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Vladimir Nabokov


Vladimir Nabokov was born in St Petersburg in 1899. He was the eldest of five children. His father was a distinguished politician and lawyer. Both parents came from distinguished Russian families. His father was an Anglophile and hired English governesses, so that Nabokov learned English as a child. When he was seven, his father hired a Swiss governess and he learned French. He was initially taught by private tutors but, in 1911, he attended the Tenishev School but he did not like it. He started writing poetry in English, French and Russian but was particularly inspired by his first love, Valentina Shul’gina. He published his first collection of poetry at his own expense in 1916. That same year, his uncle died and left him a large estate. However, the Tsar abdicated the next year. Nabokov’s father was appointed Head of Chancellery in the provisional government but, when the Bolsheviks seized power, the family fled to Crimea.

The family had to flee again, when the Bolsheviks seized Crimea and eventually landed in London. Nabokov went to Cambridge University where he studied languages (French and Russian). While he was at Cambridge, his family moved to Berlin. While visiting his family there, his father was shot while trying to defend another politician from an assassination attempt. Nabokov himself moved to Berlin when he had graduated from Cambridge. He published poetry under the pseudonym Vladimir Sirin but made his living teaching languages. In 1923 he met his future wife, Vera Slonim and started gradually to write in prose and write drama. After marrying Vera in 1925, he wrote his first novel, Машенька (Mary), which was published by an émigré Russian publisher. His first major success came with Защита Лужина (The Luzhin Defense; The Defense), which was hailed by émigré Russian critics. He continued to write novels in Russian. However, with the deteriorating economic and political situation in Germany, the family moved to Paris in 1937.

Though he continued to write in Paris, their financial situation was still not sound and Nabokov started to write in English. In 1938 he wrote The Real Life of Sebastian Knight but did not find a publisher till 1941. He travelled to England in 1939 to look for work but was not successful but he did get an offer of work at Stanford. In 1940, soon after the Germans had invaded France, the family sailed to New York. He taught at Stanford and Wellesley as well as having a part-time research position at Harvard in lepidoptera. In 1945, he became a US citizen and in 1948 he became head of Cornell’s comparative literature department. His writings in English were not having much success, till he published Lolita. Initially, no US publisher would touch it and it was first published by the Olympia Press in Paris. Graham Greene discovered it and recommended it. There was a lot of controversy surrounding the book before an American publisher (Putnam’s) agreed to publish it.

The book was highly successful, both critically and commercially, and enabled the Nabokovs to move to Europe. They settled in Montreux, Switzerland. Nabokov continued to write novels and his son, Dmitri, translated his Russian works into English. His reputation continued to grow and he is now recognised as one of the great writers of the twentieth century. He died in Montreux in 1977.

Books about Vladimir Nabokov

Brian Boyd: Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years; Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years (the best biography)
Andrew Field: Nabokov: His Life in Art

Other links

Vladimir Nabokov
Vladimir Nabokov
O Window in the Dark! The Early Career of Vladimir Nabokov
Nabokov tutorials (50 studies of The Collected Stories)
Scraping the Barrel (unpublished Nabokov)
Talking about Nabokov
The gay Nabokov
Nabokov Online Journal
Some Thoughts on Alfred Hitchcock and Vladimir Nabokov
Lolita author Vladimir Nabokov’s butterfly theory proved right
Набоков, писатель (in Russian)

Владимир Набоков (texts of his works – in Russian)
Набоков – Nabokov (texts of all nineteen novels in Russian as well above Nabokov works in both Russian and English)


1916 Стихи [Poems] (poetry)
1916 Альманах: Два пути [An Almanac: Two Paths] (with Andrei Balashov – poetry)
1923 Гроздь [The Cluster] (poetry)
1923 Горний путь [The Empyrean Path] (poetry)
1926 Машенька (Mary) (novel)
1928 Король, дама, валет (King, Queen, Knave) (novel)
1928 Защита Лужина (The Luzhin Defense; The Defense) (novel)
1929 Возвращение Чорба [The Return of Chorb] (stories and poems)
1930 Соглядатай (The Eye) (novel)
1932 Подвиг (Glory) (novel)
1933 Камера Обскура (Camera Obscura; Laughter in the Dark) (novel)
1936 Отчаяние (Despair) (novel)
1938 Приглашение на казнь (Invitation to a Beheading) (novel)
1938 Изобретение вальса (The Waltz Invention: A Play in Three Acts) (drama)
1938 Дар (The Gift) (novel)
1941 The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (novel)
1944 Nikolai Gogol (criticism)
1947 Bend Sinister (novel)
1947 Nine Stories (stories)
1951 Conclusive Evidence: A Memoir (UK: Speak, Memory) (memoirs)
1952 Стихотворения 1929-1951 [Poems 1929-1951] (poetry)
1954 Другие берега [Other Shores] (memoirs)
1956 Весна в Фиальте и другие рассказы [Spring in Fialta and Other Stories] (stories)
1955 Lolita (novel)
1957 Pnin (novel)
1958 Nabokov’s Dozen: A Collection of Thirteen Stories (stories)
1959 Poems (poetry)
1962 Pale Fire (novel)
1966 Nabokov’s Quartet (stories)
1967 Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited (revised version of Conclusive Evidence) (memoirs)
1968 Nabokov’s Congeries (later: The Portable Nabokov (stories)
1969 Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle (novel)
1959 Poems and Problems (poetry and chess problems)
1963 Notes on Prosody (criticism)
1972 Transparent Things (novel)
1973 A Russian Beauty and Other Stories (stories)
1973 Strong Opinions (reviews, interviews)
1974 Look at the Harlequins! (novel)
1975 Tyrants Destroyed and Other Stories (stories)
1976 Details of a Sunset and Other Stories (stories)
1979 Стихи [Poems] (poetry)
1979 The Nabokov-Wilson Letters (letters)
1980 Lectures on Literature (criticism)
1980 Lectures on Ulysses. Facsimiles of Nabokov’s notes (criticism)
1981 Lectures on Russian Literature (criticism)
1983 Lectures on Don Quixote (criticism)
1984 Человек из СССР (The Man from the USSR and Other Plays) (drama)
1984 Переписка с Сестрой [Correspondence with My Sister] (letters)
1986 Волшебник (The Enchanter) (novella)
1987 Carrousel (essays/poem)
1989 Selected Letters (letters)
1995 The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov (stories)
2000 Nabokov’s Butterflies (lepidoptery)
2001 Dear Bunny, Dear Volodya: The Nabokov-Wilson Letters, 1940-1971
2005 Cloud, Castle, Lake (stories)
2008 Verses and Versions (poems and unpublished works)
2008 Трагедия господина Морна (The Tragedy of Mr. Morn) (drama)
2009 The Original of Laura (novel)
2012 Selected Poems
2019 Think, Write, Speak: Uncollected Essays, Reviews, Interviews, and Letters to the Editor