Vladimir Nabokov: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Vladimir Nabokov

Born Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov
22 April [O.S. 10 April] 1899a
Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire
Died 2 July 1977 (aged 78)
Montreux, Switzerland
Occupation Novelist, lepidopterist, professor
Literary movement Modernism, Postmodernism
Notable work(s) The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941)
Lolita (1955)
Pale Fire (1962)
Spouse(s) Véra Nabokov
Children Dmitri Nabokov

Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov (Russian: Влади́мир Влади́мирович Набо́ков, pronounced [vlɐˈdʲimʲɪr nɐˈbokəf]; 22 April [O.S. 10 April] 1899c – 2 July 1977) was a multilingual Russian-American novelist and short story writer. Nabokov wrote his first nine novels in Russian, then rose to international prominence as a master English prose stylist. He also made contributions to entomology and had an interest in chess problems.

Nabokov's Lolita (1955) is frequently cited as among his most important novels and is his most widely known, exhibiting the love of intricate word play and descriptive detail that characterized all his works. The novel was ranked at #4 in the list of the Modern Library 100 Best Novels.[2] His memoir entitled Speak, Memory was listed #8 on the Modern Library nonfiction list.[3]


Life and career

Nabokov House in Saint Petersburg where Nabokov was born and lived the first 18 years of his life


Nabokov was born on 22 April 1899 (10 April 1899 Old-Style) in Saint Petersburg.b

The eldest of five children of liberal lawyer, politician and journalist Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov and his wife, née Elena Ivanovna Rukavishnikova, he was born to a wealthy and prominent family of the untitled nobility of Saint Petersburg. His cousins included the composer Nicolas Nabokov. He spent his childhood and youth in St. Petersburg and at the country estate Vyra near Siverskaya, south of the city.

Nabokov's childhood, which he called "perfect", was remarkable in several ways. The family spoke Russian, English and French in their household, and Nabokov was trilingual from an early age. In fact, much to his father's patriotic chagrin, Nabokov could read and write English before he could Russian. In Speak, Memory Nabokov recalls numerous details of his privileged childhood, and his ability to recall in vivid detail memories of his past was a boon to him during his permanent exile, as well as providing a theme which echoes from his first book, Mary, all the way to later works such as Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle. While the family was nominally Orthodox, they felt no religious fervor and little Vladimir was not forced to attend church after he lost interest. In 1916 Nabokov inherited the estate Rozhdestveno, next to Vyra, from his uncle Vasiliy Ivanovich Rukavishnikov ("Uncle Ruka" in Speak, Memory), but lost it in the revolution one year later; this was the only house he would ever own.

Rozhdestveno estate designed by Rastrelli that Nabokov inherited in 1916


After the 1917 February Revolution, Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov became a secretary of the Russian Provisional Government, and the family was forced to flee the city after the Bolshevik Revolution for Crimea, not expecting to be away for very long. They lived at a friend's estate and in September 1918 moved to Livadiya; Nabokov's father was a minister of justice of the Crimean provisional government. After the withdrawal of the German Army (November 1918) and the defeat of the White Army in early 1919, the Nabokovs left for exile in western Europe. On 2 April 1919, the family left Sevastopol on the last ship. They settled briefly in England, where Vladimir enrolled in Trinity College, Cambridge and studied Slavic and Romance languages. He later drew on his Cambridge experiences to write the novel Glory. In 1920, his family moved to Berlin, where his father set up the émigré newspaper Rul' (Rudder). Nabokov would follow to Berlin after his studies at Cambridge two years later.

Berlin years (1922-1937)

In March 1922, Nabokov's father was assassinated in Berlin by Russian monarchists as he was fighting to protect their real target, Pavel Milyukov, a leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party-in-exile. This mistaken, violent death would echo again and again in Nabokov's fiction, where characters would meet their deaths under mistaken terms. In Pale Fire, for example, one interpretation of the novel has a communist assassin murder the poet John Shade while attempting to kill a displaced monarch who has escaped from his home country. Shortly after his father's death, his mother and sister moved to Prague.

Nabokov stayed in Berlin, where he had become a recognized poet and writer within the émigré community and published under the pen name V. Sirin - perhaps signifying an owl or a mythological bird. To supplement his scant writing income, he taught languages and gave tennis and boxing lessons.[4] Of his fifteen Berlin years, Dieter E. Zimmer wrote: "He never became fond of Berlin, and at the end intensely disliked it. He lived within the lively Russian community of Berlin that was more or less self-sufficient, staying on after it had disintegrated because he had nowhere else to go to. He had little German. He knew few Germans except for landladies, shopkeepers, the petty immigration officials at the police headquarters."[5]

In 1922 Nabokov became engaged to Svetlana Siewert; the engagement was broken off by her family in early 1923 because he had no steady job. In May 1923 he met Véra Evseyevna Slonim at a charity ball in Berlin[4] and married her in April 1925.[4] Their only child, Dmitri, was born in 1934.

In 1936, Vera lost her job because of the increasingly anti-Semitic environment; also in that year the assassin of Nabokov's father was appointed second-in-command of the Russian émigré group. In the same year Nabokov began seeking a job in the English-speaking world. In 1937 he left Germany for France, where he had a short affair with Russian émigré Irina Guadanini; his family followed, making their last visit to Prague en route. They settled in Paris, but also spent time in Cannes, Menton, Cap d'Antibes, and Frejus. In May 1940 the Nabokov family fled from the advancing German troops to the United States on board the Champlain.


