primarily ofnnotes for lecture classes that he gave as annacademic—first at Wellesley, then atnCornell—after he arrived in the UnitednStates in 1940 and before his literary successnenabled him to cease teaching in thisnformat in 1958. During that period, native-bornnAmerican specialists in Russiannliterature were few and far between, andntheir published work was just as sparse.nConsequently Nabokov was obliged tondesign his presentations—on Gogol,nTurgenev, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhovnand Gorky—for an audience thatnknew litde about his subjects. If that isnunderstandable, it is more surprisingnthat he evidendy did not expea his classesnto have read the major works of thenwriters he was covering, for otherwise it isndifficult to comprehend why he shouldnhave allotted such large portions of hisnremarks to undiluted quotation. Thisndoes not mean that nothing of benefitncan be gleaned from Nabokov’s book,ncompiled and edited by Fredson Bowers,nbut it does mean that Nabokov’s morenCharles A. Moser is professor of Slavic atnthe George Washington University innWashington, D. C.nenlightening nuggets are buried in whatnis largely extraneous material.nNabokov believed that a literary scholarncould make a great contribution to annuntutored reader’s understanding of anwork by investigating a text thoroughlynand explicating obvious and concealednreferences within it, then providing thatninformation in notes. He set a magnificentnexample when he produced one ofnthe finest English editions of a singlenRussian work, a translation of AlexandernPushkin’s Eugene Onegin, published inn1964 in four volumes, two of which containnnotes incorporating the fruits of hisnwide interests and strong opinions. Henprovided similar instmction, though onna smaller scale, for Mihail Lermontov innhis translation of A Hero of Our Timen(1958), and for the epic Song of Igor’snCampaign (I960), a work supposedlyndating from the 12th century. And thenmost valuable portions of these Lecturesnfollow the same tradition. For example,nhe carefully traced the travels of thenyouthful heroes of Ivan Turgenev’snFathers and Sons. For Tolstoy’s AnnanKarenina he analyzed the chronology ofnthe novel, described in fond detail thenlayout of the railway car in which Annantravels from Moscow to St. Petersburgnand simply composed notes for segmentsnof the novel. Indeed, Nabokov loved thenrealia of fiction; he even asserted that thenfictional creations of Tolstoy enjoy a morengenuine reality in our minds today thanndoes an actual diplomat of the periodnwho published memoirs which aid us innestablishing the novel’s early chronology.nAnd Nabokov was right.nBut he did not think the critic’s tasknwas exhausted by the compilation ofnnotes, no matter how intelligent. He wasnhimself a writer-critic who dealt with thenworks of literary giants (at one point henlet slip a fairly obvious hint that he considerednhimself among them) and assessednthem from the artistic point ofnview. He was deeply rooted in the literarynthought of the turn of this century, whennnnwriters made of art a surrogate religion:nhe spoke of the Moscow Art Theater, thenaadle of Chekhov’s plays, as a “templenof careful and genuine art.” At the centernof Nabokov’s artistic credo seems to havenbeen a belief in “harmony.” Among hisnfavorite authors were Pushkin and Chekhov,nwhom he declared “the purestnwriters that Russia has produced in thensense of the complete harmony that theirnwritings convey.” He sounded the samennote in his evaluation oi Anna Kareninanand its “moral point,” namely that “lovencannot be exclusively carnal because thennit is egotistic, and being egotistic itndestroys instead of creating.” The positivenexample of this formulation in thennovel is the love between Levin and Kitty,n”balanced and harmonious in thenpure atmosphere of responsibility, tenderness,ntmth, and family joys,” as Nabokovnphrased it.nKJnt great writer of the 19th centurynwhom Nabokov thoroughly detested wasnDostoyevsky, and we may wonder whynthis should have been so. One source ofnthis hostility was probably the Christiannspirit which so permeated Dostoyevsky’snwork. Nabokov referred to that spirit asn”neurotic Christianism” at one point,nand Dostoyevsky’s religious approachnwas profoundly foreign to Nabokov. Thenreligious dimension is almost absent innNabokov’s favorites, Pushkin and Chekhov;nit is reduced to an ethical code innTolstoy; and the religious vision innGogol’s fiction was of a sort which Nabokovncould ignore for the sake of his verbalnbrilliance. He could not do the samenfor Dostoyevsky. But a more importantnsource of Nabokov’s dislike may havenbeen Dostoyevsky’s esthetic outlook.nWrote Nabokov:nI approach literature from the onlynpoint of view that literature interestsnme—namely the point of view of enduringnart and individual genius.nFrom this point of view Dostoevski isnSeptember 198Sn