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Vladimir Nabokov

Vladimir Nabokov

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This page is about the novelist. For his father, the politician, see Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov.

Template:Infobox Writer

Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov (Template:Lang-ru, Template:Pronounced) (Template:OldStyleDate, Saint PetersburgJuly 2, 1977, Montreux) 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 significant contributions to entomology and had an interest in chess problems.

Nabokov's Lolita (1955) is frequently cited as his most important novel, and is at any rate his most widely known one, exhibiting the love of intricate wordplay and descriptive detail that characterized all his works.[1]. Nabokov himself regarded his four-volume translation of Aleksandr Pushkin's Eugene Onegin as his other major achievement. Template:Fact

Contents

Biography

Image:Nabokov House.JPG
Nabokov House - the house in Saint Petersburg where Nabokov was born and lived the first 18 years of his life

Russia

The eldest son of Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov and his wife, née Elena Ivanovna Rukavishnikova, he was born to a rich and prominent Orthodox family of the untitled nobility of Saint Petersburg. He spent his childhood and youth there and at the country estate Vyra near Siverskaya. 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. In 1916 Nabokov inherited the estate Rozhestveno, 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.

Emigration

The Nabokov family left Saint Petersburg in the wake of the 1917 Revolution for a friend's estate in the Crimea, where they remained for 18 months. The family did not expect to be out of Saint Petersburg for very long, but in fact they would never return. In September of 1918, they moved to Livadia. After the withdrawal of the German Army (November, 1918) and following the defeat of the White Army in early 1919, the Nabokovs left for exile in western Europe. On April 2, 1919, the family left Sevastopol. They settled briefly in England, where Vladimir enrolled in Trinity College, Cambridge and studied Slavic and Romance languages. His Cambridge experiences would later help him in the writing of the novel Glory. In 1920, his family moved to Berlin where his father set up the émigré newspaper Rul'. VN would follow to Berlin after his studies at Cambridge two years later.

In 1922, Nabokov's father was assassinated in Berlin by Russian monarchists as he tried to shelter their real target, Pavel Milyukov, a leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party-in-exile. This episode of mistaken, violent death would echo again and again in the author's fiction, where characters would meet their deaths under mistaken terms. In Pale Fire, for example, the poet Shade is mistaken for a judge who resembles him and is murdered. Shortly after his father's death, his mother and sister moved to Prague. VN, however, stayed in Berlin where he became a recognized poet and writer within the émigré community and published under his pen name V. Sirin - it may signify an owl or a mythological bird - , a pseudonym he used for his Russian writings for about four decades. In Berlin, he also tutored and gave tennis lessons.

In 1922 Nabokov became engaged to Svetlana Siewert; the engagement was broken off in early 1923 as he had no steady job. In May 1923, he met Véra Evseyevna Slonim and got married to her in 1925. Their only child, Dmitri, was born in 1934.

In 1936, when Vera lost her job due to the antisemitic environment, and the assassin of his father was appointed second-in-command of the Russian émigré group, Nabokov started to look for jobs in the English-speaking world. He left Germany with his family in 1937. He and his family moved to Paris, but also stayed during this journey at times at Prague, 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.

America

The Nabokovs settled down in Manhattan and VN started a job at the American Museum of Natural History. In October he met Edmund Wilson, who introduced Nabokov's work to American editors, leading eventually (extremely eventually) to his recognition.

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." Template:Fact 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. 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's Museum of Comparative Biology. After being encouraged by Morris Bishop, Nabokov left Wellesley in 1948 to teach Russian and European literature at Cornell University. In 1945, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States.

Also in 1945, Vladimir Nabokov was told by a relative that his homosexual brother, Sergei (b. 1900,) who had lived most of his adult life in Paris and Austria, had died in a Nazi concentration camp at Neuengamme, Germany, shortly before Germany's final collapse.