The Nabokovs settled in Manhattan and Vladimir started a job at the American Museum of Natural History. In October he met Edmund Wilson, who became his close friend until their falling out two decades later and introduced Nabokov's work to American editors.[citation needed]

Nabokov came to Wellesley College in 1941 as resident lecturer in comparative literature. The position, created specifically for him, provided an income and free time to write creatively and pursue his lepidoptery. Nabokov is remembered as the founder of Wellesley's Russian Department. His lecture series on major nineteenth-century Russian writers was hailed as "funny", "learned", and "brilliantly satirical."[citation needed] The Nabokovs resided in Wellesley, Massachusetts during the 1941-42 academic year; they moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts in September 1942 and lived there until June 1948. Following a lecture tour through the United States, Nabokov returned to Wellesley for the 1944–45 academic year as a lecturer in Russian. In 1945, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States. He served through the 1947-48 term as Wellesley's one-man Russian Department, offering courses in Russian language and literature. His classes were popular, due as much to his unique teaching style as to the wartime interest in all things Russian. At the same time he was curator of lepidoptery at Harvard University's Museum of Comparative Zoology. After being encouraged by Morris Bishop, Nabokov left Wellesley in 1948 to teach Russian and European literature at Cornell University.

Nabokov wrote Lolita while traveling on butterfly-collection trips in the western United States that he undertook every summer. (Nabokov never learned to drive. Vera acted as chauffeur; when Nabokov attempted to burn unfinished drafts of Lolita, it was Vera who stopped him. He called her the best-humored woman he had ever known.)[4][6] In June 1953 he and his family came to Ashland, Oregon, renting a house on Meade Street from Professor Taylor, head of the Southern Oregon College Department of Social Science. There he finished Lolita and began writing the novel Pnin. He roamed the nearby mountains looking for butterflies, and wrote a poem called Lines Written in Oregon. On 1 October 1953, he and his family left for Ithaca, New York.[7]


The grave of Nabokov at Cimetière de Clarens (Switzerland)

After the great financial success of Lolita, Nabokov was able to return to Europe and devote himself exclusively to writing. His son had obtained a position as an operatic bass at Reggio Emilia. On 1 October 1961, he and Véra moved to the Montreux Palace Hotel in Montreux, Switzerland; he stayed there until the end of his life. From his sixth-floor quarters he conducted his business and took tours to the Alps, Corsica, and Sicily to hunt butterflies. In 1976 he was hospitalized with an undiagnosed fever. He was rehospitalized in Lausanne in 1977 suffering from severe bronchial congestion. He died on 2 July in Montreux surrounded by his family and, according to his son, Dmitri, "with a triple moan of descending pitch".[8] His remains were cremated and are buried at the Clarens cemetery in Montreux.[9]

At the time of his death, he was working on a novel titled The Original of Laura. His wife Vera and son Dmitri were entrusted with Nabokov's literary executorship,[4] and though he asked them to burn the manuscript,[10] they chose not to destroy his final work. The incomplete manuscript, around 125 handwritten index cards,[11] remained in a Swiss bank vault where only two people, Dmitri Nabokov and an unknown person, had access. Portions of the manuscript were shown to Nabokov scholars. In April, 2008, Dmitri announced that he would publish the novel.[12] The Original of Laura was published on November 17, 2009.

Prior to the incomplete novel's publication, several short excerpts of The Original of Laura were made public, most recently by German weekly Die Zeit, which in its 14 August 2008 issue for the first time reproduced some of Nabokov's original index cards obtained by its reporter Malte Herwig. In the accompanying article, Herwig concludes that "Laura", although fragmentary, is "vintage Nabokov".[13]

In July 2009, Playboy magazine acquired the rights to print a 5,000 word excerpt from "The Original of Laura." It will be printed in the December issue.[14]


Nabokov's first writings were in Russian, but he came to his greatest distinction in the English language. For this achievement, he has been compared with Joseph Conrad; yet Nabokov viewed this as a dubious comparison, as Conrad composed in French and English. Nabokov disdained the comparison for aesthetic reasons, lamenting to the critic Edmund Wilson, "I am too old to change Conradically" — which John Updike later called, "itself a jest of genius."[15] Nabokov translated many of his own early works into English, sometimes in cooperation with his son Dmitri. His trilingual upbringing had a profound influence on his artistry. He has metaphorically described the transition from one language to another as the slow journey at night from one village to the next with only a candle for illumination.[citation needed] Nabokov himself translated into Russian two books that he had originally written in English, Conclusive Evidence, and Lolita. The first "translation" was made because of Nabokov's feeling of imperfection in the English version. Writing the book, he noted that he needed to translate his own memories into English, and to spend a lot of time explaining things which are well-known in Russia; then he decided to re-write the book once again, in his first native language, and after that he made the final version, Speak, Memory (Nabokov first wanted to name it "Speak, Mnemosyne"). Nabokov was a proponent of individualism, and rejected concepts and ideologies that curtailed individual freedom and expression, such as totalitarianism in its various forms as well as Freud's psychoanalysis.[16] Poshlost, or as he transcribed it, poshlust, is disdained and frequently mocked in his works.[17]

Nabokov published under the pseudonym "Vladimir Sirin" in the 1920s to 1940s, occasionally to mask his identity from critics.[18] He also makes cameo appearances in some of his novels, such as the character "Vivian Darkbloom" (an anagram of "Vladimir Nabokov") in Lolita.

