Winner, 2022 Brian Boyd Prize for Best Second Book on Nabokov
This book shows how ethics and aesthetics interact in the works of one of the most celebrated literary stylists of the twentieth century: the Russian American novelist Vladimir Nabokov. Dana Dragunoiu reads Nabokov’s fictional worlds as battlegrounds between an autonomous will and heteronomous passions, demonstrating Nabokov’s insistence that genuinely moral acts occur when the will triumphs over the passions by answering the call of duty.
Dragunoiu puts Nabokov’s novels into dialogue with the work of writers such as Alexander Pushkin, William Shakespeare, Leo Tolstoy, and Marcel Proust; with Kantian moral philosophy; with the institution of the modern duel of honor; and with the European traditions of chivalric literature that Nabokov studied as an undergraduate at Cambridge University. This configuration of literary influences and philosophical contexts allows Dragunoiu to advance an original and provocative argument about the formation, career, and legacies of an author who viewed moral activity as an art, and for whom artistic and moral acts served as testaments to the freedom of the will.