Vladimir Nabokov

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Nabokov, Vladimir

Nabokov, Vladimir (vlädēˈmĭr näbôˈkŏf), 1899–1977, Russian-American author, b. St. Petersburg, Russia. He emigrated to England after the Russian Revolution of 1917 and graduated from Cambridge in 1922. He moved to the United States in 1940. From 1948 to 1959 he was professor of Russian literature at Cornell. He moved to Switzerland in 1959.

One of the great novelists of the 20th cent., Nabokov was an extraordinarily imaginative writer, often experimenting with the form of the novel. Although his works are frequently obscure and puzzling—filled with grotesque incidents, word games, and literary allusions—they are always erudite, witty, and intriguing. Before 1940, Nabokov wrote in Russian under the name V. Sirin. Among his early novels are Mary (1926, tr. 1970) and Invitation to a Beheading (1938, tr. 1959). His first book in English was The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1938).

Nabokov's most widely known work is undoubtedly Lolita (1958). The story of a middle-aged European intellectual's infatuation with a 12-year-old American “nymphet,” Lolita was considered scandalous when it was first published. Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle (1969) is a philosophical novel that is both the chronicle of a long incestuous love affair and a probe into the nature of time. Among Nabokov's other novels are Bend Sinister (1947), Pnin (1957), Transparent Things (1972), and Look at the Harlequins! (1974). His unfinished final novel, which he wanted destroyed, was published as The Original of Laura (2009).

Nabokov's volumes of poetry include Poems and Problems (1970) and the posthumous Selected Poems (2012). Among collections of his short stories are Nine Stories (1947), Nabokov's Dozen (1958), and A Russian Beauty (1973); many of them are gathered in The Stories of Vladimir Nobokov (1995). Among his other writings are his first major work, a play entitled The Tragedy of Mister Morn (1923–24), posthumously published in Russian (1997) and English (2013). His other works include a critical study of Gogol (1944); translations from the Russian, notably a four-volume version of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin (1964); and several autobiographical volumes, most notably Speak, Memory (1966). His college lectures, posthumously published, include Lectures on Literature: British, French, and German Writers (1980) and Lectures on Russian Literature (1981).

Nabokov also was an internationally recognized lepidopterist. He and his wife collected hundreds of species of butterflies, and he was the curator of lepidoptera at Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology. In the years since his death, his scientific stature has grown. His theories of the evolution and classification of the Polyommatus blue butterfly, once discredited, have since been shown by genetic studies to be remarkably accurate.


See B. Boyd and A. Tolstoy, ed., Think, Write, Speak: Uncollected Essays, Reviews, Interviews and Letters to the Editor (2019); selected letters ed. by M. J. Bruccoli and D. Nabokov (1989) and letters to his wife ed. by B. Boyd (2015); biography by B. Boyd (2 vol., 1990–91); studies by A. Field (1967), W. W. Rowe (1971), D. Fowler (1974), L. Toker (1989), M. Wood (1995), M. Maar (tr. 2010), and R. Roper (2015); B. Boyd and R. M. Pyle, ed., Nabokov's Butterflies (2000); J. W. Connolly, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Nabokov (2005). See also biography of his wife by S. Schiff (1999).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Nabokov, Vladimir Dmitrievich


Born in 1869 in Tsarskoe Selo, now Pushkin; died Mar. 28, 1922, in Berlin. Russian criminologist and political figure.

After graduating from the faculty of law at the University of St. Petersburg in 1890, Nabokov served in the chancellery of the State Council. From 1896 to 1904 he was a professor of criminal law in the Jurisprudence College, editor of the bourgeois-liberal legal journals Pravo and Vestnik prava, and a contributor to the journal Osvobozhdenie. Because he defended persons in tsarist courts, he was deprived of his aristocratic title of kammerherr in 1904.