Nabokov is noted for his complex plots, clever word play, and use of alliteration. He gained both fame and notoriety with his novel Lolita (1955), which tells of a grown man's devouring passion for a twelve-year-old girl. This and his other novels, particularly Pale Fire (1962), won him a place among the greatest novelists of the 20th century. His longest novel, which met with a mixed response, is Ada (1969). He devoted more time to the composition of this novel than any of his others. Nabokov's fiction is characterized by its linguistic playfulness. For example, his short story "The Vane Sisters" is famous in part for its acrostic final paragraph, in which the first letters of each word spell out a message from beyond the grave.

Nabokov's stature as a literary critic is founded largely on his four-volume translation of and commentary on Aleksandr Pushkin's epic of the Russian soul, Eugene Onegin, published in 1964. That commentary ended with an appendix titled Notes on Prosody which has developed a reputation of its own. It stemmed from his observation that while Pushkin's iambic tetrameters had been a part of Russian literature for a fairly short two centuries, they were clearly understood by the Russian prosodists. On the other hand, he viewed the much older English iambic tetrameters as muddled and poorly documented. In his own words:

I have been forced to invent a simple little terminology of my own, explain its application to English verse forms, and indulge in certain rather copious details of classification before even tackling the limited object of these notes to my translation of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin, an object that boils down to very little—in comparison to the forced preliminaries — namely, to a few things that the non-Russian student of Russian literature must know in regard to Russian prosody in general and to Eugene Onegin in particular.

Nabokov's translation was the focus of bitter polemics by Edmund Wilson and others; he had rendered the very precisely metered and rhyming novel in verse to (by his own admission) stumbling, non-rhymed prose.[citation needed] He argued that all verse translations of Onegin fatally betrayed the author's use of language; critics replied that failure to make the translation as beautifully styled as the original was a much greater betrayal.

Nabokov's Lectures on Literature at Cornell University where he was appointed an instructor in 1948, reveals his controversial ideas concerning art.[citation needed] He firmly believed that novels should not aim to teach and that readers should not merely empathise with characters but that a 'higher' aesthetic enjoyment should be attained, partly by paying great attention to details of style and structure. He detested what he saw as 'general ideas' in novels, and so when teaching Ulysses, for example, he would insist students keep an eye on where the characters were in Dublin (with the aid of a map) rather than teaching the complex Irish history that many critics see as being essential to an understanding of the novel.

During his ten years at Cornell, Nabokov introduced undergraduates to the delights of great fiction, including Bleak House by Charles Dickens, in fifty-minute classroom lectures.[19]

Nabokov's detractors fault him for being an aesthete and for his over-attention to language and detail rather than character development.[citation needed] In his essay "Nabokov, or Nostalgia", Danilo Kiš wrote that Nabokov's is "a magnificent, complex, and sterile art." Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko said in a Playboy interview that he could hear the clatter of surgical tools in Nabokov's prose.

Not until glasnost did Nabokov's work become officially available in his native country. Gorbachev authorized a five-volume edition of his writing in 1988.

Nabokov's synesthesia

According to biographer Brian Boyd[citation needed] and others, Nabokov was a self-described synesthete, who at a young age equated the number five with the color red.[20]

Aspects of synesthesia can be found in several of his works. In his memoir Speak, Memory, he notes that his wife also exhibited synesthesia; like her husband, her mind's eye associated colors with particular letters. They discovered that Dmitri shared the trait, and moreover that the colors he associated with some letters were in some cases blends of his parents' hues—"which is as if genes were painting in aquarelle".[citation needed]

Vladimir Nabokov's case of synesthesia can be described in more detail than merely the association of colors with particular letters. For some synesthetes, letters are not simply associated with certain colors; they are colored. Nabokov frequently endowed his protagonists with a similar gift. In Bend Sinister Krug comments on his perception of the word "loyalty" as being like a golden fork lying out in the sun. In The Defense, Nabokov mentioned briefly how the main character's father, a writer, found he was unable to complete a novel that he planned to write, becoming lost in the fabricated storyline by "starting with colors." Many other subtle references are made in Nabokov's writing that can be traced back to his synesthesia. Many of his characters have a distinct "sensory appetite" reminiscent of synesthesia.[citation needed]


Echinargus in the family Lycaenidae: one of the many genera discovered and named by Nabokov

His career as an entomologist was equally distinguished. His interest in this field had been inspired by books of Maria Sibylla Merian he had found in the attic of his family's country home in Vyra.[21] Throughout an extensive career of collecting he never learned to drive a car, and he depended on his wife Véra to take him to collecting sites. During the 1940s, as a research fellow in zoology, he was responsible for organizing the butterfly collection of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. His writings in this area were highly technical. This, combined with his specialty in the relatively unspectacular tribe Polyommatini of the family Lycaenidae, has left this facet of his life little explored by most admirers of his literary works. He described the Karner Blue. The genus Nabokovia was named after him in honor of this work, as were a number of butterfly and moth species (e.g. many of the genera Madeleinea and Pseudolucia).[22]

Butterflies drawn by V (Vladimir) for V (Vera).
Nabokov House of Saint Petersburg.