Nabokov wrote his novel Lolita while traveling on butterfly-collection trips in the western United States. (Nabokov never learned to drive, Vera acted as chauffeur; when VN attempted to burn unfinished drafts of Lolita, it was Vera who stopped him. He called her the best-humored woman he had ever known.) [2] 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 Lines Written in Oregon. On October 1, 1953, he and his family left for Ithaca, New York. [3]

Montreux

After the great financial success of Lolita, Nabokov was able to return to Europe and devote himself exclusively to writing. Also his son had got a position as an operatic bass at Reggio Emilia. On October 1, 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; rehospitalized in Lausanne in 1977, he suffered from severe bronchial congestion, and died on July 2. His remains were cremated and are buried at the Clarens cemetery in Vevey.[4]

Birth date

Nabokov was born on April 10 1899 according to the Julian calendar in use in Russia at that time. The Gregorian equivalent is April 22, which is achieved by adding 12 days to the Julian date. Some sources have incorrectly calculated a date of April 23, by inappropriately using the 13-day difference in the calendars that applied only after February 28 1900. In Speak, Memory Nabokov explains the cause of the error and confirms the correct date of April 22. But he himself celebrated his birthday on April 23, and stated in an interview with The New York Times, "That is also Shakespeare’s and Shirley Temple’s, so I have nothing to lose by saying I was born on the 23rd."[5]

Work

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Image:Nabokov time may 23 1969.jpg
May 23, 1969 TIME magazine cover

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 some view this as a dubious comparison, as Conrad composed only in English, never in his native Polish. (Nabokov himself 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." Nabokov, in the very early fifties, offered the critic Edmund Wilson a pocket 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.") [6] 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. Nabokov himself translated two books he wrote in English into Russian, 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.[7] Poshlost, or as he transcribed it, poshlust, is disdained and frequently mocked in his works.[8]

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 a bitter polemic with 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. 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 also reveals his controversial ideas concerning art. 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.

Nabokov's detractors fault him for being an aesthete and for his over-attention to language and detail rather than character development. In his essay "Nabokov, or Nostalgia," Danilo Kiš wrote that Nabokov's is "a magnificent, complex, and sterile art."

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

Nabokov was a synesthete and described aspects of synesthesia 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".

Vladimir Nabokov's case of synesthesia can be described in more detail than merely the association of colors with particular letters. For a synesthete 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.

Entomology

Image:Nabokov butterflies.jpg
Echinargus in the family Lycaenidae: one of the many genera discovered and named by Nabokov

His career as an entomologist was equally distinguished. Throughout an extensive career of collecting he never learned to drive a car, and he depended on his wife Véra to bring 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 identified 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).[9]

Image:Nabokov butterfliws 5.JPG
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. [2], [3] "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. "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." [4]

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 (1 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 consciousness..." To him, the "originality, invention, conciseness, harmony, complexity, and splendid insincerity" of creating a chess problem was similar to that of in any other art.

List of works

Fiction

Novels and novellas

Image:Nabokov sam.JPG
Samizdat copies of Nabokov's works on display at Nabokov House
Novels and novellas written in Russian
  • (1926) Mashen'ka (Машенька); English translation: Mary (1970)
  • (1928) Korol' Dama Valet (Король, дама, валет); English translation: King, Queen, Knave (1968)
  • (1930) Zashchita Luzhina (Защита Лужина); English translation: The Luzhin Defense or The Defense (1964) (also adapted to film, The Luzhin Defence, in 2001)
  • (1930) Sogliadatai (Соглядатай (Eavesdropper)), novella; first publication as a book 1938; English translation: The Eye (1965)
  • (1932) Podvig (Подвиг (Deed)); English translation: Glory (1971)
  • (1932) Kamera Obskura (Камера Обскура); English translations: Camera Obscura (1936), Laughter in the Dark (1938)
  • (1936) Otchayanie (Отчаяние); English translation: Despair (1937, 1966)
  • (1938) Priglasheniye na kazn' (Приглашение на казнь (Invitation to an execution)); English translation: Invitation to a Beheading (1959)
  • (1938) Dar (Дар); English translation: The Gift (1963)
  • (Unpublished novella, written in 1939) Volshebnik (Волшебник); English translation: The Enchanter (1985)
Novels written in English

