Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov (1899 - 1977)
Russian-born novelist and critic, who wrote both in Russian and English, and spent most of his life in exile. Nabokov's best-known novel, Lolita (1955), shocked many people but its humor and literary style were praised by critics. The first version of the story, Volshebnik (The Enchanter), was written in 1939 in Paris. The Enchanter centered on a middle-aged man, who falls in love with a 12-year-old girl and marries her sick, widowed mother to satisfy his erotic desires. He molests the girl in a Riviera hotel while she's asleep, she wakens and he runs into the traffic and dies.
Vladimir Nabokov was born in St. Petersburg as the son of Vladimir Dimitrievich Nabokov, a liberal politician, and Elena Ivanovna (Rukavishnikov). His aristocratic family was wealthy and Nabokov was educated by British and French tutors. At 16 Nabokov inherited a large estate from his father's brother, but he did not have much time to enjoy his wealth because of the Russian Revolution. His family emigrated to Berlin and Nabokov entered Trinity College, Cambridge, from where he graduated three years later in 1923. His father was murdered in 1922 by a Russian fascist in Berlin, and the word of God then disappeared from his texts.
Nabokov lived in Berlin for 15 years and worked as a translator, tutor and tennis coach. He won acceptance as the leading young writer in the Berlin Russian community, with a major publishing house and two literary journals. In his early works Nabokov dealt with the death, the flow of time and sense of loss. Already using complex metaphors, Nabokov themes became later more ambiguous puzzles - he was a remarkable chess player - that challenge the reader to involve in the game. ''Readers are not sheep," he once wrote to a publisher, "and not every pen (pun) tempts them."
As a writer Nabokov gained his first literary success with his translations of some of Heine's songs. His first novel, MASHENKA, written in Russia, appeared in 1926. In 1924 Nabokov married Vйra Evseevna Slonim, who came from a Jewish family; they had one son, Dmitri. Nabokov's early nine novels were published under the pen name Vladimir Serin. Among there works were The Gift (1937-38), a novel and an intellectual history of 19th-century Russia and Invitation to a Beheading (1938), a political fantasy.
When Hitler released the killer of his father, Nabokov moved to Paris in 1937. There he met the Irish novelist James Joyce. He moved three years later with his wife and son to the United States, with a loan he received from the composer Rachmaninov. Nabokov taught at Wellesley College and Cornell University, where he delivered highly acclaimed lectures on Flaubert, Joyce, Turgenev, Tolstoy and others. He also continued his extensive researches in entomology, becoming a recognized authority on butterflies. His first publication in English was an article titled 'A Few Notes on Crimean Lepidoptera,' but changing language was not easy - ''What agony it was, in the early 'forties, to switch from Russian to English,'' he wrote in a letter in 1954.
Nabokov's first novels in English were THE REAL LIFE OF SEBASTIAN KNIGHT (1941) and BEND SINISTER (1947). The Atlantic and the New Yorker started to publish Nabokov's short stories in the early 1940s. In America, apart from collecting his shorter prose of the 1930s into one book, VESNA V YAL'TE, Nabokov wrote only memoirs and verse in Russian.
In the 1950s Nabokov published CONCLUSIVE EVIDENCE (1951), an autobiography, which was later revived as SPEAK, MEMORY (1966), set mainly in pre-revolutionary Russia. Lolita, which was filmed first time in 1962 and directed by Stanley Kubrick, is one of the most controversial novels of this century. The story, dealing with the desire of a middle-aged pedophile Humbert Humbert for a 12-year-old girl, is said to be a metaphor for the writer and his art, and for the old world - Humbert is an European expatriate - encountering the new, represented by an American teenage girl, in all its vulgarity. Humbert kees a prison-diary of his lifelong fascination with pubescent "nymphets." The first is Annabel Leigh, who dies of typhus, but then he finds Lolita in a New England town. She reminds him of the little girl he loved as a boy. During the course of the story, Humbert loses her to Clare Quilty, a playwright and pornographic filmmaker. Humbert kill him and dies in a prison of a heart attack. Lolita dies in childbirth as delivering a stillborn daughter. With the book Nabokov gained a huge success, although it was banned in Paris in 1956-58 and not published ion full in America and the U.K. until 1958. Lolita allowed him to abandon teaching and devote himself entirely to writing. In 1957 Nabokov published PNIN, a story of a hapless Russian professor of literature on an American college campus, and in 1962 appeared PALE FIRE, an ambitious mixture of literary forms, partly a one-thousand-line poem in heroic couplets, partly a commentary on them by a mad exiled king. "I can do what only a true artist can do," describes the mad Kinbote himself, "pounce upon the forgotten butterfly or revelation, wean myself abruptly from the habit of things..."
From 1959 Nabokov lived in Switzerland, where his permanent home was at the Montreux Palace Hotel. His later works include ADA (1969), a love story set on the planet of Antiterra, a mixture of Russia and America, TRANSPARENT THINGS (1972) and LOOK AT THE HARLEQUINS! (1975), in which Nabokov's own life coincides occasionally with the protagonist's, also a writer.
The writer's son Dimitry undertake the translation of several of his books in these later years. Nabokov himself wanted to be valued more as an American writer than a Russian one, but in the Soviet Union he perhaps enjoyed greater fame than in the West. In LECTURES ON LITERATURE (1980) wrote that to be a good reader one do not have to lean heavily on emotional identification, action, and the social-economic or historical angle, or belong to a book club. "The good reader is one who has imagination, memory, a dictionary, and some artistic sense - which sense I propose to develop in myself and in others whenever I have the chance." - Nabokov died in Lausanne on July 2, 1977. Among Nabokov's major critical works are his study of Nikolay Gogol (1944), and translation of Alexander Pushkin's Eugene Onegin (1964), with commentary.