Has the experience of exile figured significantly in Vladimir Nabokov’s work other than in his autobiographical writings?
Identify some of Nabokov’s unreliable narrators and demonstrate their unreliability.
Does Nabokov’s habit of playing games with the reader ever serve a serious purpose?
What is a “false bottom,” and what works of Nabokov’s contain them?
Of the literary allusions in Lolita, which seem most effective?
Discuss Lolita as a “remorseless satire of middle-class, immature America.”
Other Literary Forms
Vladimir Nabokov’s fifty-year career as a writer includes—besides his short stories—novels, poetry, drama, memoirs, translations, reviews, letters, critical essays, literary criticism, and the screenplay of his most famous novel, Lolita (1955). After his death, three volumes of lectures on literature that he had delivered to students at Wellesley, Stanford, and Cornell were scrupulously edited by Fredson Bowers and published as Lectures on Literature: British, French, and German (1980), Lectures on Russian Literature (1981), and Lectures on Don Quixote (1983).
Vladimir Nabokov occupies a unique niche in the annals of literature by having become a major author in both Russian and English. He wrote nine novels, about forty stories, and considerable poetry in Russian before migrating to the United States in 1940. Thereafter, he not only produced eight more novels and ten short stories in English but also translated into English the fiction that he had composed in his native language, sometimes with the collaboration of his son, Dmitri. Reversing his linguistic field, he translated his Lolita into Russian.
Nabokov’s work has received considerable critical acclaim; a modern master, he has influenced such diverse literary figures as Anthony Burgess, John Barth, William H. Gass, Tom Stoppard, Philip Roth, John Updike, and Milan Kundera. Nabokov’s fiction is never intentionally didactic or sociological; he detested moralistic, message-ridden writing. Instead, he delighted in playing self-consciously with the reader’s credulity, regarding himself as a fantasist, a Prospero of artifice. He manipulates his characters as so many pieces on a chessboard, devising problems for absorbing, intricate games of which he and Jorge Luis Borges are the acknowledged modern masters. His precision of language, lexical command of multilingual allusions, and startling imagery have awed, delighted, but also sometimes irritated critics and readers. Few writers have practiced art for the sake of art with such talent and discipline. Nabokov’s advice to students suggests the best approach to his own fiction:In reading, one should notice and fondle details. We must see things and hear things, we must visualize the rooms, the clothes, the manners of an author’s people above all, a great writer is always a great enchanter, and it is here that we come to the really exciting part when we try to grasp the individual magic of his genius and to study the style, the imagery, the pattern of his novels or poems.
Other literary forms
Vladimir Nabokov (nah-BO-kof) began, as many novelists do, as a poet. As a youth, he published privately what now would be called a chapbook and a full book of poetry before emigrating from Russia. Throughout his life, he continued to publish poetry in periodicals and several book-length collections, including Stikhotvorenia, 1929-1951 (1952), Poems (1959), and Poems and Problems (1970). Some critics even consider the long poem “Pale Fire” (an integral part of the novel Pale Fire) a worthy neo-Romantic poem in itself. Nabokov also published a good deal of short fiction, first in a variety of short-lived émigré publications such as Rul’, Sovremennye Zapiski, and Russkoe ekho, and later in such prominent magazines as The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Playboy, Harper’s Bazaar, and Tri-Quarterly. His stories were collected in Vozrashchenie Chorba (1930; the return of Chorb), which also included twenty-four poems, Soglyadatay (1938;...
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