The paleontologist and essayist Stephen Jay Gould discussed Nabokov's lepidoptery in an essay reprinted in his book I Have Landed. Gould notes that Nabokov was occasionally a scientific "stick-in-the-mud"; for example, Nabokov never accepted that genetics or the counting of chromosomes could be a valid way to distinguish species of insects, and relied on the traditional (for lepidopterists) microscopic comparison of their genitalia. The Harvard Museum of Natural History, which now contains the Museum of Comparative Zoology, still possesses Nabokov's "genitalia cabinet", where the author stored his collection of male blue butterfly genitalia.[23],[24] "Nabokov was a serious taxonomist", according to the museum staff writer Nancy Pick, author of The Rarest of the Rare: Stories Behind the Treasures at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, ISBN 0-06-053718-3. "He actually did quite a good job at distinguishing species that you would not think were different—by looking at their genitalia under a microscope six hours a day, seven days a week, until his eyesight was permanently impaired."[25]

Many of Nabokov's fans have tried to ascribe literary value to his scientific papers, Gould notes. Conversely, others have claimed that his scientific work enriched his literary output. Gould advocates a third view, holding that the other two positions are examples of the post hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy. Rather than assuming that either side of Nabokov's work caused or stimulated the other, Gould proposes that both stemmed from Nabokov's love of detail, contemplation and symmetry.

Chess problems

Nabokov spent considerable time during his exile on the composition of chess problems. Such compositions he published in the Russian émigré press, Poems and Problems (18 chess compositions) and Speak, Memory (one problem). He describes the process of composing and constructing in his memoir: "The strain on the mind is formidable; the element of time drops out of one's consciousness..." To him, the "originality, invention, conciseness, harmony, complexity, and splendid insincerity" of creating a chess problem was similar to that in any other art.


His Time obituary reads "Politically, Nabokov saw himself as an old-fashioned liberal, though by current standards he was a William F. Buckley conservative. His suggestion that the portrait of a head of government "should not exceed a postage stamp in size" makes good sense in any ideology."[26] Nabokov was close friends with Buckley, to whom he disclosed his staunch anti-Communism and admiration for Richard Nixon.[27]


The critic James Wood argued that Nabokov's use of descriptive detail proved an "overpowering, and not always very fruitful, influence on two or three generations after him", including authors such as Martin Amis and John Updike.[28] While a student at Cornell in the 1950s, Thomas Pynchon attended several of Nabokov's lectures[29] and went on to make a direct allusion to Lolita in chapter six of his novel The Crying of Lot 49 (1966) in which Serge, counter-tenor in the band The Paranoids, sings:

What chance has a lonely surfer boy
For the love of a surfer chick,
With all these Humbert Humbert cats
Coming on so big and sick?
For me, my baby was a woman,
For him she's just another nymphet.

It has also been argued that Pynchon's prose style is influenced by Nabokov's preference for actualism over realism.[30] Of the authors who came to prominence during Nabokov's lifetime, John Banville,[31] Don DeLillo,[32] Salman Rushdie,[33] and Edmund White[34] were all influenced by Nabokov.

Several authors who came to prominence in the 1990s and 2000s have also cited Nabokov's work as a literary influence. Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon listed Lolita and Pale Fire among the "books that, I thought, changed my life when I read them,"[35] and stated that "Nabokov's English combines aching lyricism with dispassionate precision in a way that seems to render every human emotion in all its intensity but never with an ounce of schmaltz or soggy language".[36] Pulitzer Prize winner Jeffrey Eugenides said that "Nabokov has always been and remains one of my favorite writers. He's able to juggle ten balls where most people can juggle three or four."[37] T. Coraghessan Boyle said that "Nabokov's playfulness and the ravishing beauty of his prose are ongoing influences" on his writing,[38] and Jhumpa Lahiri,[39] Marisha Pessl,[40] Zadie Smith,[41] and Ki Longfellow[42] have also acknowledged Nabokov's influence.

List of works

Works about Nabokov


  • Boyd, Brian. Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990. ISBN 0-691-06794-5 (hardback) 1997. ISBN 0-691-02470-7 (paperback). London: Chatto & Windus, 1990. ISBN 0-7011-3700-2 (hardback)
  • Boyd, Brian, Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991. ISBN 0-691-06797-X (hardback) 1993. 0-691-02471-5 (paperback). London: Chatto & Windus, 1992. ISBN 0-7011-3701-0 (hardback)
  • Ch'ien, Evelyn. See chapter, "A Shuttlecock Over the Atlantic" in "Weird English." Harvard University Press, 2004.
  • Field, Andrew. VN The Life and Art of Vladimir Nabokov. New York: Crown Publishers. 1986. ISBN 0-517-56113-1
  • Parker, Stephen Jan. Understanding Vladimir Nabokov. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press. 1987. 978-0872494954.
  • Proffer, Elendea, ed. Vladimir Nabokov: A pictorial biography. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1991. ISBN 0-87501-078-4 (a collection of photographs)
  • Rivers, J.E., and Nicol, Charles. Nabokov's Fifth Arc. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1982. ISBN 978-0292755222.
  • Schiff, Stacy. Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov). New York, NY.: Random House, 1999. ISBN 0-679-44790-3.


  • Nicol, Charles and Barabtarlo, Gennady. A small alpine form: studies in Nabokov's short fiction. London, Garland, 1993. ISBN 9780815308577.
  • Shrayer, Maxim D. The World of Nabokov's Stories. Austin and London: University of Texas Press, 1998.


  • Alexandrov, Vladimir E., ed. The Garland Companion to Vladimir Nabokov. New York: Garland Publishing, 1995. ISBN 0-8153-0354-8.
  • Funke, Sarah. Vera's Butterflies: First Editions by Vladimir Nabokov Inscribed to his Wife. New York: Glenn Horowitz Bookseller, 1999. ISBN 0-9654020-1-0
  • Juliar, Michael. Vladimir Nabokov: A Descriptive Bibliography. New York: Garland Publishing, 1986. ISBN 0-8240-8590-6.

