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Berlin and Early Translations

In August 1920, the Nabokov family moved to Berlin, where Vladimir would compose all eight of his Russian novels. London had proved much too expensive, and the Berlin economy was attracting Russian émigrés by the tens of thousands. V. D. Nabokov helped to negotiate the birth of a formidable émigré publishing house, Slovo, with the assistance of Ullstein, one of Berlin's largest German presses. He also co-edited Rul', a popular Russian-language daily with a worldwide circulation. From Cambridge, Vladimir began to publish poems, chess problems, even crossword puzzles, in Rul', usually under the pen name "Sirin" to distinguish his work from his father's. By the fall of 1921, the Nabokov home had become a cultural center, hosting evening gatherings frequented by well-known émigré artists, writers, and musicians.

By 1920, when he completed his first year at Trinity, Nabokov had been translating into and out of Russian for years: when he was eleven, he reincarnated Mayne Reid's The Headless Horseman as French poetry; at seventeen, he brought Alfred de Musset's La Nuit de décembre into Russian; and at Cambridge, translations among his languages of choice were required. When, in June 1920, he and his father discussed the challenges Romain Rolland's novel Colas Breugnon would pose for a translator, he took up the gauntlet himself; Nikolka Persic [Nikolka the Peach] was published by Slovo in November 1922. The same service for Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, published four months later as Ania v strane chudes, required substantially less effort, and the result is still considered one of the best versions extant in any language. Though V. D. Nabokov read parts of the Rolland translation, he did not live to see it published. He was shot and killed on March 28, 1922, while shielding Paul Miliukov, the target of a right-wing assassin.

On May 8, 1923, Nabokov met Véra Evseevna Slonim at a masquerade ball in Berlin. Working in her father's small publishing concern, with literary aspirations of her own, Véra was already familiar with some of Nabokov's writing. He spent that summer on a farm in the South of France, in an attempt to work through his grief at the loss of both his father and his fiancée (he had composed many poems to Svetlana Siewert, whose parents had broken off the young couple's engagement that January). That summer Véra would read "The Encounter," a poem Nabokov composed about their meeting and submitted to Rul' from France. When he returned to Berlin in the fall, he began to court Véra. Inflation in Berlin had begun to drive the émigré community to other centers of activity, primarily Paris, and that fall Nabokov's mother moved to Prague with his favorite sister, Elena. He visited them twice during the following year, which he spent writing - stories, scenarios, and sketches - although this did not prove lucrative enough to allow him to support himself, his mother and sister, and his new wife-to-be. On April 15, 1925, he married Véra, and the need for money became even more pressing and persistent. Nabokov managed to spare enough time from his writing to make a living as a tutor - in French, English, Russian, prosody, tennis, and boxing - and regularly published reviews in Rul', while Véra did secretarial work.

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
Album of clippings from various newspapers, compiled by Elena Ivanovna Nabokov, 1923-24
Berg Collection

Vladimir Nabokov
Notes on the death of his father
Holograph manuscript in the hand of Elena Ivanovna Nabokov, [1922]
Berg Collection

Elena Ivanovna Nabokov
Items dedicated to the memory of V. D. Nabokov
Album of clippings, 1922
Berg Collection

Vladimir Nabokov
["Speak On, Memory"]
Holograph notes on index cards, ca. 1969
Berg Collection

Romain Rolland
Nikolka Persik [Nikolka the Peach]
Translated from the French by V. Sirin [Vladimir Nabokov]
Berlin: Slovo, 1922
Courtesy of Glenn Horowitz Bookseller, Inc.

V. Sirin [Vladimir Nabokov]
Holograph notebook, January-October 1923
Berg Collection

Rev. Charles Dodgson, writing as Lewis Carroll
Ania v strane chudes [Alice in Wonderland]
Translated into the Russian by V. Sirin [Vladimir Nabokov]
Berlin: Gamaiun, 1923
Slavic and Baltic Division

Véra Slonim and Vladimir Nabokov, Berlin, 1923
Photographer unknown
Berg Collection


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1. Игра в подвиг
2. Набоков о Набокове
3. Пульсирующая "Лолита"
4. Набоков Владимир Владимирович. Афоризмы и цитаты 3
5. "Лолита", обреченная на скандал
6. Набоков и мораль
7. Владимир Набоков: Джеймс Джойс "Улисс" (1922) 1-1
8. Набоков Владимир Владимирович. Афоризмы и цитаты 2
9. Писатель Владимир Владимирович Набоков
10. Смерть неизбежна. Владимир Набоков. Подвиг
1. Анализ рассказа “Облако, Озеро, башня”
2. Анализ рассказа В.В.Набокова «Круг»
3. А. Блок в художественном мире В. Набокова
4. Пульсирующая "Лолита"
5. Владимир Набоков: Джеймс Джойс "Улисс" (1922) 1-1
6. Литература о Владимире Набокове на русском языке
7. "Лолита", обреченная на скандал
8. Смерть неизбежна. Владимир Набоков. Подвиг
9. Америка в романе В. Набокова «Лолита»
10. Владимир Набоков и Иван Пнин