English Literature
Vladimir Nabokov

Vladimir Nabokov

Shiken premium Upgrade Banner

The Multi-Faceted Life of Vladimir Nabokov

Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977) is renowned for his famous novel, Lolita (1955), which gained worldwide recognition. But beyond being a celebrated author, Nabokov was also a poet, professor, translator, and entomologist. He was a polyglot known for his mastery of poetic and maximalist style.

Interestingly, Nabokov's pen name was Vladimir Sirin, derived from Russian mythology where Sirin is a creature with the face of a beautiful woman and the body of an owl.

Biography of Vladimir Nabokov

Nabokov was born in St. Petersburg, Russia on April 22, 1899, as the eldest of five children. His father, Vladimir Dmitrievich, was a politician, and his mother, Elena Ivanovna, was a wealthy heiress. Despite the turbulence of the Russian Revolution, Nabokov had a comfortable upbringing in the luxurious world of the Russian aristocracy. He spent summers at the picturesque country mansion in Vyra, where he developed his love for butterflies.

In 1917, the Russian Revolution took place, leading to the overthrow of the imperial government and the rise of the communist Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). As part of the Russian aristocracy, Nabokov's family was at risk, and they had to flee the country.

Nabokov received a private education from tutors and governesses until he attended the liberal secondary school, Tenishev, in 1911. It was during this time that he began writing poetry and his first book, Stikhi, between 1915 and 1916. However, it was not well-received. After the October Revolution in 1917, Nabokov's family was forced to flee Russia. They moved around Europe until Nabokov attended Trinity College, Oxford University in 1919. Eventually, his family settled in Berlin in 1920 by selling Elena's jewels to fund their new life.

During his time at university, Nabokov explored various writing genres, from entomological articles to critical essays to poetry. Tragically, his father was killed in a politically motivated attack on liberal politician Pavel Milyukov, an event that deeply affected Nabokov, and accidental death became a recurring theme in his works.

Nabokov's father was an advocate for Jewish rights, opposed to the death penalty, and supported liberalism. In 1922, when Pavel Milyukov held a conference in Berlin, two far-right gunmen attempted to assassinate him. Although Nabokov's father managed to disarm one of the gunmen, he was fatally shot by the other.

After graduating from Trinity, Nabokov briefly worked at a bank in Berlin but quickly quit to make a living by tutoring in French and English. He was part of the Russian literary community in Berlin and continued to write prose and poetry.

In 1923, Nabokov met Vera Evseyevna Slonim at a ball and instantly fell in love. They married in 1925. Vera, too, was a poet, but poor health prevented her from continuing her studies at Technische Hochschule in Berlin. In 1934, they welcomed their only child, Dmitri.

Nabokov began publishing translations in 1922, and in 1926, his first book, Mary, was released under the pseudonym Vladimir Sirin. By 1934, writing became his full-time career. However, with the rise of antisemitism in Berlin and Vera being Jewish, Nabokov started looking for other places to live. After a brief affair with Irina Guadinini in France, the Nabokov family moved to the United States in 1940. They settled in New York, and Nabokov resumed tutoring until he secured a teaching position at Wellesley College in 1941. During this time, he continued to write and published post-modernist works such as The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941) and Bend Sinister (1947). In 1948, Nabokov became a professor at Cornell University.

It was during his time at Cornell that Nabokov wrote his most famous work, Lolita, which eventually achieved tremendous success despite initial difficulties in finding a publisher and being banned in France for two years. Lolita, along with Nabokov's other novels, laid the foundation for the Post-Modernist movement.

The Legacy of Vladimir Nabokov

In 1958, Lolita was released in the USA and quickly sold over 100,000 copies within the first three weeks, marking the start of Vladimir Nabokov's successful writing career. However, his life was not without challenges.

Nabokov's mastery of multiple genres and his unique style continue to inspire and influence writers worldwide. His legacy lives on as a multi-faceted and complex literary figure, remembered for his contributions to literature, poetry, and entomology.

The Life and Legacy of Vladimir Nabokov

In 1961, author and entomologist Vladimir Nabokov and his wife Vera moved from the USA to Switzerland to be closer to their son, Dmitri, who lived in Italy. Despite facing health challenges, Nabokov persisted in pursuing his passions for butterfly hunting and writing until his passing on July 2nd.

The Literary Masterpieces of Vladimir Nabokov

Throughout his lifetime, Nabokov wrote numerous books and other forms of literature, earning him the distinction of being a 7-time finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction. Some of his most notable works include:

  • Lolita
  • Pale Fire
  • Ada or Ardor
  • The Luzhin Defense

Nabokov's Genre-Bending Writing Style

Nabokov first began his writing career in the Modernism genre, but later shifted to Post-Modernism. Modernism emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, challenging traditional writing styles by experimenting with elements like style, composition, and time. In contrast, Post-Modernism, which arose in the mid to late 20th century, focused on metafiction, unreliable narration, and anti-authoritarianism. Nabokov's novels were groundbreaking in their seamless combination of both genres. For example, in Pale Fire, he explores metafiction by presenting a fictional poem written by a fictional poet, who is actually Nabokov. Similarly, in Lolita, Nabokov's masterful use of language highlights the protagonist's unreliable narration and detachment from American culture, making it a prime example of both Modernism and Post-Modernism.

