Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 183

Nabokov was a gifted composer of chess problems as well as a brilliant writer. The Defense brings together the two passions, justifying his remark that both require “the same virtues that characterize all worthwhile art: originality, invention, conciseness, harmony, complexity, and splendid insincerity.” The Defense was Nabokov’s third novel and firmly established him as the most important of the younger generation of Russian emigre writers. He was controversial even then, however, for many considered his concern for formal elegance rather than social and spiritual truths to be counter to the tradition of Russian literature. This reaction became even more pronounced as Nabokov moved from the relative “realism” of The Defense to the highly sophisticated modernism of his later masterpieces, Invitation to a Beheading and The Gift. In 1940, the bilingual Nabokov started to write almost exclusively in English, with such works as Lolita (1955), Pale Fire (1962), and Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle (1969), which brought him international acclaim. Banned in his homeland during his lifetime, Nabokov’s fiction at last took its place in Russian literature with the Soviet publication of The Defense in 1986.

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