Vladimir Nabokov Biography

Born to an aristocratic family in imperial Russia, poet and novelist Vladimir Nabokov emigrated with his family to Western Europe after the Russian Revolution of 1917. He became a citizen of the United States in 1945. Most of Nabokov's early work is in Russian; after 1940, Nabokov and his son Dmitri collaborated in translating his Russian writings into English. Nabokovís novel Lolita created a sensation when it was published in the United States in 1958.

Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977), Russian American novelist, poet, and critic, whose highly inventive writings earned him critical acclaim as a major 20th-century literary figure. Nabokov's novels demonstrate great stylistic and compositional virtuosity, and his astonishing imagination often took a morbid or grotesque turn. He is best known for his novel Lolita (1955).


Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, into a prominent and wealthy aristocratic family. His father was politically active in Russia before the family fled to western Europe in 1919, in the wake of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Nabokov attended school in England and graduated from the University of Cambridge with highest honors in French and Russian literature in 1922. He then moved to Berlin, Germany, where his family was living. That same year his father was shot and killed.

In Berlin, Nabokov wrote for the Russian ťmigrť press under the pseudonym of Vladimir Sirin. He moved to France in 1937 and began to write in English. In 1940 he moved to the United States, where he was a professor of English literature at Wellesley College from 1941 to 1948 and a professor of Russian literature at Cornell University from 1948 to 1959. In 1945 he became an American citizen. After the publication and success of Lolita, he eventually retired from teaching and moved to Switzerland to concentrate on writing.


Most of Nabokov's early works in Russian show a strong inclination toward parody, punning, and hoax. These qualities later carried over to his writing in English. Most of his Russian books were translated into English under his personal supervision. They include Mashen'ka (1926; Mary, 1970), Korol', dama, valet (1928; King, Queen, Knave, 1968), Zashchita (1930; The Defense, 1964), Podvig (1933; Glory, 1972), and Camera obscura (1933; revised and translated as Laughter in the Dark, 1938). Other Russian works were Otchayaniye (1936; Despair, 1937), Dar (1937; The Gift, 1963), and Priglashenie na kazu' (1938; Invitation to a Beheading, 1959).

Nabokov's first full-length English work was The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941), about a young Russian manís relationship to his half-brother, a British writer. Lolita, a brilliantly detailed, unconventional story, recounts the intense and obsessive involvement of a middle-aged European man with a sexually precocious young American girl, whom Nabokov termed a nymphet. The controversial book caused a sensation in Europe, and when it was published in the United States in 1958, it received a similar reception.

Nabokov wrote several other novels in English. Pnin (1957) focuses on a Russian professor living in the United States. Pale Fire (1962) is a satire on academic pretentiousness consisting of a 999-line poem and commentary by a demented New England scholar who is the exiled king of a mythical country. Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle (1969) is a complicated work that is, in part, an inquiry into the nature of time. Transparent Things (1972) is another meditation on time, and Look at the Harlequins! (1974) is the autobiography of a fictional Russian ťmigrť writer whose life parallels Nabokovís. Nabokovís short-story collections include Nabokov's Dozen (1958), Tyrants Destroyed (1975), and The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov (1995), which was published after his death and contained 13 previously unpublished stories. His poetry includes two collections in Russian and an English collection, Poems (1959).

Nabokovís nonfiction works include Nikolai Gogol (1944), a critical study of the 19th-century Russian writer, and Strong Opinions (1973), a collection of essays. Nabokovís four-volume translation, with commentaries, of the novel Eugene Onegin (1823-1831) by Russian writer Aleksandr Pushkin appeared in 1964. Speak, Memory (1966) is a highly evocative account of Nabokovís childhood in imperial Russia and his later life up to 1940, and was originally published in 1951 in a shorter form as Conclusive Evidence. Lectures on Literature (1980) and Lectures on Russian Literature (1981) deal with European and Russian literary masters and are based on lectures Nabokov gave at Cornell in the 1950s.

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