born: APRIL 22, 1899
died: JULY 2, 1977
Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov, born on April 22, 1899, in Saint Petersburg, Russia, was a prolific novelist, poet, and translator, best known for his linguistic virtuosity and intricate, thought-provoking narratives. Despite being a controversial figure due to the subject matter of some of his works, Nabokov has left an indelible mark on the literary world. This comprehensive article will explore the life of Vladimir Nabokov, his most notable works, and his enduring legacy.
EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION
Vladimir Nabokov was born into an aristocratic family, the eldest of five children. His father, Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov, was a prominent lawyer, journalist, and politician, while his mother, Elena Ivanovna, was a well-educated and cultured woman. Nabokov grew up in a bilingual household, learning both Russian and English from an early age.
In 1915, Nabokov enrolled at the Tenishev School in Saint Petersburg, where he excelled in literature, languages, and chess. Following the Russian Revolution, the Nabokov family fled to Crimea, then to England. Vladimir Nabokov continued his education at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he studied Slavic and Romance languages.
LITERARY CAREER AND ACHIEVEMENTS
Nabokov’s literary career began in Berlin in the early 1920s, where he wrote poetry and prose under the pen name V. Sirin. He gained recognition for his works within the émigré community. In 1940, Nabokov and his family moved to the United States, where he took up teaching positions at several universities, including Wellesley College and Cornell University.
While teaching, Nabokov continued to write novels and short stories, often exploring themes of love, memory, and the nature of artistic creation. He gained international fame with the publication of Lolita (1955), a novel that garnered both critical acclaim and controversy for its portrayal of a middle-aged man’s obsession with a young girl.
TOP 10 BOOKS BY VLADIMIR NABOKOV
Lolita tells the story of Humbert Humbert, a middle-aged man who becomes infatuated with a young girl named Dolores Haze, whom he nicknames Lolita. The novel is renowned for its linguistic prowess and moral ambiguity, making it a classic of 20th-century literature.
Pale Fire (1962)
This inventive novel is structured as a 999-line poem by fictional poet John Shade, with extensive commentary by his neighbor and academic, Charles Kinbote. Pale Fire is a complex work that explores themes of identity, obsession, and the creative process.
Pnin follows the life of Timofey Pnin, a Russian émigré and professor at a small American college. The novel is a comedic and poignant portrayal of a man struggling to find his place in a foreign culture.
Speak, Memory (1951)
This autobiography details Nabokov’s life from his childhood in Russia to his years in Europe and America. Speak, Memory is celebrated for its masterful prose and evocative descriptions of the past.
Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle (1969)
Ada, or Ardor is a complex and ambitious novel set in an alternate world where history and culture differ from our own. The narrative follows the lives of two siblings, Ada and Van, who share a passionate love affair that spans decades.
Invitation to a Beheading (1936)
Set in an unspecified totalitarian state, this novel tells the story of Cincinnatus C., a man sentenced to death for an unspecified crime. As he awaits execution, Cincinnatus experiences surreal events and encounters, reflecting on the absurdity of existence.
The Gift (1938)
The Gift is a dense, intricate novel that follows the life of a young Russian writer, Fyodor Godunov-Cherdyntsev, as he navigates the émigré community in Berlin. The novel explores themes of artistic creation, exile, and Russian identity.
In this darkly comic novel, Hermann, a successful businessman, becomes obsessed with the idea of faking his own death and assuming the identity of a lookalike. However, his carefully crafted plan spirals out of control with disastrous consequences.
Bend Sinister (1947)
Set in the fictional totalitarian country of Padukgrad, Bend Sinister follows the story of a philosopher, Adam Krug, who becomes entangled in political intrigue as he tries to protect his family from the oppressive regime.
Laughter in the Dark (1932)
Laughter in the Dark is a tragicomedy that centers on the love affair between Albinus, a wealthy art critic, and Margot, a young woman with manipulative intentions. The novel explores the nature of desire, obsession, and self-deception.
- Nabokov was an accomplished lepidopterist (a scientist who studies butterflies and moths). He published several scientific papers on the subject and even discovered a few new species.
- Nabokov was a synesthete, experiencing colors when he heard specific sounds or encountered certain letters and numbers. This condition influenced his writing, as he often used color imagery to convey emotions and sensations.
- He was an avid chess player and even composed chess problems for publication. His love for chess is evident in many of his works, where the game often serves as a metaphor for the complexities of human relationships.
INFLUENCE ON LITERATURE AND POPULAR CULTURE
Vladimir Nabokov’s distinct style and innovative narrative techniques have left a lasting impact on the literary world. His work has inspired and influenced numerous contemporary authors, including Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis, and John Banville. Additionally, his novels have been adapted into films, most notably Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 adaptation of Lolita and the 1997 version directed by Adrian Lyne.
Beyond literature, Nabokov’s work has also found its way into popular culture, with references to his novels and characters appearing in music, television shows, and other forms of media. For example, the alternative rock band The Police released a song called Don’t Stand So Close to Me in 1980, which was inspired by the novel Lolita.
DEATH AND LEGACY
Vladimir Nabokov passed away on July 2, 1977, in Montreux, Switzerland. His unique writing style, marked by linguistic virtuosity and narrative complexity, has earned him a place among the greatest writers of the 20th century. His works continue to inspire and challenge readers, and his influence can be felt in the writing of numerous contemporary authors.
Vladimir Nabokov’s extraordinary literary career spanned decades and continents, as he produced some of the most memorable and thought-provoking works of the 20th century. His novels continue to captivate readers with their intricate narratives, linguistic artistry, and exploration of the human condition. As both a writer and a literary figure, Nabokov’s influence and legacy continue to endure, inspiring new generations of authors and readers alike.