Nabokov, Vladimir (Vol. 11)
Nabokov, Vladimir 1899–1977
Born in Russia, Nabokov emigrated to England in 1919, became an American citizen in 1945, and resided in Switzerland during the last years of his life. He was a prolific contributor to many literary fields, producing work in both Russian and English and distinguishing himself as a novelist, poet, short story writer, essayist, playwright, critic, translator, biographer, and autobiographer. Nabokov was fascinated with all aspects of the creative life: in his works he explored the origins of creativity, the relationships of the artist to his work, and the nature of invented reality. A brilliant prose stylist, Nabokov entertained and sometimes exasperated his readers with his love of intellectual and verbal games. His technical genius as well as the exuberance of his creative imagination mark him as a major twentieth-century author. Nabokov also wrote under the pseudonym of V. Sirin. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 3, 6, 8, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.; obituary, Vols. 69-72.)
R. M. Keils
The best of [Nabokov's] humor is not inflicted upon us. It appears thinly, a condensate, like something in our breath. It is humor that points at something unseen and unfunny. "Speaking of old men … an eccentric librarian called Porlock … in the last years of his dusty life had been engaged in examining old books for miraculous misprints such as the substitution of 'l' for the second 'h' in the word 'hither.'… all he sought was the freak itself, the chance that mimics choice …" (from "The Vane Sisters").
Out of the comic practice of individuals arises the tragic condition of man. Accepting this as a premise of Nabokov's art, the reader finds no surprises in [Tyrants Destroyed And Other Stories]. Politicans pursued (perhaps), lovers missed at railroad stops because of the chance shunting of a car, a child's prank. Finally, death. These are some of the colors of the thirteen stories in Tyrants Destroyed. (p. 384)
R. M. Keils, in Studies in Short Fiction (copyright 1976 by Newberry College), Summer, 1976.
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Can anyone doubt that rather than duplicate the parturitional feat whereby a mountain spews forth a mouse, Nabokov opts for the reverse maternal drama in which a mouse risks conception to bring forth a mountain? Ostensibly in Ada, the authorial quest involves the pursuit of Time by Memory, the two being courtly lovers of the mind whose Proustian infidelities often leave us wondering whether in our romance with the past we haven't somehow confused the fictional swain with the autobiographical cuckold. But the real obsession of the book (and of all Nabokov's works since his first "American" novel, Lolita) is with facts, and having grasped this, we should have no difficulty making sense of a style whose passion for instructing the reader (mostly in things he never dreamt he was ignorant of) is discernible on every page.
Instruction, of course, suggests the deploying of facts, and the discreet observer of "transparent things," like his fellow peripheralists, never tires of telling us that our night-sea journey is through an ocean of data as much as through a vortex of words—data, it may be pointed out, which have in themselves as meager a rationale as do the varieties of supposition which led their formulators to discover them. And they are everywhere in Nabokov, fastidiously avoiding verification and one another, since, from the parafictional point of view, any collusion of facts within the grand cabal of a novel or story...
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Andrew Field does not exist. The book recently published under his name, Nabokov: His Life in Part, is in fact a novel written by Vladimir Nabokov. It is the final and most triumphantly ironic work of one of the most important authors of this century. Such, at any rate, is the impression created upon a reader of Nabokov's fiction by Mr. Field's new book.
I do not actually know whether Andrew Field exists, and I would prefer not to find out. Unfortunately, so as to protect this publication and myself from possible legal action, I must appear to assume that Mr. Field does exist. But I shall continue to read and think of Nabokov: His Life in Part not as if it were some stranger's strange job of biography, but rather as one of Nabokov's own delightful blends of fact and fiction. For there is no other way to make sense of this book.
"I have no desire to twist and batter an unambiguous apparatus criticus into the monstrous semblance of a novel," as Charles Kinbote puts it in Nabokov's novel Pale Fire (1962). But like Kinbote's "Commentary" on John Shade's poem, Nabokov: His Life in Part is not nearly so unambiguous as it seems. Vladimir Nabokov may as conceivably be the author behind Andrew Field's work as he is of the series of Russian novels published under the name of V. Sirin. It would be far from the first time that the author had fooled us for, as his readers well know,...
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Robert Martin Adams
Sometimes Nabokov in his authorial person mocks the passive or careless reader with his inattention; more often he silently challenges the alert reader by hiding significant clues in insignificant places, covering a real gesture with flashy indirections, hinting through what seem to be accidental correspondences at what seem to be significant significances. The novels click and glitter like sewing machines; they are so active and provoking on their corrugated and baroque surfaces, that one is apt to overlook their retention, at the center, of a touch of romantic sentiment, a shy and well-protected element of human feeling. Beneath even that level, there is occasionally to be found another layer of thought or feeling, perhaps only half-serious but perhaps more than that—persistent enough, in any case, to merit comment—a teasing, tantalizing fascination with the occult and the notion of life after death. (p. 146)
[At the end of Lolita,] Humbert undergoes a kind of transformation. He is said to reach through his sickness, rise out of his selfishness, and recognize in himself nothing less than True Love:…
I insist the world know how much I loved my Lolita, this Lolita, pale and polluted and big with another's child, but … still mine….
Perhaps the rhetoric carries the reader along; Humbert clearly intends it to, and the fact that she is no...
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Faithful Nabokovians have met Mary before; she sat for her portrait as Tamara in Speak, Memory, lurks near the heart of Lolita, and was deified in Ada. [In Mary], artistically as well as chronologically young, she is the first love of the autobiographical hero, Ganin, for whom her wanton yet delicate Tartar beauty condenses into pure perfume the idyll of rural Russia and the enchantment of privileged youth. But Ganin remembers her from afar, when he is in a Berlin boarding house surrounded by other émigrés, comic and pathetic types of exile from reality…. Ganin wakes from the shadows, from dreaming of Mary, at the end, and slopes off to his future as, it may be, an internationally renowned poet/scholar/novelist. Mary not only adumbrates the future of a master, it shines by its own light. From the start, Nabokov had his sharp peripheral vision, an intent deftness at netting the gaudy phrase, and the knack (crucial to novelists and chess players) of setting up combinations. Though his materials are tender, his treatment shows the good-natured toughness that gives an artist long life. Wisely, and nicely, he has spared this venerable text the—he admits—"high-handed revampments" to which his elder self is prone, and has supervised an exact, deferential translation. (pp. 193-94)
John Updike, "Mary Unrevamped," in his Picked-Up Pieces (copyright © 1975 by John Updike;...
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June Perry Levine
The structure of Pale Fire provides its meaning and delight…. [Most critics] have used it as a way of unraveling the "plot"—what happens among the three principal characters, John Shade, Charles Kinbote, and Jakob Gradus—and, therefore, have approached the poem and commentary which comprise Pale Fire as separate entities to be studied as two units and then connected, usually by having either poet Shade or commentator Kinbote assigned the authorship of the whole. (p. 103)
In Pale Fire, the form itself—a poem and a commentary on the poem—creates the tension of the whole and should be approached like a character: how are we meant to apprehend it? If Nabokov's method of composition is the hero, the reader's method of perusal determines how the hero will be perceived…. For the first reading, merely alternating between the poem and the commentary provides sufficient involvement in Nabokov's scheme while, at the same time, keeping the movement of both dimensions clear; on second reading … one can start raveling the web.
The web is the controlling metaphor of Pale Fire. Sometimes conceived as a plex or grid, the visual pattern and the metaphysical formulation remain the same. (pp. 103-04)
The dimensions that the axes on Nabokov's grid represent are time and space because events occur at the intersection of their relationships. In Pale Fire, the poem exists as...
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