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  People > V.Nabokov
Russian Stories
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By 1939, Nabokov had changed his language of composition permanently to English, although he still indulged in occasional Russian poetry and frequent translations, and had amassed nearly fifty Russian stories. The first known published story, "Nezhit" ("The Sprite"), appeared in Rul' in January 1921. Most of his short fiction after that, which started appearing regularly in 1923, featured Russian émigré characters ensconced in Berlin. Fifteen of these stories were included, along with twenty-four poems, in Vozvrashchenie Chorba [The Return of Chorb] in 1930; twelve of them accompanied his novella, Sogliadatai [The Eye], in 1938. In 1956, the Chekhov Publishing House...

American Stories
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In sheer volume, Nabokov's American stories were dwarfed by his Russian output. Between the completion of his first novel in English, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, in 1939, and his first novel written on American soil, Bend Sinister in 1947, he wrote five stories in English. James Laughlin included those five, along with three translated from Russian and one translated from French, in Nine Stories (1947). Along with his occasional New Yorker poetry, these stories served as Nabokov's introduction - first in The Atlantic, later in The New Yorker - to an audience unfamiliar with his critical studies and...

The New Yorker
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Nabokov's first contribution to The New Yorker was "Literary Dinner," a poem that appeared on April 11, 1942. It was followed in June by a poem, "The Refrigerator Awakes," composed over the 1941 Thanksgiving holiday, spent at the Wellfleet home of Edmund Wilson and Mary McCarthy. Over the next few decades, the magazine would prove Nabokov's most reliable source of income, as well as a high-profile forum through which he achieved most of his pre-Lolita popularity. Katharine White became his editor and contact at the magazine. Soon thereafter, she became a champion of his work - though not an unconditional...

Conclusive Evidence. New York, 1951
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In 1946, Nabokov wrote to Doubleday that he was planning "a new kind of autobiography, or rather a new hybrid between that and a novel." From the start he envisioned it as a series of discrete but stylistically and thematically linked chapters. In 1936 he had written "Mademoiselle O.," a somewhat fictionalized portrait of his Swiss nanny Cécile Miauton, to be delivered at a reading in Brussels and published in a Parisian journal (Mesures). It was translated into English and included in Nine Stories and Nabokov's Dozen, and, divested of its fictional elements, was included in his memoir. From January...

Lepidopterological Papers, 1941-53
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"From the age of seven, everything I felt in connection with a rectangle of framed sunlight was dominated by a single passion," Nabokov wrote in Speak, Memory. Butterfly collecting was a common hobby among the European upper classes, and his parents encouraged him, sharing their childhood reference books and dusty catches, and teaching him to spread specimens. But with Nabokov it was not an idle pursuit. When he was eight years old, he later recalled, "the longing to describe a new species" became a consuming passion. Within two years he had mastered the European Lepidoptera described in German by Hofmann,...

Lectures on Russian Literature
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Nabokov had secured his May 1940 exit from Paris with the promise of a summer stint teaching creative writing - primarily drama - and Russian literature the following year at Stanford. After supporting himself and his family for nearly two decades tutoring language and literature, and failing to find a more stable teaching post in England, it was less than he had hoped for. But he was optimistic: by the time of his arrival he had prepared over a hundred lectures in anticipation of a steady income to be derived from university teaching. Following the summer in Palo Alto, he...

Lectures on Literature
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Stories of Nabokov's presence on campus and his lecture style have grown beyond local legend. Cornell alumni recall Véra as a near appendage to the professor - she passed out papers, wrote notes on the "grey board," graded papers, held his office hours, and, in extreme circumstances, delivered his lectures, which she read carefully from his prepared manuscripts. Fredson Bowers, the editor of the published Lectures on Literature and Lectures on Russian Literature, observes that Véra likely made routine editorial decisions in preparing several of the typescript versions from such notes. Nabokov taught the same authors and books for nearly...

Pnin. Garden City, New York, 1957
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Knowing from the start that he might never find a publisher for Lolita - and that if he did, he might have to resign his Cornell position - Nabokov began Pnin in the hope of securing an income and an audience. He knew that the adventures of the star-crossed Russian émigré lecturer at an American university, drawn from his observations and experiences, would appeal to The New Yorker's editors and readers. Though two chapters were rejected for content, four of the seven were greedily devoured: one at the end of 1953 and three in 1955. In part because of Pnin's...

Pale Fire. New York, 1962
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Nabokov called Pale Fire's form "specifically, if not generically, new." "Generically," perhaps, it is his answer to the verse novel exemplified by Pushkin's Eugene Onegin. Specifically, it is centered on the title poem, "Pale Fire," a 999-line verse, divided into four cantos, by the fictional deceased poet John Shade - in Nabokov's estimation, "by far the greatest of invented poets." The poem is introduced by the supposedly mad critic Charles Kinbote, in a foreword written in the spirit of Nabokov's own explanatory forewords. Kinbote also provides a 300-page "commentary" and index, which together recount the history of Zembla, "a distant...

Eugene Onegin. New York, 1964
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In a 1937 lecture delivered in Paris on the centennial of Pushkin's death, Nabokov claimed that reading Pushkin was "without a single exception... one of the glories of earthly life." By that time he had christened both Gorniy Put' [The Empyrean Path] and Mashen'ka [Mary] with epigraphs from Pushkin; he had created characters whose fates can ultimately be traced to their knowledge of, and faithfulness to, a Pushkinian ars gratia artis aesthetic (in The Defense, Despair, and Invitation to a Beheading); and had attacked the leading exponents of anti-Pushkin sentiment in the émigré community. Later he would complete "The Water...