Short story collections

Drama

Poetry

  • (1916) Stikhi ("Poems"). Sixty-eight poems in Russian.
  • (1918) Al'manakh: Dva Puti (An Almanac: Two Paths"). Twelve poems by Nabokov and eight by Andrei Balashov, in Russian.
  • (1922) Grozd ("The Cluster"). Thirty-six poems in Russian, by "V. Sirin".
  • (1923) Gornii Put' ("The Empyrean Path"). One hundred and twenty-eight poems in Russian, by "Vl. Sirin".
  • (1929) Vozvrashchenie Chorba ("The Return of Chorb"). Fifteen short stories and twenty-four poems, in Russian, by "V. Sirin".
  • (1952) Stikhotvoreniia 1929–1951 ("Poems 1929–1951") Fifteen poems in Russian.
  • (1959) Poems. The contents were later incorporated within Poems and Problems.
  • (1969) Poems and Problems (a collection of poetry and chess problems) ISBN 0-07-045724-7
  • (1979) Stikhi ("Poems"). Two hundred and twenty-two poems in Russian.

Translations

From French into Russian
From English into Russian
From Russian into English

Nonfiction

Criticism

  • (1944) Nikolai Gogol
  • (1963) Notes on Prosody (Later appeared within Eugene Onegin.)
  • (1980) Lectures on Literature
  • (1980) Lectures on Ulysses. Facsimiles of Nabokov's notes.
  • (1981) Lectures on Russian Literature
  • (1983) Lectures on Don Quixote

Autobiographical and other

  • (1951) Conclusive Evidence: A Memoir - first version of Nabokov's autobiography. (British edition titled Speak, Memory: A Memoir)
  • (1954) Drugie Berega (Другие берега, "Other Shores") - revised version of the autobiography
  • (1967) Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited - final revised and extended edition of Conclusive Evidence. It includes information on his work as a lepidopterist.
  • (1973) Strong Opinions. Interviews, reviews, letters to editors.
  • (1979) The Nabokov–Wilson Letters Letters between Nabokov and Edmund Wilson
  • (1984) Perepiska s Sestroi (Переписка с Сестрой (Correspondence with the Sister)) Correspondence between Nabokov and Helene Sikorski; also includes some letters to his brother Kirill
  • (1987) Carrousel. Three long-forgotten short texts that had recently been rediscovered.
  • (1989) Selected Letters
  • (2001) Dear Bunny, Dear Volodya: The Nabokov–Wilson Letters, 1940–1971. A revised and augmented edition of The Nabokov–Wilson Letters.

Lepidoptery

Collected Works

Works about Nabokov

Biography

  • 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)
  • Field, Andrew. VN The Life and Art of Vladimir Nabokov. New York: Crown Publishers. 1986. ISNB 0-517-56113-1
  • Proffer, Elendea, ed. Vladimir Nabokov: A pictorial biography. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1991. ISBN 0-87501-078-4 (a collection of photographs)
  • Schiff, Stacy. Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov). New York, NY.: Random House, 1999. ISBN 0-679-44790-3.

Bibliography

  • Vladimir E. Alexandrov (editor), The Garland Companion to Vladimir Nabokov, New York, Garland Publishing, 1995. ISNB 0-8153-0354-8.
  • Michael Juliar, Vladimir Nabokov: A Descriptive Bibliography, New York, Garland Pub., 1986. ISBN 0-8240-8590-6.

Fictional works

Peter Medak's short television film, Nabokov on Kafka, is a dramatization of Nabokov's lectures on Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis. The part of Nabokov is played by Christopher Plummer. Nabokov makes three cameo appearances, at widely scattered points in his life, in W. G. Sebald's The Emigrants.

Entomology

  • 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)

See also

Notes

  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 who 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. For Vera's varied roles, see her New York Times obituary, "Vera Nabokov, 89, Wife, Muse and Agent," April 11, 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.
  3. Article, Medford Mail Tribune, Nov. 5, 2006, p. 2, "Snapshot: Nabokov's Retreat"
  4. The Garland Companion to Vladimir Nabokov. Vladimir E. Alexandrov (editor). Garland Publishing. New York (1995) ISNB 0-8153-0354-8, pages xxix-l
  5. Whitman, Alden. "Nabokov, Nearing 70, Describes His 'New Girl'." The New York Times, April 19, 1969, http://www.proquest.com/ (accessed December 12, 2007).
  6. 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 Upike, 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 of 1950, p. 282.
  7. The Garland Companion to VN, ibid, pages 412ff
  8. The Garland Companion to VN, ibid, pages 628ff
  9. http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/dzbutt6.htm

External links

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