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Crimea and Cambridge

Fearing that his two oldest sons - Vladimir, age eighteen, and Sergei, seventeen - would be drafted into the Red Army, V. D. Nabokov sent them from St. Petersburg to the Crimea just after the Bolshevik coup in the fall of 1917. They were soon joined at Gaspra, on the estate of Countess Sofia Panin, by the rest of the family. Despite his father's lifelong political activism and new role as Minister of Justice in the Crimean Provisional Regional Government, Vladimir showed no interest in politics, instead continuing to indulge in butterfly hunts, love affairs, and poetry composition. Between June 1916 and February 1918, he completed 334 poems, of which he planned to publish two-thirds before leaving the Crimea. That proposed volume was never produced, but a selection was printed in 1918 in the Crimea in Dva puti [Two Paths], a collection he assembled with a schoolmate. When the Crimea was evacuated in the spring of 1919, the Nabokovs took a circuitous route to London; in the fall, Vladimir and Sergei left for their first term at Cambridge University. A notebook from those months in London contains a chess problem for nearly every poem, revealing the foundation of what would become another of Nabokov's lifelong passions.

At Trinity College, Cambridge, Nabokov began in Zoology. Though he continued his lepidopterological pursuits unofficially and published his first entomological paper there - on Crimean Lepidoptera - he soon switched his official field of concentration to Modern and Medieval Languages. He focused his studies on Russian and French, presumably to allow himself more time to pursue his own writing. To that end he bought Vladimir Dahl's formidable four-volume Interpretative Dictionary of the Living Russian Language, and committed himself to reading ten pages a day.


The items listed below pertain to Nabokov's life and career and are the contents of the exhibition at the Humanities and Social Sciences Library, on view from April 23 through August 21, 1999. This checklist, primarily of items from the Library's Nabokov Archive, is included here to provide a sense of the rich holdings in this special collection.

Vladimir Nabokov
"Seraphims"
Holograph notebook, Crimea, November 1918-February 1919
Berg Collection

Vladimir Pol'
[Houses on the Estate of Countess Sofia Panin at Gaspra in the Crimea]
Watercolor on paper, ca. 1918
Berg Collection

Vladimir Nabokov
Chess problem
Holograph notebook, Crimea, February 1919-London, June 1919
Berg Collection

Vladimir Nabokov
Photographer unknown
Inscribed by Nabokov on the back: "1920, Cambridge, Angleterre Moi, Vladimir Nabokov"
Berg Collection

Vladimir Nabokov's British Identity Book
London, February 6, 1919
Berg Collection

Vladimir Nabokov
Trinity College, Cambridge, memories
Holograph notes on index card, ca. 1940s
Berg Collection

Vladimir Nabokov
[Poems]
Holograph notebook, April 1920-July 1921
Berg Collection

Vladimir Nabokov
Autograph letter signed to Cécile Miauton
Stanhope Gardens, London, 1919
Berg Collection

Vladimir Nabokov
Excerpt from letter to Cécile Miauton
Holograph note on index card, ca. late 1960s
Berg Collection

Vladimir Nabokov's parents at Vyra, 1900
Photographer unknown
Berg Collection

A Nabokov family gathering, August 1908
Photographer unknown
Berg Collection

The five Nabokov children, Yalta, November 1918
Photographer unknown
Berg Collection

         

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