Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
- This page is about the novelist. For his father, the politician, see Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov.
Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov (Russian: Владимир Владимирович Набоков; pronounced: vlah-DEE-meer nah-BAWK-awf) (April 10 O.S. [April 22/23 N.S.], 1899 - July 2, 1977) was a Russian-American author. He wrote his first literary works in Russian, but rose to international prominence as a masterful prose stylist for the novels he composed in English.
Nabokov's most well-known work is undoubtedly Lolita (1955), a book which is frequently cited as one of the most important novels of the 20th century, together with the singularly structured Pale Fire (1962). Both of these works exhibit Nabokov's love of wordplay and descriptive detail.
The eldest son of Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov and his wife Elena, née Elena Ivanovna Rukavishnikova, he was born to a prominent and aristocratic family in St. Petersburg, where he also spent his childhood and youth. The family habitually spoke a mix of Russian, English and French in their household, and Nabokov was trilingual from an early age.
The Nabokov family left Russia in the wake of the 1917 February Revolution for a friend's estate in the Crimea, where they remained for 18 months. Following the defeat of the White Army in Crimea, they left Russia for exile in western Europe. After emigration from Russia in 1919, the family settled briefly in England, where Vladimir enrolled in Trinity College, Cambridge for his studies of Slavic and romance languages. In 1923, he graduated from Cambridge and relocated to Berlin, where he gained some reputation within the colony of Russian émigrés as a novelist and poet, writing under the pseudonym Vladimir Sirin. He married Vera Slonim in Berlin in 1925, with whom he had a son, Dmitri, born in 1934.
Nabokov was a synaesthete and described aspects of synaesthesia in several of his works. In his memoir Strong Opinions, he notes that his wife also exhibited synaesthesia; 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 blends of his parents' hues—"which is as if genes were painting in aquarelle".
Nabokov left Germany with his family in 1937 for Paris and in 1940 fled from the advancing German troops to the United States. It was here that he met Edmund Wilson, who introduced Nabokov's work to American editors, eventually leading to his international recognition. In 1945, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States.
Note on Nabokov's date of birth
His date of birth was April 10, 1899, by the Julian calendar. The Gregorian equivalent was then April 22, but it changed to April 23 in 1900, while Russia did not adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1918. Accordingly, his date of birth may correctly be considered as April 22, as some sources show, but April 23 is the birthday that he actually observed.
His first writings were in the Russian language, 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 only composed in English, never in his native Polish. Nabokov translated many of his early works into English, sometimes in cooperation with his son Dmitri Nabokov. His trilingual upbringing (English, Russian and French) had a profound influence on his artistry.
Nabokov is noted for his complex plots and clever word play. He gained both fame and notoriety with his novel Lolita (1955), which tells of a grown man's consummated 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. Perhaps his defining work, which met with a mixed response, is his longest novel, Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle (1969). He devoted more time to the construction of this novel than any of his others. Nabokov's fiction is characterized by its linguistic playfulness. Nabokov's best-known short story, "The Vane Sisters", is famous in part for its acrostical final paragraph, in which the first letters of each word spell out a ghostly 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 Russian soul epic Eugene Onegin. That commentary ended with an appendix called Notes on Prosody which has developed a reputation of its own. This essay 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.
His translation was the focus of a bitter polemic among him and other translation theorists; he had rendered the very precisely metered and rhyming novel in verse as (by his own admission) a stumbling, non-metrical, non-rhymed prose version. 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.
His career as a lepidopterist was equally distinguished. Throughout an extensive career of collecting he never learned to drive a car, and he depended on his wife Vera to bring him to collecting sites. During the 1940s 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.
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 insect. 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.
List of Works
Novels and novellas
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 ("The Sentinel"), novella; first publication as a book 1938; English translation: The Eye (1965)
- (1932) Podvig (Подвиг); 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); English translation: Invitation to a Beheading (1959)
- (1938) Dar (Дар); English translation: The Gift (1963)
- (Unpublished novella, written in 1939) Volshebnik (Волщебник); English translation: The Enchanter (1985)
Novels written in English
- (1941) The Real Life of Sebastian Knight
- (1947) Bend Sinister
- (1955) Lolita, self-translated into Russian, (1965)
- (1957) Pnin
- (1962) Pale Fire
- (1969) Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
- (1972) Transparent Things
- (1974) Look at the Harlequins!
- (1977) The Original of Laura (Unfinished/Unpublished)
Short story collections
- (1929) Vozvrashchenie Chorba ("The Return of Chorb"). Fifteen short stories and twenty-four poems, in Russian, by "V. Sirin".
- (1947) Nine Stories
- (1956) Vesna v Fial'te i drugie rasskazy ("Spring in Fialta and other stories")
- (1958) (Also reprinted as Spring in Fialta and First Love and Other Stories.)
- (1966) Nabokov's Quartet
- (1968) Nabokov's Congeries; reprinted as The Portable Nabokov (1971)
- (1973) A Russian Beauty and Other Stories
- (1975) Tyrants Destroyed and Other Stories
- (1976) Details of a Sunset and Other Stories
- (1995) The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov (alternative title The Collected Stories) -- complete collection of all short stories
- (1938) Izobretenie Val'sa (The Waltz Invention ); English translation The Waltz Invention: A Play in Three Acts (1966)
- (1974) (Despite the credits given in the earlier film version, this was not used.)
- (1984) The Man from the USSR and Other Plays
- (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.
- (1971) Poems and Problems (a collection of poetry and chess problems) ISBN 0070457247
- (1979) Stikhi ("Poems"). Two hundred and twenty-two poems in Russian.
From French into Russian
- (1922) Nikolka Persik Translation of Romain Rolland's novel Colas Breugnon .
From English into Russian
- (1923) Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Аня в стране чудес)
From Russian into English
- (1945) Three Russian Poets: Selections from Pushkin, Lermontov, and Tyutchev. Expanded British edition: Pushkin, Lermontov, Tyutchev: Poems (1947)
- (1958) A Hero of our Time, by Mikhail Lermontov.
- (1960) The Song of Igor's Campaign: An Epic of the Twelfth Century
- (1964) Eugene Onegin, by Aleksandr Pushkin, in prose. Includes "Notes on Prosody ". Revised edition (1975).
- (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) - 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 ("Correspondence with His Sister") Correspondence between Nabokov and Helene Sikorski; also includes some letters to his brother Kirill
- (1987) Carrousel. Three recently rediscovered short texts.
- (1989) Selected Letters
- (2000) Nabokov's Butterflies , collected works on butterflies. ISBN 0807085405
Works about Nabokov
By far the best biography is the large, two-volume work by Brian Boyd. A photograph collection complements this.
- 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)
- Proffer, Elendea, ed. Vladimir Nabokov: A pictorial biography. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1991. ISBN 0-87501-078-4 (a collection of photographs)
- 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)
- Zembla - A comprehensive Nabokov website that includes a concise biography.
- Waxwing - A good Nabokov resource.
- Nabokov Under Glass - A website of the New York Public Library exhibit.
- Review of Nabokov's Butterflies - In The Atlantic Monthly.
- A few photographs of the author
- Nabokov on Moshkow's site - Nabokov's fiction, translations, criticism, scientific papers, and interviews (mostly in Russian). Please note that most of the material on this site is in violation of copyright.
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