Media adaptations


  • Johnson, Kurt, and Steve Coates. Nabokov's blues: The scientific odyssey of a literary genius. New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-137330-6 (very accessibly written)
  • Sartori, Michel, ed. Les Papillons de Nabokov. [The butterflies of Nabokov.] Lausanne: Musée cantonal de Zoologie, 1993. ISBN 2-9700051-0-7 (exhibition catalogue, primarily in English)
  • Zimmer, Dieter. A guide to Nabokov's butterflies and moths. Privately published, 2001. ISBN 3-00-007609-3 (web page)


Confusion over his birth date was generated by some people misunderstanding the relationship between the Julian and Gregorian calendars. At the time of Nabokov's birth, the offset between the calendars was 12 days. His date of birth in the Julian calendar was 10 April 1899;[43] in the Gregorian, 22 April 1899.[43] The fact that the offset increased from 12 to 13 days for dates occurring after February 1900 was always irrelevant to earlier dates, and hence a 13-day offset should never have been applied to Nabokov's date of birth. Nevertheless, it was so misapplied by some writers, and 23 April came to be erroneously shown in many places as his birthday. In his memoirs Speak, Memory Nabokov indicates that 22 April was the correct date but that he nevertheless preferred to celebrate his birthday "with diminishing pomp" on 23 April (p. 6). As he happily pointed out on several occasions during interviews, this meant he also shared a birthday with William Shakespeare and Shirley Temple (see, for example, his New York Times interview with Alden Whitman on 23 April 1969, p. 20; see also Brian Boyd's biography).


  1. ^ Nabokov said, "I do not believe that any particular writer has had any definite influence on me." (Strong Opinions, p. 46.) The list given above includes writers whom he admired (including Mayne Reid, whose work Nabokov admired as a child) and writers he alluded to in fiction (such as Poe). Such a list might be extended greatly.
  2. ^ "100 Best Novels". Modern Library. 2007. http://www.randomhouse.com/modernlibrary/100bestnovels.html. Retrieved 12 February 2009. 
  3. ^ "100 Best Nonfiction". Modern Library. 2007. http://www.randomhouse.com/modernlibrary/100bestnonfiction.html. Retrieved 12 February 2009. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Amis, Martin. Visiting Mrs Nabokov: And Other Excursions. pages 115-118. Penguin Books (1993) printed 1994. ISBN 0-14-023858-1
  5. ^ Dieter E. Zimmer Presentation of book Nabokov’s Berlin at the International Vladimir Nabokov Symposium, St. Petersburg, July 15, 2002
  6. ^ For Vera's varied roles, see her New York Times obituary, "Vera Nabokov, 89, Wife, Muse and Agent", 11 April 1991; the non-incinerated Lolita appears in Brian Boyd's Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years, p. 170; Vera's charm appears in both the Times obituary and p. 601 of Boyd.
  7. ^ "Snapshot: Nabokov's Retreat", Medford Mail Tribune, 5 November 2006, p. 2
  8. ^ Robert McCrum, "The Final Twist in Nabokov's Untold Story." The Observer (25 October 2009)[1]
  9. ^ The Garland Companion to Vladimir Nabokov. Vladimir E. Alexandrov (editor). Garland Publishing. New York (1995) ISBN 0-8153-0354-8, pages xxix-l
  10. ^ Connolly, Kate (22 April 2008). "Nabokov's last work will not be burned". The Guardian. http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/04/nabokov_original_of_laura.html. Retrieved 24 June 2008. 
  11. ^ Interview with Dmitri Nabokov on NPR - 30 April 2008
  12. ^ Van Gelder, Lawrence (28 April 2008). "Son Plans to Publish Nabokov's Last Novel". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/28/books/28arts-SONPLANSTOPU_BRF.html. Retrieved 12 February 2009. 
  13. ^ "Sein letztes Spiel" (in German). Die Zeit. 14 August 2008. http://www.zeit.de/2008/34/Nabokov. Retrieved 12 February 2009. 
  14. ^ "Playboy gets exclusive rights to publish Nabokov’s last work /". Mosnews.com. http://www.mosnews.com/culture/2009/07/09/nabokov/. Retrieved 2010-03-10. 
  15. ^ This lament came in 1941, with Nabokov an apprentice American for less than one year. Nabokov, Vladimir. Dear Bunny, Dear Volodya: The Nabokov–Wilson Letters, 1940–1971, p. 50. Nabokov, never pen-shy, added in parentheses "this is a good one." The Updike gloss appears in Updike, John, Hugging the Shore, p. 221. Later in the Wilson letters, Nabokov offers a solid, non-comic appraisal: "Conrad knew how to handle readymade English better than I; but I know better the other kind. He never sinks to the depths of my solecisms, but neither does he scale my verbal peaks." This is in November 1950, p. 282.
  16. ^ The Garland Companion to VN, ibid, pages 412ff
  17. ^ The Garland Companion to VN, ibid, pages 628ff
  18. ^ Whiteman, Alden (5 July 1977). "Vladimir Nabokov, Author of 'Lolita' and 'Ada,' Is Dead". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/03/02/lifetimes/nab-v-obit.html?scp=3&sq=Vladimir%20Nabokov&st=cse. Retrieved 10 February 2009. 
  19. ^ collected by Fredson Bowers in 1980 and published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
  20. ^ Martin, Patrick. "Synaesthesia, metaphor and right-brain functioning" in Egoist.
  21. ^ Todd, Kim. Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis. Harcourt. p. 11, ISBN 978-0151011087
  22. ^ "Butterflies and moths bearing Nabokov's name". Zembla. 1996. http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/dzbutt6.htm. Retrieved 12 February 2009. 
  23. ^ "The Rarest of the Rare: Stories Behind the Treasures at the Harvard Museum of Natural History". Harper. 2004. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0060537183. Retrieved 2010-03-10. 
  24. ^ [2]
  25. ^ http://www.gsas.harvard.edu/images/stories/pdfs/colloquy_spring05.pdf
  26. ^ By HP-Time.com;R. Z. Sheppard Monday, Jul. 18, 1977 (1977-07-18). "Books: Vladimir Nabokov: 1899-1977". TIME. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,915150-2,00.html#ixzz0fTYeJ2fX. Retrieved 2010-03-10. 
  27. ^ "Conservative Comrades - Russia!". Readrussia.com. http://www.readrussia.com/magazine/summer-2008/00026/. Retrieved 2010-03-10. 
  28. ^ Wood, James. "Discussing Nabokov", Slate. Retrieved on 12 April 2008.
  29. ^ Siegel, Jules. "Who is Thomas Pynchon, and why did he take off with my wife?" Playboy, March 1977.
  30. ^ Strehle, Susan. "Actualism: Pynchon's Debt to Nabokov", Contemporary Literature 24.1, Spring 1983. 30-50.
  31. ^ "John Banville", The Guardian. Retrieved on 12 April 2008.
  32. ^ Gussow, Mel. "Toasting (and Analyzing) Nabokov; Cornell Honors the Renaissance Man Who, oh Yes, Wrote 'Lolita'", The New York Times, 15 September 1998.
  33. ^ Lowery, George (23 October 2007). "Bombs, bands and birds recalled as novelist Salman Rushdie trips down memory lane". Cornell Chronicle. http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/Oct07/Rushdie.cover.gl.html. Retrieved 12 February 2009. 
  34. ^ "An Interview with Edmund White", Bookslut, February 2007. Retrieved on 12 April 2008.
  35. ^ Chabon, Michael (July 2006). "It Changed My Life". www.michaelchabon.com. Archived from the original on 20 October 2006. http://web.archive.org/web/20061020211340/http://www.michaelchabon.com/archives/2005/03/it_changed_my_l.html. Retrieved 12 February 2009. 
  36. ^ Stringer-Hye, Suellen. "VN Collation #26". Zembla. http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/vncol26.htm. Retrieved 12 February 2009. 
  37. ^ "Q & A with Jeffrey Eugenides", 5th Estate. Retrieved on 12 April 2008.
  38. ^ "A Conversation with T. C. Boyle", Penguin Reading Guides.
  39. ^ "The Hum Inside the Skull, Revisited", The New York Times, 16 January 2005. Retrieved on 12 April 2008.
  40. ^ "An interview with Marisha Pessl", Bookslut.com, September 2006. Retrieved on 15 June 2007.
  41. ^ "Zadie Smith" The Guardian. Retrieved on 12 April 2008.
  42. ^ Woman's Hour, a long-lived and popular English radio show, 1993.
  43. ^ a b Brian Boyd p 37


