Russian-American Novelist and Poet

Vladimir Nabokov Best Quotes

Vladimir Nabokov was an opinionated writer who had clear and often controversial ideas about literature, politics, and several other fields that interested him.

His ideas about what good art should look like and what it should represent have been received with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Utilizing anything from characters in his books to his lecture notes and essays, Nabokov offered opinions of a wide nature and variety; there are irreverent attacks on famous, beloved literary giants, mocking references to psychoanalysts, quotes about time, expositions on the theme of imprisonment, and a host of other ideas.

Lolita Quotes


Temptation and desire

A subtle sport can be derived from constantly fighting temptation while constantly dreaming of somehow, sometime, somewhere, yielding to it

Ada

This quote derives from Ada, Vladimir Nabokov’s exploration of incestuous love through time. A major theme that runs through a lot of Nabokov’s novels is the exploration of unnatural proclivities, of taboo desires, held while still trying to fit within a world that shuns these ideas.

The contrast between burning illicit wishes and the desire to conform to societal moral or ethical expectations is a source for the tension that grips books like Ada and Lolita.

Originality

Derivative writers seem versatile because they imitate many others, past and present. Artistic originality has only itself to copy

Paris Review

Vladimir Nabokov produced this quote during his interview with Herbert Gold in 1967. He was replying to a suggestion from a critic that Nabokov’s books are repetitive because he essentially repeats themes in different ways.

Nabokov’s retort emphasizes the fact that original writers are likely to seem repetitive because they stay faithful to an organically constructed set of related themes, while unoriginal writers have the luxury of drawing from a wide variety of experiences, predispositions, and worldviews that do not belong to them.

Literary Criticism

Criticism can be instructive in the sense that it gives readers, including the author of the book, some information about the critic’s intelligence, or honesty, or both.

The Paris Review

In the same interview with Hebert Gold, Nabokov expanded on what he thought of literary criticism. It is instructive that Nabokov, an outspoken critic himself, will advocate for the utility of criticism as a means to turn the game on the critic himself, shattering his perceived immunity and trying to make conclusive judgments on his intellectual capacity or integrity.

Nabokov’s Puppet Show

“Here I’m going to show you not the painting of a landscape, but the painting of different ways of painting a certain landscape, and I trust their harmonious fusion will disclose the landscape as I intend you to see it

Real Life of Sebastian Knight

This quote is taken from Nabokov’s novel, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight. It tells us something about Nabokov’s approach to art. Nabokov is a known proponent of the primacy of the artistic value of a book, as opposed to its moral values. However, he does not entirely abandon morality and does not actively promote immoral or unethical themes in his books. His priority of aesthetics led him to bury his moral intention under a complicated and sophisticated array of obscurist techniques. 

Through his use of parody, allusions, and thorough and true adoption of the character’s point of view, he does the equivalent of painting through painting about the different ways of painting. The perceptive reader will glean his real purpose out of the final picture produced, while the less perceptive reader will fall for the hurdles Nabokov has placed on his path through skillful use of literary techniques and poetic language. 

Vladimir Nabokov, therefore, treats his works the way a riddle game creator treats his games. The more well hidden the real purpose or moral is, the more tempting and deceptive the devices employed to trick are, the better the author will feel accomplished and satisfied at his work or game. The reader is a player in this game, and in reading, the conclusions he derives about Nabokov’s purpose will determine whether he will win or lose out. 

The Purpose of Literature

I have journeyed back in thought—with thought hopelessly tapering off as I went—to remote regions where I groped for some secret outlet only to discover that the prison of time is spherical and without exits

Speak, Memory

Throughout his works, Vladimir Nabokov continually grapples with the spectacle of imprisonment, especially of the mental kind. His main characters are usually locked in with feelings, predispositions, and desires that they have no control over, cannot access, or cannot escape from. In his autobiography, Nabokov speaks about the limitations to his access to memories. The concept of time he brushes over here would feature prominently in the novel, Ada, as a strong, almost metaphysical phenomenon. 

The character Humbert in Lolita attempts at various points to move away from the shade, the margins of society, by marrying or pursuing relationships with adult women, but to no avail. His obsession with Nymphets is not something he can easily control. Sometimes he describes Lolita as having enchanting powers over him, perhaps alluding to his own mental imprisonment. 

On Reading a Book

One can only reread a book

Lectures on Literature

For Vladimir Nabokov, the multi-layering within his works makes a solitary first reading insufficient. Lolita, for instance, contains important references to events, like Mrs. Schiller’s death, or the various hints at Quilty, that a first reader is sure to not fully appreciate or even miss.

A rereading experience is a doubly pleasurable one precisely because of the “a-ha” moments it affords us. We are wiser readers, better anticipators, and deeper excavators this time around. All the magic that lay beneath the wonderful world Nabokov has constructed comes floating on to the surface in one satisfactory sweep of discovery after the other. 

Subjective Vision

To be sure, there is an average reality, perceived by all of us, but that it not true reality: it is only the reality of general ideas […] Average reality begins to rot and stink as soon as the act of individual creation ceases to animate a subjectively perceived texture

Nabokov interview

This quote is extracted from an Interview granted by Nabokov in 1968. The sentiment expressed here follows from Nabokov’s advocacy for the primacy of individual subjective experience of reality, as opposed to an “average” reality. This is an idea that would inform his creation of worlds that thoroughly reflects the lead character or narrator’s point of view and conception of reality. 

About Israel Njoku
Israel has a Bachelor's degree in Mass Communication. He loves entertainment, pop-culture and the arts and tries to extract themes with wider reaching implications from them through rigorous analysis.
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