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Vladimir Nabokov

Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov (April 22, 1899 - July 2, 1977), author, lepidopterist.

The eldest son of Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov, he was born in St. Petersburg, Russia. He is noted for his complex plots and clever word play. He gained both fame and notoriety with his novel Lolita (1955) which tells of an grown man's consummated passion for a 12-year-old girl. This and his other novels, particularly Pale Fire (1962) place him in the top rank of novelists of the 20th century. In 2001, Lolita and Pale Fire would both be on the list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century as selected by the editorial board of the American Modern Library.

Nabokov's stature as a literary critic is founded 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 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 unknown to the broad range of his literary fans. For more on this see Dieter Zimmer's "A Guide to Nabokov's Butterflies and Moths", Berlin, 2001.

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. 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.

His writings include (some of the English translations of the early Russian novels are heavily revised or even rewritten):

Vladimir Nabokov died in Montreux, Switzerland.

Table of contents



  • Mashen'ka (1926); English translation: Mary (1970)
  • Korol' Dama Valet (1928); English translation: King Queen Knave (1968)
  • Zashchita Luzhina (1930); English translation: The Defense (1964) (also issued as The Luzhin Defense)
  • Podvig (1932); English translation: Glory (1971)
  • Kamera Obskura (1932); English translations: Camera Obscura (1936), Laughter in the Dark (1938)
  • Otchayanie (1936); English translation: Despair (1937, 1966)
  • Priglasheniye na kazn (1938); English translation: Invitation to a Beheading (1959)
  • Dar (1937/8, 1952); English translation: The Gift (1963)
  • The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941)
  • Bend Sinister (1947)
  • Conclusive Evidence (1951)
  • Lolita (1955)
  • Pnin (1957)
  • Pale Fire (1962)
  • Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle (1969)
  • Transparent Things (1972)
  • Look at the Harlequins (1974)
  • The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov (1995)





  • Poems and Problems (a collection of poetry and chess problems)
  • Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited (1967) is a revised edition of Conclusive Evidence. It includes information on his work as a lepidopterist.
  • "Nabokov's Congeries" (1968) -- reviewed by Anthony Burgess
  • Selected Letters (1989)

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