At Elisabeth van der Meer’s awesome site on Russian literature
A Russian Affair
there was a post the other day about Dostoevsky.
The following is an exchange between myself and another respondent to the pot, based on an observation I made about Vladimir Nabokov.
— Roger W. Smith
Roger W. Smith:
This is a typical post for this site. Which is to say that it is extremely well — I should say, beautifully — written and very informative. And, it makes one want to go back and read an author one hasn’t read for a long while. It seems that everything essential has been said about Dostoevsky, with nothing superfluous. Critics write whole books and never get as close as this to the heart of the matter.
A couple of thoughts re Dostoevsky. I am wondering, is he not — as regards style — somewhat like a writer such as Balzac, in that he didn’t give a hoot about style, basically. it was the story and the characters that mattered?
An opinion that I have formed, not based on an extensive acquaintance with his works, is that Nabokov is overrated. Brilliant, but nonetheless, overrated. I recall reading critical writings of Nabokov in which he refers slightingly to Dostoevsky and seems to rank him much lower than contemporaries such as Tolstoy.
A final comment. The illustrations on this site are always chosen, one can see, with great care, and they enhance appreciation and understanding.
I would like to say that I agree with him that your article is an excellent piece. You already know that I love Dostoevsky and have read him extensively. But I must disagree with Roger’s comment on Nabokov and cannot let it go unchallenged. I have also read Nabokov extensively and I find the notion that he is over rated as a writer quite absurd. Between the two of them I would rather read Nabokov any day.
Roger W. Smith:
I have taken note of your comment and see why you might differ with me.
In response, I would be inclined to say the following.
I don’t know Nabokov that well, having read some of his stuff, e.g., “Speak, Memory,” “Despair,” “Pnin,” and “Lolita” (in part).
“Lolita,” frankly, left me feeling wanting, impoverished. I could not get into it.
I have also read, in whole or part, the following critical works of Nabokov: “Nikolai Gogol” and “Lectures on Russian Literature” (parts)
Does this make me an authority? No.
But, I got the feeling that Nabokov is:
— undoubtedly brilliant;
— somewhat superficial or arid in terms of the emotional depth of his works.
Regarding the second comment – so called superficiality – I feel that Nabokov does not have or achieve in his writings the emotional depth of a Tolstoy or Dostoevsky, that his works do not strike the same deep chords. It seems to me, from my personal experience as a reader, that often one, while being impressed if not amazed by the pyrotechnics of Nabokov auteur and his ingenuity and linguistic ability, finds oneself left wanting more emotional nourishment from his works.