The Memoirist against History: Nabokov’s Speak, Memory as the (re)negotiation of a literary form at the intersection of personal experience and historical narrative


  • Michael Sala University of Newcastle, Australia



Nabokov, history, memoir, artifice


Nabokov’s Speak, Memory is a literary memoir that negotiates the relationship between history and personal experience by illuminating one end of a spectrum of authoritative effects that range from artifice to spontaneity. In using play to leverage and highlight the tension between the artifice of a work of literature and the spontaneity of personal expression (or sense making on an individual level,) and by implicating both reader and writer within that tension, it demonstrates how literary memoir can negotiate its relationship to its genre. There are thus two forms of negotiation at work in Speak, Memory, the one between artifice and spontaneity, the other between individual experience and historical narrative. In this way, by using play to invite the reader into the interpretative act, Nabokov emphasises the role of artifice in the autobiographical project, and, by doing so, stakes out a claim for the literary autobiographical writer in the face of historical narrative.

Author Biography

Michael Sala, University of Newcastle, Australia

Michael Sala is an Australian Writer and Lecturer in English and Writing at the University of Newcastle, Australia. He has published numerous personal essays and articles, and written one memoir, The Last Thread (Affirm Press, 2012) which won the Glenda Adams/UTS Award for New Writing at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, and was also the Pacific region winner of the Commonwealth Book Prize. His second book, The Restorer (Text Publishing, 2016) was short-listed in 2017 for the fiction prize in both the Victorian and the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, and longlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award. He is currently working on a third novel, due to be published with Text Publishing in 2020. E-mail: Ph: (61)49218811.