  • Boyd, Brian (1993). Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691024707. ISBN 0691024707. 

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

I know more than I can express in words, and the little I can express would not have been expressed, had I not known more.

Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov (1899-04-22 {1899-04-10, O.S.} - 1977-07-02) was a Russian-American writer. He wrote his first literary works in Russian, but rose to international prominence as a masterly prose stylist for the novels he composed in English; his Lolita (1955) is frequently cited as one of the most important novels of the 20th century.

See also: Lolita and Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle



What is this jest in majesty? This ass in passion? How do God and Devil combine to form a live dog?
Play! Invent the world! Invent reality!
Lolita is famous, not I. I am an obscure, doubly obscure, novelist with an unpronounceable name.
  • What is this jest in majesty? This ass in passion? How do God and Devil combine to form a live dog?
    • Despair [Отчаяние (Otchayanie)] (1936)
  • Dark pictures, thrones, the stones that pilgrims kiss
    Poems that take a thousand years to die
    But ape the immortality of this
    Red label on a little butterfly.
    • "A Discovery" (December 1941); published as "On Discovering a Butterfly" in The New Yorker (15 May 1943); also in Nabokov's Butterflies: Unpublished and Uncollected Writings (2000) Edited and annotated by Brian Boyd and Robert Michael Pyle, p. 274
  • To know that no one before you has seen an organ you are examining, to trace relationships that have occurred to no one before, to immerse yourself in the wondrous crystalline world of the microscope, where silence reigns, circumscribed by its own horizon, a blindingly white arena — all this is so enticing that I cannot describe it.
    • Letter to his sister Elena Sikorski (1945); in Nabokov's Butterflies: Unpublished and Uncollected Writings (2000) Edited and annotated by Brian Boyd and Robert Michael Pyle, p. 387
  • I hastened to quench a thirst that had been burning a hole in the mixed metaphor of my life ever since I had fondled a quite different Dolly thirteen years earlier.
    • Look at the Harlequins! (1974)
  • Lolita is famous, not I. I am an obscure, doubly obscure, novelist with an unpronounceable name.
    • Interview with Herbert Gold, The Paris Review Interviews: Writers at Work, 4th series (1977), p. 107 ISBN 0-140-04543-0
  • Genius still means to me, in my Russian, fastidiousness and pride of phrase, a unique dazzling gift. The gift of James Joyce, and not the talent of Henry James.
    • As quoted in What Is the Sangha?: The Nature of Spritual Community (2001) by Sangharakshita, p. 136
  • I think he’s crude, I think he’s medieval, and I don’t want an elderly gentleman from Vienna with an umbrella inflicting his dreams upon me. I don’t have the dreams that he discusses in his books. I don’t see umbrellas in my dreams. Or balloons.
    • On Sigmund Freud, as quoted in Sigmund Says: And Other Psychotherapists' Quotes (2006) edited by Bernard Nisenholz, p. 6 ISBN 0595396593

