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.
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 sows suspicion regarding the identicalness of fiction and reality. Thus, from Lolita to the present, Nabokov's oeuvre is seamless and of a piece, which is why grave problems arise whenever we try to distinguish his parafictional "fiction" from his parafictional "non-fiction."… (p. 40)
Of course, it is nearly impossible to do so…. For one thing, the acts of creation which brought both Ada and the autobiographical work Speak, Memory … into being, though disjunct in time, are not in Nabokov's mind really separable...
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