"A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN" (JAMES JOYCE) & "LOLITA" (VLADIMIR NABOKOV).
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Compares lives, styles & aesthetics of authors, and the themes, intentions, characters & significance of their novels.
James Joyce (1882-1941) and Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977), two of the twentieth century's greatest English-language writers, were exiles throughout their working lives. The conditions of their exile were entirely different, but some of the effects on their writing were similar. Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) and Nabokov's Lolita (1958) are primarily works of exile. Joyce's heavily autobiographical novel recounts the education and growth of a potential writer, the young Stephen Dedalus, whose increasingly firm goal becomes escape from Ireland and all the complications of religion, politics, and family that hinder him as an artist. Nabokov's Humbert, on the other hand, could only be said to be autobiographical in terms of being an educated European immigrant observing the strange behavior of the people of America. In both cases, however, these deraciné, or
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. Ed. But hispedophilia is also unnatural, an aberration, just as Nabokov might considerhis unnatural career as an English-language writer an aberration of sorts.Lolita never conforms to Humbert's ideal as embodied in Annabel and one ofher frequent complaints is that his educated vocabulary isincomprehensible. But the types of remembering also relate to the problem of theparticular choice of a language--Irish or English. In both cases,however, these deraciné, or rootless, writers' difficulties with beingremoved from the deepest sources of their inspiration were exacerbated by acertain level of estrangement from the language in which they wrote. Even the evilHumbert only specifies that certain changes in fundamental matters need tobe made--allowing that changes in manners or language or behavior arematters of time and custom, no matter how much the exile dislikes them. The degree ofidentification with this artist who was scorned for his honesty aboutIreland appears in Joyce's discussions of Mangan in which the poet isdescribed as a superior linguist with an exceedingly wide knowledge of theliteratures of Europe and the Near East. said Stephen. As Rabaté noted,Joyce originally pinned his hopes on life in Paris but the idea of medicalschool was merely a functional, practical form of escape--not a fullattempt at artistic liberation. Another 'displaced' Irish writer withwhom Joyce identified was Oscar Wilde who "produce[d] the fiction of a newand revolutionary community both as an alternative to existing social andpolitical forms and as an antidote to and an assertion of separateness"(Deane 36). New York: G. But there was also an element of ordinary youthful romance involved in theidea of escape from everything that was too familiar. Whiting has suggested that Humbert'sdetailed explanation of his "nympholepsy, [his] neologism for his ownparticular brand of pedophilia" is a "strategy of disclosure" for thecharacter in which more complicated meanings and intentions can be glimpsed(835). . Ed. As Deane notes, "this is Mangandisguised as Joyce" but Joyce's career was "dominated by the samelinguistic anxieties" that plagued Mangan in the era when Irish was firstofficially replaced by English (34). As onecritic put it, Nabokov setting himself up deliberately as the intellectual master of his perennially innocent, not to say contemptibly naive, American readers [and] after fifteen anonymous years in the American academy, in spite of a European reputation of no small note and a string of English titles already behind him, finding himself at 53 . Putnam's Sons, 1958.Rabaté, Jean-Michel. He is, of course, fully aware ofthe irony of the fact that he is a thorough master of English but, as anexile without roots, will never be a truly American writer. But, as itwas the "from" that mattered, the "repudiation of Catholic Ireland" whichis inextricably entwined with his "countering declaration of artisticindependence" could be formulated anywhere else since it was largely amatter of gaining a sense of separation and distance from Ireland's manytroubles--the sources of his discontent (Deane 31). "Joyce the Irishman." The Cambridge Companion to James Joyce. 1916. New York: Penguin, 1992.McNeely, Trevor. The reader is,consequently, acutely aware of the fact that just as the artist in thePortrait will escape in order to put distance between himself and sadIreland, the creator of the Portrait has done just this. which the native illusionist . He left Ireland again in 19 4 for what becamepermanent exile on the continent, living at Trieste, Zurich, Rome, and,principally, Paris. Petersburg and on hisfamily's nearby estate. