Like many great writers, the fact that English was his second language made him appreciate the twists and turns of the language even more.

Russian by birth, he wrote most of his famous works in English. Lolita is the best known because of the controversy concerning pedophilia and because of the two movie versions, both pretty good.

When asked for their favorite modern novels, many in academia will reply, Pale Fire. It is a great book about academia and insanity.

However, my favorite has always been Ada. Just as a brief hint as to how he used the language, the boy in Ada is in love with two sisters. He sees them by the swimming pool one day with their sunglasses lying on a table. He says, "There lay the sunglasses of the much-sung lasses." (At least, that's my memory of the line.)

Nabokov was very much into "memory;" his goal was to remember every moment of his life. (He would have loved this web site!) His autobiography is titled, Speak, Memory. He was into butterflies as a hobby.

One of the most often asked questions about Nabokov is was he a paedophile?
In his essay "On a Book Entitled Lolita" he claims that he had no other purpose in writing such a controversial novel “than to get rid of that book".

Among the main themes of Lolita are depictions of incest, child molestation, obsession, and paedophilia. There have been attempts made to determine a connection between Humbert Humbert and Nabokov. There have been a lot of theories; there is even a name given to people who study Lolita: “Dolorologists”.

Nabokov defines art in two ways. His first definition is "Art at its greatest is fantastically deceitful and complex". His second theory is, "Beauty plus pity - that is the closest we can get to a definition of art". Nabokov also claims that Lolita was his most difficult book. He said that the book was based on a theme which was “so distant, so remote” from his own emotional life that it gave him special pleasure to use his “combinational talent” to make it real.

One conjecture is that Nabokov was a victim of abuse. Many critics have been able to piece together some of Nabokov's early childhood. According to Brandon Centerwall, as a young boy Nabokov had an uncle who was a paedophile. Uncle Ruka apparently abused Nabokov as a boy, and although his parents knew of the abuse, they did nothing to stop the scandal. Uncle Ruka was Nabokov's mother's brother, who had no children of his own. When Uncle Ruka died he left his fortune to Nabokov. It was a trifle odd that a teenager was left millions, but it can be thought of as some sort of compensation for his ‘sexual services’. There are many parallels between Uncle Ruka and Nabokov, and Humbert Humbert and Lolita. The first and most obvious similarity is that Nabokov was age twelve during the escapade and Uncle Ruka was thirty-seven. Lolita was a young nymphet of twelve and Humbert Humbert was thirty-seven.

But another similarity was that Nabokov had a strange relationship with his own mother, as did Lolita with Charlotte. One critic points out that all the women in Lolita die. Humbert’s mother also died when he was very young, and then his caretaker took a turn for the worse, Charlotte was killed, and in the end Lolita died during childbirth, (the passage through life when she is to become a mother). Freud did numerous studies on the Oedipus complex, when a young boy has intimate feelings towards his mother and has a dislike to his father, or the other man in his mothers life. Although Freud's preoccupation with the Oedipus complex is subject to question, psychological evidence confirms that incestuous thoughts and feelings, largely subconscious, do play a part in human behavior. Nabokov did not keep his dislike of Sigmund Freud a secret. At the end of The Annotated Lolita, he wrote, “I detest symbols and allegories (which is due partly to my old feud with Freudian voodooism and part to my loathing of generalizations devised by literary mythists and sociologists)”. He said, in an interview:

"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.

"I think that the creative artist is an exile in his study, in his bedroom, in the circle of his lamplight. He's quite alone there; he's the lone wolf. As soon as he's together with somebody else he shares his secret, he shares his mystery, he shares his God with somebody else."

It can be argued that Nabokov's strong dislike for Freud and his theories may have something to do with the fact that his secrets were being uncovered, analyzed and even explained. Nabokov did not like these analyses of his writing, or his personal life. However, as icicle pointed out, Freud was incompatible with Nabokov's whole world view and since, as we all know, since Freud's theories have been widely discredited, the whole "repressed secrets" train of thought doesn't necessarily work.

sources included http://www.coh.arizona.edu/inst/eng102-lolita/essays/emang.htm and http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/03/02/lifetimes/nab-v-freud.html

The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.

It is no less than a tragedy that people think first of the issue of pedophilia when they hear the name Vladimir Nabokov. But this is a tragedy of the human species, rather than any chosen or developed mindset. Let us rather try (and inevitably fail) to remember him as one of the greatest novelists of the 20th century, first and foremost.

