‘Divine Games’

Thomas Karshan

in Vladimir Nabokov and the Art of Play

Published in print January 2011 | ISBN: 9780199603985
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191725333 | DOI:

Series: Oxford English Monographs

‘Divine Games’

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This chapter identifies two major themes in Nabokov's earliest writings on play, from 1918 to 1925. The first is Nabokov's exploration, beginning with his 1918 poem ‘Childhood’, of play as an alternative to faith, and his shift away from the stable assertions of religious art to the playful ironies and inversions which would characterise his mature writing. Nabokov was encouraged in this direction by translating Carroll's Alice in Wonderland in 1922, and in his stories, play, and essays of 1923 he developed the idea in two different ways, showing that aesthetic make-believe can be mistaken either as faith or as deceit. The second is his development of the antithesis between the potential violence and aesthetic chaos of free play and its containment in the demarcated boundaries and rules of a game, and of form-governed art—an antithesis symbolised early on in his Cambridge poems by the contrast between football and tennis, and throughout the important unpublished long poem of 1921, ‘Olympicum’. Both themes are combined in 1925 in ‘Play’, which turns out to be an artful, fictive, and deceitful work, not a straightforward manifesto statement.

Keywords: Nabokov; play; childhood; faith; make-believe; irony; sport; violence; freedom; order; Carroll; inversion; politics

Chapter.  11115 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (20th Century onwards)

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