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. His father was an eminent liberal politician, hismother was an aristocrat, and Nabokov received the finest possibleeducation. P. Derek Attridge. Andfor Nabokov Russian, the language of his native culture, was simplyunavailable. 31-53.Joyce, James. But what he expresses here is thelonging for a language in which he was rooted and through which he couldmove with complete, native ease. Nabokov, on the other hand, led an ideal life as a brilliant youngman of aristocratic descent and immense wealth in St. For Joyce thesolution lay in his brilliant elaboration of language. Itis also true, of course, that the sadness of these deraciné writers is whatmakes the books so great--both because it enhances their style as theystruggle to create art out of their own experience of exile and becausethat sort of experience has become such a common one in the twentiethcentury. Joyce's early decision to leave Ireland was, like that of hisfictional counterpart Stephen Dedalus, a considered attempt to leave behind"the various nets of home, fatherland, and church, in order to achieve atrue liberation, usually equated with his becoming an artist" (Comens 297). Instead hesees Humbert as an artist who "wins the reader over to sympathy despite thedictates of common sense and morality, much as Nabokov does in his parodyof the exhausted genre of the romantic novel (Walter 126). The love of a country and the problem of the exile's language alsosurface in James Joyce's Portrait. . It is this sense of being torn betweencultures and favoring the culture that will always apologize for itself, asStephen does with his joke about Lower Drumcondra, that drives Stephen, asit drove Joyce, to the exile in which he would not have to answer the"English Catholic deans" in Ireland but would be able to use language as hesaw fit. Mangan was a poet whose work encompassed the "conflict between Irish,Hiberno-English and standard English" but who was, in Joyce's opinion,treacherously rejected and ignored by his countrymen "largely because hehad identified his own multifarious woes with those of his sufferingcountry" (Deane 32). I never heard the word in my life. As Riquelme hasnoted, Joyce's great achievement in the Portrait was the use of "elevatedlanguage and the experience of a grimy reality with its material details"to create a realistic fiction that was like none seen before (119). --Is that called a tundish in Ireland? If, however, one takes Lolita torepresent the English language and Annabel as the symbol of Russian (anallegory that hardly exhausts the book's meanings, of course) it becomesclear how Nabokov imagined this novel as an account of his love affair withEnglish. Since he could not be published in the Soviet Union he wasforced to forge an English-language literary style in order to pursue hisdesire to write fiction. Is it not a tundish? Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 199 . But in his case it was the problems ofhis native country that caused him to leave it behind--unlike Nabokov whounwillingly left Russia behind. It is now commonly understood, forinstance, that a person's identity is intrinsically wrapped up with thelanguage s/he uses and the experience of trying to communicate in alanguage that the individual feels, no matter how proficient s/he hasbecome, is not her/his own. In Ireland Joycemet his future wife Nora Barnacle and determined once again to make hisescape to the Continent. On an allegorical level, however,the figures of Humbert and his victim Lolita are problematic. . The love of the former was naturaland charming as the two children were "madly, clumsily, shamelessly,agonizingly in love with each other" (14). . In "On a Book Entitled Lolita," theafterword that Nabokov appended, under his own name, to the Americanedition of the book (which was first published by the Olympia Press inParis because no American publisher would consider its shocking subjectmatter) he offers a much more substantial glimpse of his own conception ofthe book and its relation to exile and America. ignored [and] forgotten as a writer . Humbert is a seedier, less accomplished version of theauthor with his obscure academic publications, his wanderings, and hisidealized childhood. In the condensed account of the various placesin which he and Lolita stopped during the year of her abduction he offersnumerous examples of this kind of commentary on America. can magically use to transcend the heritage in his own way (318-19). Everything is wrong with this relationship because hisinvolvement with a minor child is immoral and unnatural. "'Lo' and Behold: Solving the Lolita Riddle." Studies in the Novel 21 (1989): 182-99.Nabokov, Vladimir. But Humbert's love for Lolita,even when it miraculously, to him, continues after she has grown up, is, ashe sometimes admits, a perversion. But the precise nature or purpose of any parallels isdifficult to pin down since they are all comically ironic, but with anundercurrent of sadness and nostalgia. The conditions of their exile wereentirely different, but some of the effects on their writing were similar.Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) and Nabokov's Lolita(1958) are primarily works of exile. . In thisformulation Old Europe, preying on Young America, discovers in his travelsthrough the midwestern and western United States "the untappedpossibilities of Romance's relocation into America" (Walter 138). For Joyce, then, the escape was not as much to somewhere as fromsomewhere--which was fortunate because he was unable to get a teaching jobin Paris with the Berlitz language schools (he was an excellent linguist)and was forced to begin his permanent exile in Trieste instead. The . . Derek Attridge. Heemployed the two types of language throughout the novel, intertwining themost ordinary pieces of everyday life in Stephen Dedalus' poverty-strickenfamily with language that lent them a pitch of intensity and a significancethat was purely the result of art. . But his great tragedy, for Humbert himself, is that Lolita will neverreturn his love. The millions of people who have been uprooted--either by choiceor by forces outside their own control--have created a broaderunderstanding of the need for roots. Joyce addresses this problem explicitly in theincident in which the dean of studies, an English convert to Catholicism,has a problem with the young Stephen's vocabulary. But in 19 3 he wascalled back to Dublin by the fatal illness of his mother. Nabokov's Humbert, on the other hand, could only be said tobe autobiographical in terms of being an educated European immigrantobserving the strange behavior of the people of America. Is that called a funnel? But this satire is only the most superficial aspect of Humbert's, andNabokov's, relationship with America. But Nabokov himself forestalled this type of complaint in thehilarious persona of "John Ray, Jr., Ph.D.," who writes the fictionalForeword to Lolita. In his brief period as a student there he "experienced hunger andsolitude much more than the lively atmosphere of the carabins of the LatinQuarter" but it was still to Paris that he wished to return after hismother's death (84). To give only asingle example: Bourbon Street (in a town named New Orleans) whose sidewalks, said the tour book, "may [I liked the "may"] feature entertainment by pickaninnies who will [I liked the "will" even better] tap-dance for pennies" (what fun), while "its numerous small and intimate night clubs are thronged with visitors" (naughty) (156).The analysis of the city's pretentiousness, prudish American attitudestoward sex, the national preoccupation with tourism, and the persistence ofterribly backward ideas about race (in 1952) is very funny and veryaccurate. Humbert forces himself on Lolita, much as Nabokov might be said, byhim, to have forced himself upon American English. Lolita. My private tragedy . He made the surprising decision, following graduation from UniversityCollege to take up medical studies in Paris in 19 2. . is that I had to abandon my natural idiom, my untrammeled, rich, and infinitely docile Russian tongue for a second-rate brand of English, devoid of any of those apparatuses . . asked the dean. Like Mangan Joyce wished to confront the problem of using a'foreign' language and like both these great writers Joyce understood thatcritical art would not be seen in Ireland for what it was "as long as thetwo imperialism, British and Roman Catholic prevailed" (Deane 34-35). contains Nabokov'sdefense of the non-conforming artist" but allows that "he does not simplyserve as Nabokov's ill-disguised representative" (125, 126). But in combination with his satire Nabokov, in the voice ofHumbert, of course, also expresses admiration for the beauties of thecountry and the vigor of the people, while persistently admitting that hisEuropean perspective may be thoroughly jaded and outdated. The boastful tone and the delight in approaching what wasknown as a center for the most adventurous artists shows in hisanticipation. Walter, forexample, suggests that "Humbert's testimony . Ray, who is thoroughly distressed