It has been mentioned that Nabokov came eventually to write in English, which was his second or third language, though he had known it since he had been a child in St. Petersburg (born in 1899). This point is crucial to an understanding of some of the manifestations of genius we find in his work: the effect that writing in one's own third-language had, the necessary dearth of word associations and vernacular habits, this freed Nabokov in a way, and in some sense enabled him to wield a purer English. Nabokov was a genius, certainly, but genius itself is unremarkable in the grand scheme of things. Nuanced genius, on the other hand...

Style and Structure are the essence of a book; great ideas are hogwash.

Nabokov's English was brilliant. This is difficult to explain. His word selection was thorough and astute, and capable of abrupt and ferocious color; he had a feel for the necessity of calm and cool prose, but this was punctuated by a sense of timing and the occasional explosion, which filled the silence he so masterfully established. The first 4 paragraphs of 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, a certain 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 a 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.
Note the singing lyricism of the first paragraph, the 't' sound he himself delves into and repeats forcefully, and the 'l'.

As a youth, Nabokov fled St. Petersburg, Russia to escape the revolution. His father was killed in Berlin 1923 at a political rally, when he shielded the speaker from a "right-wing" assassin. It was around this time that Nabokov graduated from Cambridge, and returned to Berlin. But this was a difficult time in Germany, and it wasn't very long before he fled to Paris; no, that didn't work out either.

In 1940, Nabokov fled to America. He would become a professor of Russian Literature at Wellesley, then Harvard, then Cornell. Only now did he abandon his mother tongue, after having published a number of works in Russian (often under the pseudonym Sirin). It was over the course of the next two decades that Nabokov acquired so much glory and infamy.

Neither in environment nor in heredity can I find the exact instrument that fashioned me, the anonymous roller that pressed upon my life a certain intricate watermark whose unique design becomes visible when the lamp of art is made to shine through life's foolscap.

Considered by many his best book (though he himself prefers Ada), Pnin appeared in 1957. It traced the cycle of displacement of an exiled Russian professor in America. There is probably just as much to be learned about Nabokov in this book as there is in his autobiography, Speak, Memory. Always a man without a home, it was inevitable that Nabokov would eventually treat the subject of exile. Pnin is marked by a style that combines a sense of absurdity with a profound sadness; the reader is reminded of a rare form of human laughter, marked by resigned melancholy, as one has seldom experienced before in literature or anywhere.

In addition to some plays early in his Russian-language writing career, and of course his long list of novels, non-fictional essays and books, and poetry collections, Vladimir Nabokov is also responsible for some of the seminal translations of Lermontov and Pushkin, from Russian to English.

He moved to Switzerland in 1959, as the money he'd earned with Lolita (which took almost 4 years to get published) had become enough to finance retirement. He died there in 1977, before he could finish a novel called The Original of Laura.

I confess, I do not believe in time.

Vladimir Nabokov was also an internationally acclaimed lepidopterist. In July 1938 he caught and named 2 specimens of a previously unnamed butterfly, Lysandra cormion.





The Novels of Vladimir Nabokov


Nabokov wrote in Russian up until The Real Life of Sebastian Night, at which point he began writing in English.

http://www.libraries.psu.edu/iasweb/nabokov/works.htm
http://www.libraries.psu.edu/iasweb/nabokov/abvn.htm
http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/v/a132133.html
http://www.randomhouse.com/features/nabokov/biography.html
http://encyclopedia.com/html/N/Nabokov.asp
When my father was young, he lived in Ithaca, New York, home of Cornell University. Nabokov, a professor at the time, lived four houses down the street. Now it's worthwhile to note that winter in Ithaca is very cold and snowy, with this weather often extending well into late fall and early spring.

My father once told me that on each morning that the snow would block cars parked on the side of the road, (which, due to new snowfall or wind creating drifts out of snow on the ground, was a fairly common thing,) the same thing would happen. Nabokov would walk out his front door and get in his car. He would start the engine and attempt to drive. He would get nowhere. At this point, he would roll down the window and call for his wife Vera. She would bustle out the front door and quickly shovel snow out of the way, freeing the car. At this point, Nabokov would drive off.

As far as my father or his friends could tell, he never said a word to Vera while this happened. He would follow this pattern no matter how much or how little snow was obstructing his path, even when a cursory observation would tell the car was obviously stuck before he got in. He would never clear the snow himself, and he would never get out of the car while his wife did it.

An interesting little insight into the private life of this talented and prolific author.


*Note* yegorm alerts me that it is documented that Nabokov himself never learned to drive, and Vera acted as his chauffeur. Perhaps my father, around 65 at the time he told me this, had fuzzy memories of six decades earlier, I'm not sure. Luckily, he's still alive for me to ask, and I will try to get the situation clarified.

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