Nabokov took part in the Zemstvo congresses of 1904–05 and in the Union of Liberation. He was one of the founders of the Constitutional Democratic Party (Cadets) and cochairman of its central committee and editor and publisher of its organ, Vestnik partii narodnoi svobody, as well as of the newspaper Rech’. He was a deputy to the First State Duma and a signer of the Vyborg Appeal. Nabokov was brought to trial for his correspondence relating to the Beilis case in 1913.

After the February Revolution of 1917, Nabokov managed the affairs of the bourgeois Provisional Government. After the October Revolution, in accordance with the decree of the Soviet government of November 28 (December 11) regarding leaders of the Cadet Party, he was subject to arrest. In December 1917 he went into hiding in Gaspra, in the Crimea. In 1919 he became minister of justice in the bourgeois nationalist government of the Crimea.

Nabokov, in emigration after 1920, joined the right wing of the Cadet Party. With I. V. Gessen he published the newspaper Rul’ in Berlin. He was killed by a monarchist émigré. Nabokov’s memoirs about the Provisional Government were reprinted in Moscow in 1924.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Nabokov, Vladimir (Vladimirovich)

(1899–1977) writer; born in St. Petersburg, Russia. He studied at the Prince Tenishev School, St. Petersburg (1910–17), and at Trinity College, Cambridge (B.A. 1922). To escape the Bolshevik Revolution, he and his family left Russia (1919) and moved to Berlin, Germany. He taught English and tennis, as well as composed crossword puzzles for the Russian emigré newspaper, Rul (1922–37), and gained a reputation as a fiction writer (in Russian) under the pen name, V. Sirin. He moved to Paris (1937–40), then, fleeing the Nazis, emigrated to the United States with his wife and child (1940). He taught at Stanford during the summer of 1941 and at Wellesley (1941–48); as an authority on butterflies, he became a research fellow in entomology at Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology (1942–59). From 1948 until 1959 he also taught at Cornell. An accomplished linguist, he had known English since his childhood but did not begin writing in it until after he settled in the U.S.A. His varied work includes poetry, fiction, drama, autobiography, essays, translations, and literary criticism, as well as works on butterflies and chess problems. He is most widely known for his novel, Lolita (1955), conveying the infatuation of a middle-aged man with a 12-year-old girl; many critics and moralists attacked the novel, but it became a best-seller, if for all the wrong reasons. With the financial security that followed the success of Lolita and several later novels, he retired from teaching and settled at the Palace Hotel in Montreux, Switzerland, and continued issuing his literary works and pronouncements until his death.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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The Garland companion to Vladimir Nabokov, pp 188-203.
"Signs and Symbols." The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov. New York: Vintage, 1996.
Any account of 20th century authors with larger-than-life biographies has to begin with Vladimir Nabokov. The famed Aurelian and author of Lolita was born into the Russian nobility, inherited vast wealth and estates as a teenager (childless uncle), then lost everything in the Bolshevik revolution (Black sea escape, boat attended by gunfire).
Irena Ksiezopolska's The Web of Sense makes a daring proposal: that by reading Virginia Woolf next to Vladimir Nabokov, we can gain insight into both idiosyncratic, experimental writers' techniques in constructing their novels.
for 16 years until his death, as the preeminent Nabokov critic Brian Boyd details in his two-volume biography, Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years (1990) and The American Years (1991).
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Robert Lowell's translation of Innokentii Annensky and Boris Pasternak in Imitations (1961) had escaped whipping by Vladimir Nabokov, but he makes five significant references to Lowell in Ada (1969).
Rarely a writer, never a painter, and only an amateur musician, Vladimir Nabokov's younger brother witnessed rather than participated in history: he smoked opium with Cocteau; paid homage to the arts at 27 rue de Fleurus, where Stein and Toklas held court; and celebrated the premier of Les Noces on a barge with Picasso, Serge Lifar, and Igor Stravinsky.
Father Vsevolod Chaplin, head of public relations for the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow, wants Russian schools to ban a few modern novels, including Vladimir Nabokov's "Lolita" and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "One Hundred Years of Solitude."

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