by Humbert (a"shining example of moral leprosy") includes in the catalogue of his trulyserious offenses the fact that "many of his casual opinions on the peopleand scenery of this country are ludicrous" (7). . In creating the strongly autobiographical Portrait inwhich he did just this himself, Joyce was, in effect, defying Ireland'sperceived tendency to ignore its own problems. The critic John Hollanderhad written that "Lolita, if it is anything 'really,' is the record of Mr.Nabokov's love affair with the romantic novel" (quoted in Whiting 833).But Nabokov suggested in his afterword that "the substitution of "Englishlanguage" for "romantic novel" would make this elegant formula morecorrect" (318). This leads to his discussion of the sadness of thesituation in which he found himself as a writer. But, as Rabaté adds, the need for Paris was greater than thesimple attraction of its "artistic or intellectual glamour"--for Joyce"Paris [was] identified with 'life', a mystical force which ought to beperceived in Dublin but remains thwarted by the general air of Irishcorruption or paralysis" (84). . Derek Attridge. However, when we are once safelysettled in the Latin quarter they can talk as much as they like" (quoted inRabaté 84). In Joyce's case, however, the writer desiredexile as an entanglement-free vantage point from which to look back on hisculture while in Nabokov's case, the writer looked around him at theculture into which fate had thrown him and, in looking, expressed thedifficulty of exile. The reader is always aware, at somelevel, of the fact that Joyce is separating the ordinary and the artist'sresponse to it. There is, therefore, aEuropean girl from Humbert's youthful past who was the only person he everloved other than the American Lolita. Unlike the dean, however, Stephendoes look up the word much later. --That? In spite of the air of sadness and longing that prevails in APortrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Lolita, they are two of thesingular masterpieces of twentieth-century English-language literature. In similarfashion Nabokov protests in his afterword that he is speaking English whenhe says, in answer to objections to his satirical treatment of Americanlife, "I chose American motels instead of Swiss hotels or English innsbecause I am trying to be an American writer and claim only the same rightsthat other American writers enjoy" (317). --That. "Joyce the Parisian." The Cambridge Companion to James Joyce. Like Lolita,America might allow him to use her language but she will not love him. Fleeing the Nazis the Nabokovseventually reached the United States where Nabokov, as an eminent writer ofRussian novels, a scholar in Russian literature, and an accomplishedlepidopterist, obtained various teaching and research posts at Americanuniversities.The conditions of Nabokov's exile are vaguely reflected in those ofHumbert, the child-rapist murderer whose narrative of his life and crimesmakes up Lolita. . But his character,attitudes, and earliest literary influences were still those he acquired inIreland and it is in his appreciation of a particular Irish poet, JamesMangan (18 3-49), that Deane locates the crux of Joyce's perceptions aboutthe incompatibility of life in an enslaved nation and the creation of art. As he wrote to Nora Barnacle in arranging theirelopement to France, "it amuses me to think of the effect the news of [ouradventure] will cause in my circle. There Nabokov studied atCambridge but, after taking his degree, he chose to move to Berlin wherethe Russian refugee population of over 4 , (and the persistent hope ofsome of them that they could return to the old Russia) seemed to promisehim a career as a writer in Russian. He discovered, to his surprise, thatthe word was, in fact, English "and good old blunt English too" (274). . 83- 1 2.Riquelme, John Paul. Their triumph was in conveying this sense of rootlessness whilehaving, in fact, sent down firm roots into the soil of English. But in Ireland the people's own language had been officiallyreplaced by the language of the English oppressors in the 183 s and Irishwriters of English long felt a sense of displacement and disloyalty. And for Joyce the English language wassomething of a villain rather than, as it was to Nabokov, a refuge. "'The Strange Peculiarity of the Lover's Preference': Pedophilia, Pornography, and the Anatomy of Monstrosity in Lolita." American Literature 7 (1998): 833-56. --It is called a tundish in Lower Drumcondra, said Stephen laughing, where they speak the best English (2 4). He creates, in fact, two "styles of memory, and part ofwhat they recollect, or help us recollect, is one another" (Riquelme 