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From the moment when he first read Ulysses as an undergraduate, Vladimir Nabokov thought of Joyce as a major presence in his literary aesthetics and as one of his four top twentieth-century authors (with Proust, Kafka and Bely). The Irish and the Russian author had a lot in common, not just as exiles, but also as writers in a Flaubertian vein. And within months of his arrival in the United States, Nabokov had befriended the two pioneering Joycean critics, Harry Levin and Edmund Wilson.

Nabokov’s lectures on Joyce at Cornell were special, because he was teaching Ulysses before Joyce’s letters had been published, and before the publication of Richard Ellmann’s famous biography. In addition, Nabokov deliberately placed his form of literary interpretation outside the New Critical, psychoanalytical and mythological approaches of the university critics of his time, preferring literary detail over grand ideas. And that is not a bad strategy for reading Joyce.

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