Document Type


Date of Award



Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov (1899-1977), Criticism and interpretation, Russian language, Usage in Literature

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


English, General Literature, and Rhetoric

First Advisor

John V. Hagopian

Second Advisor

Melvin Seiden

Third Advisor

Frank F. Seeley


Vladimir Nabokov is one of many recent writers—Conrad, Ionesco, Beckett, to mention a few—who have achieved literary greatness in a second, adopted language. Unlike these others, however, Nabokov has written extensively and successfully in his native tongue. Accordingly, with his work so dependent on language and style, he brings not only a personal dialect to his English writing, but also strews through it numerous Russianisms.

Nabokov’s eight English novels, the basis of this study, contain extensive code-switching, or bilingualism (incorporated Russian words, puns, and allusions to literature and culture). The protagonist’s nationality always determines the extent of this bilingualism: when he is Russian (as in The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, Pnin, Pale Fire, Ada, and Look at the Harlequins!) or pseudo-Russian (as in Bend Sinister) it is a major force; when he is non-Russian (as in Lolita and Transparent Things) it has only minor impact.

These Russianisms comprise a significant formal element and express (to varying degrees, of course) in patterned modes numerous structural components, ranging from theme to symbolism to setting, etc. In turn, understanding how these patterns function aids comprehension of a novel’s significant form, the larger whole into which they fit. Of course the presentation of significant form is not exclusively the domain of a work’s Russianisms, simply because a reader can understand the basic configuration without knowing Russian. However, Nabokov’s use of his native language compliments English structural elements, so understanding his use of Russian enhances a reader’s overall comprehension. It is my purpose to illuminate Nabokov’s bilingual complexity and to explain how he transforms Russian content into form.