College of Arts and Sciences


Master of Arts in English (MA)


Emily W. Heady

Primary Subject Area

Literature, General; Literature, American; Religion, General; Religion, Philosophy of; Literature, Slavic and East European


Eternity, Invitation to a Beheading, Nabokov, Pale Fire, Reality, "Speak, Memory"


Christianity | Literature in English, North America | Literature in English, North America, Ethnic and Cultural Minority | Religion | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion | Slavic Languages and Societies


While Vladimir Nabokov has deservedly earned fame as a stylist of the strange, most critics who study his novels approach his absurd and beautiful characters as little more than fractured victims of a wholly subjective reality. Compounding the misunderstanding is the tired debate over whether or not Lolita is literary, pornographic, or some cruel game of cat-and-mouse in which Nabokov seizes control of his readers' sense of morality. However, critics who read Nabokov as nothing more than a manipulative stylist neglect to realize that his characters suffer such absurd distortions of spirit and mind because their environment--the "average" reality of limited time and space--seemingly dwarves the infinite individual spirit. In this thesis, I analyze three of Nabokov's later works to discover the patterns of coincidence that suggest the individual will be salvaged for eternity, and that the generalized forces of death and disaster will be burned away. Pale Fire, Speak, Memory, and Invitation To A Beheading each investigate the question of how the individual can at least intuit, if not propositionally identify, the presence of objective truth by arranging the narrative of his or her subjective experience. In correspondence to his love for the individual, subjective approach to objective truth, Nabokov patterns truth differently in each of his three books. As Kierkegaard writes, the subjective experience grafts the individual into divine faith, and for Nabokov to search for the same pattern of meaning within such disparate stories would be to impose the same indelicate force onto his novels as the evolutionary force of limited space and time imposes upon the individual spirit. In these three books, Nabokov attempts to bring the frail, absurd, and marginalized to healing, with each book representing a new approach to patterning hope into death-marred lives, so that his frail and marginalized characters can be bound back into eternity, like the frayed threads of an ornate rug.