Vladimir Nabokov Nabokov, Vladimir (Vol. 2)

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Nabokov, Vladimir (Vol. 2)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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Nabokov, Vladimir 1899–

Nabokov is a Russian-born American citizen now living in Switzerland. Principally known for his novel Lolita, he continues to publish original work in English while also republishing translated versions of his early Russian novels. His style is uniquely baroque and playful, and his work includes stories, poems, criticism, plays, autobiography, and translations. Among his fictions are Ada, Pnin, Glory, Invitation to a Beheading, and Transparent Things. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

To approach Nabokov's novels with anything less than complete humility is not only an act of arrogance but of foolishness, for if the novelist's art, as Nabokov suggested in his autobiographical memoir, Speak, Memory, is to compose elaborate and significant puzzles in which "the real clash is not between the characters but between the author and the world," too often even his most dedicated and enthusiastic critics lose the game disastrously and are left red-faced and gasping for breath….

Nabokov's position in literary life is unique: he has no double in recorded literary history. He is, with Boris Pasternak, one of the two greatest Russian novelists of his time, and he is, with William Faulkner, one of the two great American novelists of that same time. He is, in fact, his own double—at once the two greatest living novelists, himself the mirror of his own reflection. And his novels are genuinely Russian and as genuinely American—The Gift is, to my knowledge, the best modern Russian novel in both manner and matter, and Pale Fire is, to my mind, one of the best novels in English to have been written in this century.

There are eight novels and a novella in Russian and five novels in English, and these fourteen volumes, for all their being in two languages and the products of two literatures, are of a piece, forming together a real canon, a multi-mirrored labyrinth of reflecting and repeating dreams and nightmares, disasters and delights. Speakers and voices may vary from volume to volume, but the maker's hand is consistently firm as the hallmarks of his steady and continuing vision remain clear and sharp from first to last. He is clearly and always the maker of these books, the serious and deceptive artist with whom we must play the game.

The central figure of Nabokov's novels is the artist, the man of sensitivity and imagination. Hero and dragon alike dream the creative dream and either shape that dream into immutable art or are destroyed by it in a mutable world.

R. H. W. Dillard, "Not Text, But Texture: The Novels of Vladimir Nabokov," in Hollins Critic, June, 1966, pp. 1-12.

"I have no desire to twist and batter an unambiguous apparatus criticus into the monstrous semblance of a novel," says the mad critic Charles Kinbote in Pale Fire. He succeeded in producing the most ambiguous apparatus criticus imaginable, and his maniacal creator, Vladimir Nabokov, twisted and battered that into the finest comic novel since Ulysses….

[Nabokov] is wonderfully funny, while at the same time he is wonderfully serious. His books are intricate puzzles. Chinese ivories, Fabergé eggs; they represent the triumph of artifice. But his themes are profound: the interpenetration of illusion and reality in Pale Fire; the interpenetration of art and life in The Gift. Nabokov is a unique phenomenon in our literature (no one has yet had the temerity to imitate him except Thomas Pynchon in V.), as he was a unique phenomenon in Russian literature. Pale Fire and The Gift, which continually threaten to shatter the novel form, turn out finally to be enlargements of it, as Ulysses and Finnegans Wake are. It is about time we recognized that Vladimir Nabokov is a novelist of major importance.

Stanley Edgar Hyman, "Nabokov's Gift," in his Standards: A Chronicle of Books for Our Time (© 1966; reprinted by permission of the publisher, Horizon Press, New York), Horizon, 1966, pp. 184-88.

That fine old humorous humanist Nabokov has republished one of his earliest novels,...

(The entire section is 6,547 words.)