119).In other words, the pairing of two types of language illuminates both typesand this typology is related to his function as an artist. Joyce determined at an early age that conditions in Ireland and theessentially lonely condition of the artist made exile the only choice forhim. As he reports in the diary thatconcludes the novel, and is his farewell to Ireland, "that tundish has beenon my mind for a long time" (274). he concludes this attempt with the words, "I am your father, and I amspeaking English, and I love you" (152). BothNabokov and Joyce spoke, read, and studied in English throughout theirlives. It is nonsense, of course, to assume that Nabokov had anydifficulties with the English language. "Stephen Hero, Dubliners, and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Styles of Realism and Fantasy." The Cambridge Companion to James Joyce. In thisview of the characters as Europe and America some critics sensed extremehostility on Nabokov's part toward America and his exile there. This is embodied in her exasperated requests to him to"Speak English!" But, while holding Lolita a virtual captive and"terrorizing" her in order to "establish [a] background of shared secrecyand shared guilt," Humbert speaks in nauseatingly contemporary language--even referring to himself as "her daddum" as he deceitfully tries topersuade her that he is not a rapist but an appreciative father (153, 152). Works CitedComens, Bruce. He cannot master her teenaged idiom because he is not ateenager. Inthis passage Stephen reclaims English while still seeing it as somewhatforeign, asking, "what did he come here for to teach us his own language orto learn it from us?" (274). Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 199 . But in 1917 the Bolshevik Revolution drove his family intoexile, eventually leading them to England. James Joyce (1882-1941) and Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977), two of thetwentieth century's greatest English-language writers, were exilesthroughout their working lives. funnel. Ed. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 199 . In turning to a secondgirl to replace the one he lost to time and her early death, Humbertachieves something that is, to him, better than the first case, in which henever succeeded in completing the sexual act with Annabel. The dean reflectively remarks that he must look up the strange word.But the whole incident "forces Stephen to acknowledge his estrangement fromthe English language, implying his estrangement from his own thoughts,emotions, and identity" (Comens 3 9). The Irish artistperpetually feels that his medium is on loan--like a sculptor who feels themarble will be repossessed. 1 3-3 .Walter, Brian D. The only alternative for an artist, if he wished to address theseproblems, was to find a place and a form that would assert this Wildeanseparateness yet identify the problem of language and allow him tocriticize, in emotional if not physical terms, from within. Joyce's heavily autobiographicalnovel recounts the education and growth of a potential writer, the youngStephen Dedalus, whose increasingly firm goal becomes escape from Irelandand all the complications of religion, politics, and family that hinder himas an artist. But in this disclosure, as Humbert reveals the circumstances of hispast and the existence of his first love Annabel, Nabokov establishes aparallel between the two girls as Humbert says, "that in a certain magicand fateful way Lolita began with Annabel" (16). "Narrative Nets and Lyric Flights in Joyce's A Portrait." James Joyce Quarterly 29 (1992): 297-314.Deane, Seamus. --What is a tundish? At an early age he had become more fluent in English and Frenchthan in Russian--a condition his father had to remedy by hiring specialRussian tutors. Even the expert in a foreign or secondlanguage--as Nabokov and Joyce certainly were--feels that it is a vehiclefor expressing feelings that were experienced in the context of anotherlanguage or, in Joyce's case, should have been experienced in anotherlanguage. is getting his revenge (McNeely 183).In McNeely's view it was Nabokov's intention not to represent the non-conforming artist who seduces the audience in spite of their moral qualms,but to trick the critics into approving of the perfectly obvious immoraland criminal behavior of Humbert because it is presented in the setting ofa nostalgic romance. "Romantic Parody and the Ironic Muse in Lolita." Essays in Literature 22 (1995): 123-43.Whiting, Frederick. It is true, of course,that Nabokov can be quite merciless in skewering American pieties,pretensions, and failings.
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