The Reality of Fiction in the Vladimir Nabokov Museum

Friday, April 7, 2017
2:30pm - 4:30pm
703 Hamilton Hall, Columbia University

Please join the Harriman Institute and Columbia's Department of Slavic Languages for a talk with Dr. Tatiana Ponomareva, Director of the Vladimir Nabokov Museum of the St. Petersburg State University. This talk is brought to Columbia as part of Professor Valentina Izmirlieva's course "Nabokov and Global Culture".

The Vladimir Nabokov Museum in St. Petersburg, the only Nabokov Museum in the world, has a dual nature. On the one hand, it is the museum of the real-life writer Vladimir Nabokov, his family, and the people close to him who lived or were frequent visitors at house #47 on Bolshaya Morskaya Street in St. Petersburg in the years 1897-1917. At the same time, it is the museum of the fictional character Vladimir Набоков/Nabokow/Nabokoff/Sirin/Nabokov, the protagonist of the autobiographical novel Speak, Memory. Over time, as more and more discoveries are made of both a biographical and material nature, the duality of the memorial museum becomes even more pronounced, urging us to examine the very notion of reality and fiction in Nabokov’s art.

In Nabokov's own words “reality is a very subjective affair, … an infinite succession of steps, levels of perception, false bottoms, and hence unquenchable, unattainable.” Our experience in taking the succession of steps into the world of Nabokov’s  subjective reality fully supports this observation. Sometimes we in the museum discover details of the house which for many years only existed in the reality of Nabokov’s fiction and which, by discovery, make their way into our shared reality of today. Our other findings, however, often demonstrate exactly how fictional the autobiography is and, sometimes, suggest why Nabokov felt the need to fictionalize this or that seemingly unimportant biographical detail. Following the partly transparent and partly deceptive archeological trails of “Speak, Memory” and trying to weave the two realities into the fabric of one museum makes an endless and exciting journey.

Dr. Tatiana Ponomareva is the Director of the Vladimir Nabokov Museum of the St. Petersburg State University. A native of St. Petersburg, she joined the Nabokov Museum in 2002 after working as a university lecturer and a translator. Among the exhibitions she curated were “Nabokovs’ Addresses”, “Vera’s Butterflies”, “The Nabokov Family Estates”, “The Nabokovs and the Rukavishnikovs as Benefactors” and others. Tatiana is the author of biographical and historical essays published on the museum's website Dr. Ponomareva is the organizer of the annual “Nabokov Readings” international conference at the Nabokov Museum. She has also participated in many other academic conferences and given talks at various institutions in Russia and abroad (UK, Ireland, France, Switzerland, Germany, Poland, Czech Republic).

Dr. Ponomareva is the editor of and a contributor to the “Nabokovsky Sbornik”, a Russian journal of Nabokov studies. She is a member of the International Vladimir Nabokov Society.

In 2010 she was one of the authors of the documentary “Nabokov. The Russian Roots” (directed by Olga Chekalina).

Her most recent work is “V. D. Nabokov. Do I posle Vremennogo Pravitel’stva” for which she collected the works, and wrote the preface and annotations. The book is the first collection of works by V. D. Nabokov, a distinguished Russian political writer and memoir author, and father of the writer Vladimir Nabokov.

Dr. Ponomareva's current project is a book on the Nabokov family incorporating previously unpublished material from Russian archives, and a book on St. Petersburg in Nabokov’s oeuvre. She currently teaches a course on Literary Petersburg in the St. Petersburg Unecon University.