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  People > V.Nabokov
how to read nabokov & not go nuts
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Before heading into Pnin and Ada and beyond, I just thought I'd share what I've learned about the actual mechanics of reading Nabokov, which isn't at all tricky or particularly difficult - there's no mystery to it, really, but there are things worth knowing. I believe the standard word of advice for tackling a new writer is to take a dictionary, read up a bit on the author and his milieu, then dive. My advice is to just dive. If you haven't read any Nabokov and stumble into any of his novels, just read it. Don't bother with the dictionary...

Vladimir Nabokov by Wilma Slaight
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Nabokov was born in April 1899 in St. Petersburg, Russia. His parents were wealthy and had a commitment to public service. Nabokov, who categorized himself as "a perfectly normal trilingual child in a family with a large library," attended the Tenishev School in St. Petersburg, the most advanced and expensive school in Russia. In addition to his avid participation in sports, Nabokov indulged in what would become a life-long passion for him - butterfly collecting. In November 1917, after the abdication of Tsar Nicholas, the family fled to a friend's estate in the Crimea. Nabokov's father, Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov, a...

"Lolita": Complex, often tricky and "a hard sell"
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Although Lolita's first printing of 5,000 copies sold out, there were no notable reviews, and the book would likely have gone unnoticed for some time had not respected author and critic Graham Greene, in an interview published in the London Times, called it one of the best books of the year. Greene's statement outraged John Gordon, editor of the popular Sunday Express, who responded in print, calling "Lolita" "the filthiest book I have ever read" and "sheer unrestrained pornography." The British Home Office ordered customs officials to seize all copies entering the United Kingdom and pressured the French Minister of...

Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
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A mock sententious foreword explains that the manuscript which follows is the confession of one Humbert Humbert, who died in captivity in 1952 just before his trial was due to start. Humbert introduces himself as a European of mixed stock who, at the age of twelve, "in a princedom by the sea," loved and lost a petite fille fatale named Annabel Leigh, and has thereafter remained in sexual bondage to "the perilous magic" of subteen sirens - he calls them "nymphets." There follows a sketch of his tortured career up to the time when, in his late thirties, he settles...

Clues to Nabokov the man
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Keeping that question in mind, was there then a part of Vladimir Nabokov that was a monster? How else could he write the infamously famous "Lolita" and bring to life its exquisitely amoral main character Humbert Humbert? Surely only a twisted mind, a depraved heart could conjure up such a fiendish narrator, capable of the kidnapping and ravaging of a young girl, but still seemingly human. He maintains such an odd realism and dark humor that Humbert must have -- must have -- been based on a real man, or at least a slice of the author's psyche. This assumption...

Vladimir Nabokov
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Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov's serio-comic portrait of small-town America, is published in 1955 in France by the Olympia Press. It has been rejected by four American publishers who are terrified of its subject: the lustful obsession of a middle-aged man for his 12-year-old stepdaughter. British novelist Graham Greene's praise of Lolita as "greatest book of the year" thrusts the work into the limelight, and it is banned, first in Great Britain and then in France, where it stays off the shelves for two years. In 1958, Putnam's publishes Lolita in America, and its notoriety ensures its an instant success, selling more...

Lolita and Mr. Girodias by Vladimir Nabokov 3
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In 1957, the Lolita affair entered its American phase which to me was in every way more important than its Olympia one. Jason Epstein, by championing the publication of a considerable portion of Lolita in the summer issue, 1957, of Anchor Review (Doubleday, New York), edited by Melvin Lasky, and Professor F. W. Dupee by prefacing that portion with a brilliant article, helped to make the idea of an American edition acceptable. Several publishers were interested in it but the difficulties Mr. Girodias created in our negotiations with American firms he met him later in New York. One part of...

Lolita and Mr. Girodias by Vladimir Nabokov 2
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On the other hand, he now tones down substantially his proud recollections of having "edited" Lolita. On April 22, 1960, 1 had been obliged to write to the editor of The New York Times Book Review (where Mr. Girodias had been comically flattered by a person unknown to me) thus: "Mr. Popkin in his recent article on Monsieur Girodias, the first publisher of my Lolita, says that I 'did some rewriting at Girodias' request.' I wish to correct this absurd misstatement. The only alterations Girodias very diffidently suggested concerned a few trivial French phrases in the English text, such as...

Lolita and Mr. Girodias by Vladimir Nabokov 1
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Lolita was finished at the beginning of 1954, in Ithaca, N.Y. My first attempts to have it published in the U.S. proved disheartening and irritating. On August 6 of that year, from Taos, N.M., I wrote to Madame Ergaz, of Bureau Litéraire Clairouin, Paris, about my troubles. She had arranged the publication in French of some of my Russian and English books; I now asked her to find somebody in Europe who would publish Lolita in the original English. She replied that she thought she could arrange it. A month later, however, upon my return to Ithaca (where I taught...

"Lolita" causes a different kind of controversy
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The son of novelist Vladimir Nabokov has sued an Italian woman for parodying the story of a professor sexually obsessed with a 12-year-old girl - from the child's point of view. "Lo's Diary'' by Pia Pera, according to a lawsuit seeking to ban its U.S. publication, is "a ripoff.'' Not quite, says attorney Leon Friedman, who represents New York publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux. "It's funny, it's a parody. It adds something new, with different characters,'' he said Saturday. The original narrator, Professor Humbert Humbert, becomes Humbert Guibert and he doesn't kill Clare, the evil playwright who lures away Lolita;...