Vladimir Nabokov

Russian-American Novelist and Poet

Vladimir Nabokov is recognized as one of the leading writers of the 20th century. His expressive, complex prose style has influenced a legion of writers towards prioritizing language over theme or a deeper meaning. Lolita brought the Russian-American writer fame, but it was just one out of a host of highly esteemed works in an impressive career. Nabokov’s works range includes novels, translations, poetry, research works on lepidoptery, plays, critical treatments, and even Chess problems. Nabokov’s legacy as a talented artist and consummate scholar is set in stone.

Life Facts

  • Vladimir Nabokov was born in 1899 in St. Petersburg
  • In 1919 Nabokov’s family fled Russia against the advance of Bolshevik troops
  • 1925 Nabokov Marries Véra Evseevna Slonim in May 1925 He published his first novel, Mary, the same year.
  • Facing German advance into France in1940 Nabokov departs the country with his wife and son, Dmitri for The United States, arriving in New York on May 27
  • In 1943 Nabokov begins teaching non-credit Russian language courses at Wellesley College
  • In 1958 Lolita is published in the United States to instant success.
  • In 1959 Nabokov Resigns from Cornell, later settles in Switzerland.
  • Nabokov dies on June 2 in 1977 after being Hospitalized in Lausanne with fever and influenza from March to May.

Interesting Facts

  • Nabokov was a renowned butterfly collector and expert
  • Nabokov had Synesthesia. At a young age, he associated the number 5 with the color red. He shared this condition with his wife and son.
  • Nabokov composed chess problems.
  • He almost destroyed the unfinished manuscript for Lolita after having difficulties completing the book. He was stopped by his wife once
  • Nabokov spoke English, Russian and French fluently.

Famous Books by Albert Camus

Laughter in the dark’ is an earlier take on some of the themes that would appear in Lolita. Published in 1932, the story follows Albinus, a middle-aged man obsessed with a young girl, Margot. Albinus abandons his wife and child for Margot but he soon goes blind after his car crashes. Margot takes care of him, although she hides her new lover in the house without his knowledge.

Pnin is the novel that first made Nabokov famous in the United States. It is a hilarious, vaguely autobiographical story that follows the activities of a Russian teacher in an American school. The story features some situations and facts from the life of Nabokov himself.

Pale fire is an ambitious, post-modernist work that is an early example of the hypertext style. It is presented as a 999-line poem titled “Pale Fire”, written by the fictional poet John Shade. This and a foreword, lengthy commentary, and index written by Shade’s neighbor and academic colleague, Charles Kinbote form a complex, inter-textual narrative that has received plenty of praise from critics.

Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle is Nabokov’s longest novel. It is an experimental, 100-year-old love saga involving Van and Ada. Set in a fictional universe that allows flying carpets, the story explores time and the evolution of human relationships.

Early Life

Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov was born to Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov and Elena Ivanova Nabokov, an aristocratic family on April 23, 1899, in St. Petersburg, Russia. His family had a history of public service, as his grandfather had been a minister of justice under two Tsars, while his father had been a distinguished jurist, a prolific journalist, a scholar as well as a member of the first parliament (Duma).

Due to his family’s love for English products, Nabokov was educated under an English governess, learning to speak English better than Russian initially. Encouraged by his parents, the young Nabokov pursued a wide assortment of interests including linguistics, mathematics, puzzles, Chess, Tennis, among others. He also became interested in Butterflies, becoming a recognized entomological authority at a young age.

Literary Career

During his Russian years, Nabokov published two collections of poems, Poems(1916) and Two paths (1918). While studying in England, he published another two collections of poetry, The Cluster and the Empyrean path in 1923. After dabbling with drama at some point with the posthumously published Tragedy of Mr. Morn, written in 1923-24, Nabokov settled for prose. His first novel, Mary, was published in 1926. His second novel is titled King, Queen, Knave and made its appearance in 1928. This novel was the first display of his signature literary style.  He followed that Novel with a book on Chess, The Defense, in 1930 which enhanced his reputation among the Russian literary émigré community. Within the next five years, he produced several works, of which Despair and Invitation to a beheading were the most prominent.

Having published all of his novels in Russia, Nabokov then published The Real-life of Sebastian Knight (1941) and Bend Sinister (1947) in English. Lolita came around in 1955 to great success, while Pale fire was published in 1962 to great critical acclaim. Ada, his longest novel, was published in 1969. After his death in 1977, a collection of notes of an unfinished novel was posthumously published in 2009 as Laura

Nabokov’s literary reputation has fluctuated throughout his career. He was snubbed in the Soviet Union where he was not published until 1986 and was held in low esteem by conservative critics in the West. However, during the period between his exile to Europe and his move to America, Nabokov was regarded highly among the intellectual Russian émigré community. His reputation only grew following his move to America, especially after the critical success of Lolita.


Vladimir Nabokov is recognized as one of the best prose stylists of the English language. The name Lolita is synonymous with sexualized little girls, while the book itself has been adapted for television twice and is still regarded as one of the best books ever written. Lolita (1955) was ranked fourth in the list of the Modern Library 100 Best Novels in 2007; Pale Fire (1962) was ranked 53rd on the same list; and his memoir, Speak, Memory (1951), was listed eighth on publisher Random House’s list of the 20th century’s greatest nonfiction.

Nabokov’s experimental, maximalist, hypertextual, and intertextual style has influenced legions of writers like Martin Amis, John Updike, and Thomas Pynchon who was his student at Cornell.

Literature by Vladimir Nabokov

Explore literature by Vladimir Nabokov below, created by the team at Book Analysis.