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The terrible little peasant who haunts the dreams and visions of Anna Karenina receives full attention in Nabokov’s loving account of her story (see his Lectures on Russian Literature), which everyone should read—after the novel itself, of course: even the greatest commentators should hold their peace until a work has spoken. Then it goes without saying that this brief post is for those who know both of the books indicated by the title.

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The name “stream of consciousness” was devised by William James; the thing itself is no doubt as old as the conscious brain. How and when did it achieve literary representation? Vladimir Nabokov claims that this “method of expression … a kind of record of a character’s mind running on and on, switching from one image or idea to another without any comment or explanation on the part of the author,” was invented by Tolstoy for the occasion of Anna Karenina’s last afternoon. There the device is in “rudimentary form,” whereas James Joyce will advance it “to an extreme stage of objective record” (Lectures on Russian Literature). But do we regard it as essential that the artist present the stream as inward? There seems no good reason to, since however disorderly the phenomenon inadequately called a “stream” may be, its presentation has in any case the linearity of speech. Abandoning this requirement, we can easily discover the “record of a mind” before Tolstoy. Dickens has it in Nicholas Nickleby.