Speak, Memory: A Memoir (1951)

U.S. title: Conclusive Evidence: A Memoir
All one could do was to glimpse, amid the haze and the chimeras, something real ahead...
  • The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for (at some forty-five hundred heartbeats an hour.)
  • Her intense and pure religiousness took the form of her having equal faith in the existence of another world and in the impossibility of comprehending it in terms of earthly life. All one could do was to glimpse, amid the haze and the chimeras, something real ahead, just as persons endowed with an unusual persistence of diurnal cerebration are able to perceive in their deepest sleep, somewhere beyond the throes of an entangled and inept nightmare, the ordered reality of the waking hour.
Although nothing much can be seen through the mist, there is somehow the blissful feeling that one is looking in the right direction...
  • Whenever in my dreams, I see the dead, they always appear silent, bothered, strangely depressed, quite unlike their dear bright selves. I am aware of them, without any astonishment, in surroundings they never visited during their earthly existence, in the house of some friend of mine they never knew. They sit apart, frowning at the floor, as if death were a dark taint, a shameful family secret. It is certainly not then — not in dreams — but when one is wide awake, at moments of robust joy and achievement, on the highest terrace of consciousness, that mortality has a chance to peer beyond its own limits, from the mast, from the past and its castle-tower. And although nothing much can be seen through the mist, there is somehow the blissful feeling that one is looking in the right direction.

Bend Sinister (1963)

  • The term "bend sinister" means a heraldic bar or band drawn from the left side (and popularly, but incorrectly, supposed to denote bastardy). This choice of title was an attempt to suggest an outline broken by refraction, a distortion in the mirror of being, a wrong turn taken by life, a sinistral and sinister world. The title's drawback is that a solemn reader looking for "general ideas" or "human interest" (which is much the same thing) in a novel may be led to look for them in this one.
    • pg vi
  • In this crazy mirror of terror and art a pseudo-quotation made up of obscure Shakespeareanisms (Chapter Three) somehow produces, despite its lack of literal meaning, the blurred diminutive image of the acrobatic performance that so gloriously supplies the bravura ending for the next chapter.
    • pg x

The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941)

  • An old Russian lady who has for some obscure reason begged me not to divulge her name, happened to show me in Paris the diary she had kept in the past. .... I cannot see any real necessity of complying with her anonymity. That she will ever read this book seems wildly improbable. Her name was and is Olga Olegovna Orlova — an egg-like alliteration which it would have been a pity to whithold.
    Her dry account cannot convey to the untravelled reader the implied delights of a winter day such as she describes in St. Petersburg; the pure luxury of a cloudless sky designed not to warm the flesh, but solely to please the eye; the sheen of sledge-cuts on the hard-beaten snow of spacious streets with a tawny tinge about the middle tracks due to a rich mixture of horse-dung; the brightly coloured bunch of toy-balloons hawked by an aproned pedlar; the soft curve of a cupola, its gold dimmed by the bloom of powdery frost; the birch trees in the public gardens, every tiniest twig outlined white; the rasp and twinkle of winter traffic… and by the way how queer it is when you look at an old picture postcard (like the one I have placed on my desk to keep the child of memory amused for the moment) to consider the haphazard way Russian cabs had of turning whenever they liked, anywhere and anyhow, so that instead of the straight , self-conscious stream of modern traffic one sees — on this painted photograph — a dream-wide street with droshkies all awry under incredibly blue skies, which farther away, melt automatically into a pink flush of mnemonic banality.
    • p. 5

Lolita (1955)

These are just a few sample quotes; for more quotes see Lolita - for a study guide see the wikibook entry for Lolita.
  • Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita. Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, an initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for fancy prose style. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns.
    • Opening lines
  • Oh, my Lolita, I have only words to play with!

On a Book Entitled Lolita (1956)

This was written as an "Afterword" to Lolita which has been used in all later editions; for more see Lolita.
  • After Olympia Press, in Paris, published the book, an American critic suggested that Lolita was the record of my love affair with the romantic novel. The substitution "English language" for "romantic novel" would make this elegant formula more correct.
  • As far as I can recall, the initial shiver of inspiration was somehow prompted by a newspaper story about an ape in the Jardin des Plantes who, after months of coaxing by a scientist, produced the first drawing ever charcoaled by an animal: this sketch showed the bars of the poor creature's cage.

Pale Fire (1962)

It has been suggested that Pale Fire be merged into this article or section. (Discuss)
  • I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
    by the false azure in the windowpane
  • What moment in that gradual decay
Does resurrection choose? What year?
Who has the stopwatch? Who rewinds the tape?
Are some less lucky, or do all escape?
A syllogism; other men die
But I am not another: therfore I'll not die
  • "You have hal..... real bad, chum."

