Vladimir Nabokov Nabokov, Vladimir (Vladimirovich)

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Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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Vladimir (Vladimirovich) Nabokov 1899–1977

(Also wrote under pseudonym of V. Sirin) Russian-American 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 artists to their 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.

Lolita and Pale Fire are Nabokov's best-known novels. His recently-published The Nabokov-Wilson Letters provides insight into his literary relationship with Edmund Wilson. In another recent publication, Lectures on Literature, Nabokov demonstrates not only his literary theory but his profound feeling for the creative process.

(See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 3, 6, 8, 11, 15; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed., Vols. 69-72 [obituary]; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 2; and Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1980.)

Julia Bader

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[A] work of art is inevitably a rendering of emotion, observation, and philosophical speculation in aesthetic terms, or at least in an aesthetic realm. In Nabokov's case it is not that the action or characters of a novel "stand for" or "represent" the writing of a novel or the figure of the artist, but that certain descriptions of experience, character, or emotion illuminate and approximate artistic creation. Though depicted through the medium of creative prose, and frequently compared to the process of creation, Nabokovian characters, plots, and emotions are not mere dramatizations of "ideas" about art; rather they are self-contained worlds which incorporate and reshape the reader's conception of art. (pp. 3-4)

Within this overall theme of artistic creation Nabokov explores the self-creating identity, defining itself through its obsession with an object of passion, or an imagined double, or a compulsively self-regarding prose style. It is not that Nabokov's heroes are all allegorical artist figures, but that each character and plot is a study in the permutations of perception, sensibility, and imagination brought into contact with love, insanity, perversion, and death. (pp. 4-5)

The theme of creativity touches the mystery of consciousness at one extreme, and deliberate patterning at the other extreme. Nabokov's characters are usually self-creating within their story, and they are also constantly in the act of being created by the author. This dual process of creation fuses the subject of imaginative self-expression with that of creative structuring. The main characters, in more or less explicit ways, are defining themselves through a narrative they are composing and acting out. Nabokov's frequent reversions to dramatic techniques and stage directions underline the suggestion that his characters are simultaneously shaping an illusory reality and yet retaining an awareness of the workings of artifice. Like actors, these characters manifest both an absorption in their roles and a detachment from their assumed personalities. They view their personalities as artistic façades built of carefully assembled patterns. Most of Nabokov's novels create the impression that one or more characters are authors of their own stories and yet actors within the larger scheme of the omniscient creator. (pp. 150-51)

In many of Nabokov's works we see artist figures who are mad, perverted, obsessed, flawed. And yet their work is often of surpassing beauty, as if to demonstrate the process of reverse mirroring whereby the reflection of the exterior world can produce an imaginative vision of compelling "reality" through the consciousness of ludicrous characters. But Nabokov usually insists on pointing out (through a change of voice, or a shifting to the author toward the end of the work) that...

(The entire section is 14,156 words.)