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Vladimir Nabokov

Nabokov, Vladimir (vlädēˈmĭr näbôˈkŏf) [key], 1899–1977, Russian-American author, b. St. Petersburg, Russia. He emigrated to England after the Russian Revolution of 1917 and graduated from Cambridge in 1922. He moved to the United States in 1940. From 1948 to 1959 he was professor of Russian literature at Cornell. He moved to Switzerland in 1959.

One of the great novelists of the 20th cent., Nabokov was an extraordinarily imaginative writer, often experimenting with the form of the novel. Although his works are frequently obscure and puzzling—filled with grotesque incidents, word games, and literary allusions—they are always erudite, witty, and intriguing. Before 1940, Nabokov wrote in Russian under the name V. Sirin. Among his early novels are Mary (1926, tr. 1970) and Invitation to a Beheading (1938, tr. 1959). His first book in English was The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1938).

Nabokov's most widely known work is undoubtedly Lolita (1958). The story of a middle-aged European intellectual's infatuation with a 12-year-old American "nymphet," Lolita was considered scandalous when it was first published. Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle (1969) is a philosophical novel that is both the chronicle of a long incestuous love affair and a probe into the nature of time. Among Nabokov's other novels are Bend Sinister (1947), Pnin (1957), Transparent Things (1972), and Look at the Harlequins! (1974). His unfinished final novel, which he wanted destroyed, was published as The Original of Laura (2009).

Nabokov's volumes of poetry include Poems and Problems (1970) and the posthumous Selected Poems (2012). Among collections of his short stories are Nine Stories (1947), Nabokov's Dozen (1958), and A Russian Beauty (1973); many of them are gathered in The Stories of Vladimir Nobokov (1995). Among his other writings are his first major work, a play entitled The Tragedy of Mister Morn (1923–24), posthumously published in Russian (1997) and English (2013). His other works include a critical study of Gogol (1944); translations from the Russian, notably a four-volume version of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin (1964); and several autobiographical volumes, most notably Speak, Memory (1966). His college lectures, posthumously published, include Lectures on Literature: British, French, and German Writers (1980) and Lectures on Russian Literature (1981).

Nabokov also was an internationally recognized lepidopterist. He and his wife collected hundreds of species of butterflies, and he was the curator of lepidoptera at Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology. In the years since his death, his scientific stature has grown. His theories of the evolution and classification of the Polyommatus blue butterfly, once discredited, have since been shown by genetic studies to be remarkably accurate.

See selected letters ed. by M. J. Bruccoli and D. Nabokov (1989); biography by B. Boyd (2 vol., 1990–91); studies by A. Field (1967), W. W. Rowe (1971), D. Fowler (1974), L. Toker (1989), M. Wood (1995), and M. Maar (tr. 2010); B. Boyd and R. M. Pyle, ed., Nabokov's Butterflies (2000); J. W. Connolly, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Nabokov (2005). See also biography of his wife by S. Schiff (1999).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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