Strong Opinions (1973)

I think like a genius, I write like a distinguished author, I speak like a child.
  • I think like a genius, I write like a distinguished author, I speak like a child.
    • "Foreword", p. 3
  • My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music. My pleasures are the most intense known to man: writing and butterfly hunting.
    • "Foreword", p. 3
  • I don't think in any language. I think in images. I don't believe that people think in languages. They don't move their lips when they think. It is only a certain type of illiterate person who moves his lips as he reads or ruminates. No, I think in images, and now and then a Russian phrase or an English phrase will form with the foam of the brainwave, but that’s about all.
    • From a BBC Interview (1962), p. 14
  • I don't belong to any club or group. I don't fish, cook, dance, endorse books, sign books, co-sign declarations, eat oysters, get drunk, go to church, go to analysts, or take part in demonstrations.
    • p. 18
  • To be quite candid — and what I am going to say now is something I have never said before, and I hope that it provokes a salutary chill — I know more than I can express in words, and the little I can express would not have been expressed, had I not known more.
    • p. 45
Oh, "impressed" is not the right word! Treading the soil of the moon gives one, I imagine (or rather my projected self imagines), the most remarkable romantic thrill ever experienced in the history of discovery.
  • To return to my lecturing days: I automatically gave low marks when a student used the dreadful phrase "sincere and simple" — "Flaubert writes with a style which is always simple and sincere" — under the impression that this was the greatest compliment payable to prose or poetry. When I struck the phrase out, which I did with such rage that it ripped the paper, the student complained that this was what teachers had always taught him: "Art is simple, art is sincere." Someday I must trace this vulgar absurdity to its source. A schoolmarm in Ohio? A progressive ass in New York? Because, of course, art at its greatest is fantastically deceitful and complex.
    • p. 32
  • Let the credulous and the vulgar continue to believe that all mental woes can be cured by a daily application of old Greek myths to their private parts.
  • Oh, "impressed" is not the right word! Treading the soil of the moon gives one, I imagine (or rather my projected self imagines), the most remarkable romantic thrill ever experienced in the history of discovery. Of course, I rented a television set to watch every moment of their marvelous adventure. That gentle little minuet that despite their awkward suits the two men danced with such grace to the tune of lunar gravity was a lovely sight. It was also a moment when a flag means to one more than a flag usually does. I am puzzled and pained by the fact that the English weeklies ignored the absolutely overwhelming excitement of the adventure, the strange sensual exhilaration of palpating those precious pebbles, of seeing our marbled globe in the black sky, of feeling along one's spine the shiver and wonder of it. After all, Englishmen should understand that thrill, they who have been the greatest, the purest explorers. Why then drag in such irrelevant matters as wasted dollars and power politics?
    • On the first moon landing, p. 150

Quotes about Nabokov or his work

  • All of Nabokov's books are about tyranny, even Lolita. Perhaps Lolita most of all.
    • Martin Amis in Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million (2002)
  • Lolita is pornography, and we do not plan to review it.
    • Frederic Babcock, editor of the Chicago Tribune Magazine of Books as quoted in "The Lolita Case" in TIME magazine (17 November 1958).
  • He can write, but he's got nothing to say.
  • Gentlemen, even if one allows that he is an important writer, are we next to invite an elephant to be Professor of Zoology?
    • Roman Jakobson declining VN a position at Harvard in 1957 (The Garland Companion to Vladimir Nabokov Vladimir E. Alexandrov (editor). Garland Publishing, New York and London (1995), ISNB 0-8153-0354-8, page xlv)
  • Lolita is one of our finest American novels, a triumph of style and vision, an unforgettable work, Nabokov's best (though not most characteristic) work, a wedding of Swiftian satirical vigor with the kind of minute, loving patience that belongs to a man infatuated with the visual mysteries of the world.
    • Joyce Carol Oates in "A Personal View of Nabokov" in Saturday Review of the Arts (January 1973).
  • The political barbarism of the century made him an exile, a wanderer, a Hotelmensch, not only from his Russian homeland but from the matchless Russian tongue in which his genius would have found its unforced idiom... But I have no hesitation in arguing that this poly-linguistic matrix is the determining fact of Nabokov's life and art. But whereas so many other language exiles clung desperately to the artifice of their native tongue or fell silent, Nabokov moved into successive languages like a travelling potentate...
  • Some say the Great American Novel is Huckleberry Finn, some say it's The Jungle, some say it's The Great Gatsby. But my vote goes to the tale with the maximum lust, hypocrisy and obsession — the view of America that could only have come from an outsider — Nabokov's Lolita. ... Those who bought "Lolita" looking for mere prurient kicks must surely have been disappointed. Lolita is dark and twisted all right, but it's also a corruptly beautiful love story of two tragically alike, id-driven souls... What makes Lolita a work of greatness isn't that its title has become ingrained in the vernacular, isn't that was a generation ahead of America in fetishizing young girls. No, it is the writing, the way Nabokov bounces around in words like the English language is a toy trunk, the sly wit, the way it's devastating and cynical and heartbreaking all at once. Poor old Dolly Haze might not have grown up very well, but Lolita forever remains a thing of timeless beauty.
  • If I say that Nabokov, who was educated in England... turns out to be a master of English prose — the most extraordinary phenomenon of the kind since Conrad — this is likely to sound incredible. If I say that Nabokov is something like Proust, something like Franz Kafka, and, probably something like Gogol, I shall suggest an imitative patchwork, where Nabokov is as completely himself as any of these others — a man with a unique sensibility and a unique story to tell.

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:
Wikimedia Commons has media related to:


Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From Wikispecies

Russian-American novelist and entomologist(1899-1977)

Simple English

Vladimir Nabokov (April 22, 1899 – July 2, 1977) was a Russian author. He wrote his first books in Russian, and after he moved to the United States, he wrote in English. His books included Lolita and Pnin.

In 1919, Nabokov and his family went to Europe. In 1945, he became an American citizen.

Other websites

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address