The Translator’s Doubts: Vladimir Nabokov and the Ambiguity of Translation

The Translator’s Doubts: Vladimir Nabokov and the Ambiguity of Translation

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Julia Trubikhina

Series: Cultural Revolutions: Russia in the Twentieth Century
ISBN: 9781618112606 (hardcover), 9781618118295 (paperback)
Pages: 252 pp.
Publication Date: August 2015

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Winner of The Samuel Schuman Prize for the Best First Book on Nabokov
(International Vladimir Nabokov Society)

Using Vladimir Nabokov as its “case study,” this volume approaches translation as a crucial avenue into literary history and theory, philosophy and interpretation. The book attempts to bring together issues in translation and the shift in Nabokov studies from its earlier emphasis on the “metaliterary” to the more recent “metaphysical” approach. Addressing specific texts (both literary and cinematic), the book investigates Nabokov’s deeply ambivalent relationship to translation as a hermeneutic oscillation on his part between the relative stability of meaning, which expresses itself philosophically as a faith in the beyond, and deep metaphysical uncertainty. While Nabokov’s practice of translation changes profoundly over the course of his career, his adherence to the Romantic notion of a “true” but ultimately elusive metaphysical language remained paradoxically constant.

Julia Trubikhina received her PhD in Comparative Literature with a specialization in Slavic studies from New York University. She teaches in the Department of Classics and Oriental Studies at Hunter College, CUNY. In addition to articles and reviews in academic journals (most recently, “A Discrete Amalgam: New York Poets from the Former Soviet Union” in Canadian-American Slavic Studies), Julia Trubikhina (as Julia Trubikhina-Kunina) also published translations and contributed original poetry to Russian, European, and American anthologies and literary journals. She is currently working on two translation projects: a bilingual edition of poetry by Vladimir Aristov for Ugly Duckling Presse and a volume of poetry and prose by Elena Shvarts.


The Translator’s Doubts is a striking departure from the traditional studies of Nabokov’s work as a translator. Not only does it mark a significant shift in critical perspective, but it also uses Nabokov as a means to a greater end — a meditation on “literary history and theory, philosophy and interpretation” (11) — with value far beyond the world of Nabokov criticism. . . .Each chapter, even taken separately, adds hugely to the corpus of Nabokov criticism, from philology and archival scholarship to new theoretical perspectives. [Trubikhina’s] sophisticated and insightful work will surely become one of the touchstone texts on Nabokov and translation for years to come.
— Bryan Karetnyk, University College London, Nabokov Online Journal, Vol. X–XI (2016/2017)
An insightful and sophisticated examination of an important part of Nabokov’s legacy that sheds light on his entire oeuvre, written with elegance and wit.
— Vladimir Alexandrov, B.E. Besinger Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Yale University
Nabokov was repelled and fascinated by what he called “the parrot’s screech” and Trubikhina does his ambivalence justice in this highly informed analysis of the metaphysical dilemma played out over three crucial Nabokovian translations: the Russianizing of Alice in Wonderland, the Englishing (or refusal to English) of Eugene Onegin and the “cinemizing” of Lolita. Her dexterous fusing of translation studies and film studies—via theories of analogy and adaptation—builds fruitfully on Nabokov’s ever-evolving perspective to offer new vistas to both fields.
— Esther Allen, Associate Professor, Baruch College, City University of New York

Table of Contents


Chapter 1
Nabokov’s Beginnings: “Ania” in Wonderland or “Does Asparagus Grow in a Pile of Manure?”
Chapter 2
The Novel on Translation and “über-Translation”: Nabokov’s Pale Fire and Eugene Onegin
Chapter 3
“Cinemizing” as Translation: Nabokov’s Screenplay of Lolita and Stanley Kubrick’s and Adrian Lyne’s Cinematic Versions

Vladimir Nabokov within the Russian and Western Traditions of Translation
Selected Bibliography