Mr. Nabokov writes with a remarkable blend of realism and fantasy, the ranging humor of delightedly observed eccentricities in everyone, himself included.
Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov was born on (or about) April 23rd, 1899, into a wealthy and aristocratic family in St. Petersburg, Russia. His father, Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov, was a prominent and respected liberal politician; his mother, Elena Ivanovna, was a noble and wealthy Russian with an artistic heritage.
Describing himself as "a perfectly normal trilingual child in a family with a large library," VN first learned English and then French from various governesses...The Nabokov family habitually spoke a melange of French, English, and Russian in their household, and this linguistic diversity would play a prominent role in VN's development as an artist.
At home in both Russian and English from his earliest years, Nabokov began writing in Russian very young; and a volume of his poems was privately printed when he was seventeen. ...
After the Nabokov family left Russia for exile in 1919, he continued, like other emigre authors, to write in Russian for a small emigre readership.
Vladimir's higher education had to be paid for with a string of pearls that his mother, Elena, contrived to smuggle out of Russia in a pot of face powder. He spent three years (1919 - 22) studying modern languages at Trinity College, Cambridge.
After finishing from Cambridge, Nabokov followed his family to Berlin in 1922. A year later, he married Véra Evseyevna Slonim, a Jewish Russian woman who bore him their son Dmitri in 1934. Nabokov lived in Berlin for fifteen years before moving to the United States in 1940 when German troops began advancing.
In the autumn semester of 1941, Nabokov started a regular appointment at Wellesley College where he was the Russian Department in his own person and initially taught courses in language and grammar, but soon branched out with Russian 201, a survey of Russian literature in translation. In 1948 he transferred to Cornell University as Associate Professor of Slavic Literature where he taught Literature 311-312, Masters of European Fiction, and Literature 325-326, Russian Literature in Translation.
He also did research in entomology (the study of insects) at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University in Massachusetts from 1942 to 1948. He later discovered several species of butterflies, including "Nabokov's wood nymph." While teaching he wrote The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941), a parody (humorous imitation) of a mystery story whose hero is based on the author's own life. In 1944 he completed a study of the life of Russian author Nicolai Gogol (1809–1852)
When, in support of a permanent position [at Cornell], the committee was reminded that he was a distinguished novelist, one member objected: 'should we then make a rhinoceros professor of zoology?' His failure to secure a permanent place inspired the ironic campus novel, Phin (1957). Along with Pale Fire (1962), it reflects Nabokov's mordant belief that Americans academics are to a man 'mediocrities'.
Initially, even the American publishing houses that admitted Lolita's literary virtues were unwilling to discover the legal ramifications of publishing a novel about a man's affair with his twelve-year old stepdaughter. Lolita was first published in France by Olympia Press in 1955, and generated a storm of moral outrage, as well as staunch and significant support for its artistic merit. Eventually published in American in 1958 (and in England the following year,) the Sturm und Drang over Lolita contributed to a remarkable popular success; it spent six months as the number one bestseller in America (displaced by Boris Pasternak's Dr. Zhivago.)
Lolita is both vilified and lauded, called a brilliantly written work of comic genius by some and vile pornography by others. ...
In the coming decades, Lolita's style and its precise portrayal of the banality of postwar America accords it the status of a masterpiece. The book is taught in college, analyzed in academic dissertations, and featured in critical appreciations by such novelists as Martin Amis and Amy Tan. In 1998, a board of distinguished writers convened by Random House's Modern Library series selects the 100 best novels of the 20th century. Lolita is number four.
Readers of Nabokov's fiction will never cease to be amazed by the amount and intensity of attention with which the author and his narrators turn towards what are usually considered minor things, small details - in one word: surfaces. ... In Nabokov's texts, the significance of small details resides in the things themselves, or rather in the constellations and patterns into which they seem to arrange themselves, and in the extent to which these constellations, slight asymmetries are sources of art.
Most of Nabokov's characters are intent on figuring out the internal logic of these patterns, trying to extract some ultimate meaning out of them and thus to reduce randomness to order...
At the time of his death, he was working on a novel titled The Original of Laura. His wife Vera and son Dmitri were entrusted with Nabokov's literary executorship, and though he asked them to burn the manuscript, they chose not to destroy his final work. In April, 2008, Dmitri announced that he would publish the novel. The Original of Laura was published on 17 November 2009.
In [“The Real Life of Sebastian Knight”] we are advised to “remember that what you are told is really threefold: shaped by the teller, reshaped by the listener, concealed from both by the dead man of the tale.”
Nabokov is noted for his complex plots, clever word play, and use of alliteration. ... Nabokov's fiction is characterised by its linguistic playfulness. For example, his short story "The Vane Sisters" is famous in part for its acrostic final paragraph, in which the first letters of each word spell out a message from beyond the grave.