The Profound Words of Vladimir Nabokov

In a quote from his interview with The Paris Review in the Summer/Fall of 1967, Nabokov stated, "Derivative writers seem versatile because they imitate many others, past and present. Artistic originality has only its own self to copy." He believed that true artistic originality comes from within and that copying others only leads to mediocrity.

Nabokov's Distinctive Writing Style

Nabokov's writing style was highly praised for its poetic and lyrical nature. He was considered a maximalist writer, as he intricately wove together different literary techniques to create rich and complex stories. What set Nabokov apart was his ability to write from the perspective of the narrator, giving them a distinct personality and allowing them to share their thoughts, opinions, and justifications. This allowed him to create unreliable narrators and metafictional works, as seen in the character of Humbert Humbert in Lolita.

Nabokov's writing style, known as "Fancy Prose Style," was a reflection of his synesthesia, which allowed him to experience one sense through another. This unique condition helped him create vivid and descriptive narratives, as seen in passages such as the one where he describes the name "Lolita" in his famous novel - "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta." This illustrates Nabokov's ability to create a sensory experience for readers, making his writing truly exceptional.

Key Takeaways from Vladimir Nabokov's Life and Works

Vladimir Nabokov was born in 1899 in St. Petersburg, Russia, to a wealthy family. Despite facing political turbulence, he managed to leave a lasting mark in the literary world through his extensive writing and unique writing style. While teaching at Cornell University, he wrote his most famous book, Lolita, and is credited with bridging the gap between Modernism and Post-Modernism through his innovative and multifaceted writing.

The Artistry of Vladimir Nabokov's Writing Style

Vladimir Nabokov was a renowned Russian-American author, scholar, and entomologist. He is widely recognized for his controversial novel, Lolita, and his distinctive writing style, known as Fancy Prose Style.

Unlike traditional writers, Nabokov's writing was eloquent and poetic, elevating his works to a more artistic level.

Vladimir Nabokov: The Literary Icon with a Unique Approach to Storytelling

Considered one of the literary giants of the 20th century, Vladimir Nabokov was a multifaceted genius whose talents knew no bounds. Born in Russia in 1899, Nabokov's life experiences, including his family's exile and personal struggles, greatly influenced his writing. One of his standout characteristics was his preference for a narrator with an all-encompassing personality, creating an intimate and engaging reading experience for his audience. This distinctive approach to storytelling set Nabokov apart from his contemporaries and solidified his place as a literary icon.

The Life and Works of Vladimir Nabokov

Despite his success as a writer, Nabokov was also a respected professor and entomologist. His diverse range of interests and talents were reflected in his writing, which was highly praised for its thought-provoking themes and masterful use of language. However, it was his controversial novel, Lolita, that catapulted him to international fame in 1955. While the subject matter caused a stir, it was Nabokov's unique writing style that truly captivated readers.

Nabokov's Impact as a Poet

In addition to being a novelist, Nabokov was also a brilliant poet, with many considering him one of the greatest modernist and post-modernist poets of his time. His poems were known for their vivid imagery, clever wordplay, and deep exploration of human emotions. From love to loss, Nabokov's poetry continues to inspire and enchant readers around the world.

The Longest Novel by Vladimir Nabokov

Nabokov's longest novel, Ada, was published in 1969. This epic masterpiece spans over 600 pages and follows the story of a brother and sister's controversial love affair. With his exceptional character development and storytelling skills on full display, Nabokov's Ada remains a must-read for fans of his work.

The Signature Style of Vladimir Nabokov

Nabokov's writing style has been described as maximalist and Fancy Prose Style. His use of intricate and poetic language, attention to detail, and complex characterizations set his work apart from others. Throughout his career, Nabokov constantly pushed the boundaries of traditional writing, creating unique and thought-provoking pieces that continue to resonate with readers.

Recognition and Legacy

Despite never winning the Nobel Prize in literature, Nabokov's immense impact and contribution to the literary world cannot be denied. He received numerous accolades and was a seven-time finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction. His works continue to be studied and enjoyed by readers around the globe, cementing his legacy as a literary icon.

Join Shiken For FREE

Gumbo Study Buddy

Explore More Subject Explanations

Try Shiken Premium
for Free

14-day free trial. Cancel anytime.
Get Started
Join 20,000+ learners worldwide.
The first 14 days are on us
96% of learners report x2 faster learning
Free hands-on onboarding & support
Cancel Anytime