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The University Poem

Vladimir Nabokov, translated by Dmitri Nabokov: ‘The University Poem’, 7 June 2012

... freeze still, perceive the delicate rotation of the slightly tilted earth. Translated by Dmitri ...
Vladimir NabokovThe American Years 
by Brian Boyd.
Chatto, 783 pp., £25, January 1992, 0 7011 3701 0
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... Nabokov ‘had a flypaper feel for words’, according to Alison Bishop, who knew him at Cornell when she was a child. He might, therefore, have relished his biographer coming mildly unstuck in the course of this otherwise tenacious, intricately argued, judicious account of Nabokov’s life in the States, and, post-Lolita, in Montreux ...

Icicles by Cynthia

Clarence Brown, 21 March 1996

The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov 
edited by Dmitri Nabokov.
Knopf, 659 pp., $35, October 1995, 0 394 58615 8
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... writers. Dostoevsky, Faulkner and (horrified as he would be to find himself with this lot) Vladimir Nabokov were novelists. If your destiny lies in one form, the other is seldom hospitable. O’Connor’s short fiction was the inspired work of one born to the genre; her novels seem grimly willed achievements, determined to last 300 pages or die ...

Perfectly Human

Jenny Diski: Lillie Langtry and Mrs Vladimir Nabokov, 1 July 1999

Lillie Langtry: Manners, Masks and Morals 
by Laura Beatty.
Chatto, 336 pp., £20, March 1999, 1 85619 513 9
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Véra (Mrs Vladimir Nabokov): Portrait of a Marriage 
by Stacy Schiff.
Random House, 456 pp., $27.95, April 1999, 0 679 44790 3
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... displaced, canny women with a powerful sense of their own purpose. For Stacy Schiff, the Véra Nabokov she introduces is ‘the figure in the carpet ... Hers was a life lived in the margins, but then as Nabokov teaches us – sometimes the commentary is the story.’ Laura Beatty, however (including the word ...

Vlad the Impaler

Inga Clendinnen: Hairy Humbert, 10 August 2000

Nabokov’s Butterflies: Unpublished and Uncollected Writings 
edited by Brian Boyd and Michael Pyle.
Allen Lane, 783 pp., £25, March 2000, 0 7139 9380 4
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Nabokov’s Blues: The Scientific Odyssey of a Literary Genius 
by Kurt Johnson and Steve Coates.
Zoland, 372 pp., £18, October 1999, 1 58195 009 8
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... Ever since Lolita ignited the American literary scene in the late 1950s Vladimir Nabokov has been the most famous lepidopterist in the world – indeed, the only one most of us have ever heard of. The covers of books written about him quiver with these interesting insects; even the name ‘Nab-o-koV’, properly spread, seems to have a butterfly look to it ...
The Nabokov-Wilson Letters, 1940-1971 
edited by Simon Karlinsky.
Weidenfeld, 346 pp., £12.50, October 1979, 0 297 77580 4
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Vladimir NabokovA Tribute 
edited by Peter Quennell.
Weidenfeld, 139 pp., £6.95
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... offer more than the usual pleasure to be had from eavesdropping on the talk of eminent writers. Nabokov and Wilson had a few specific common interests, the most important of which was a passion for language as the stuff of literature: but in temperament and formation they were almost wholly different. ‘Literature’ was, as an idea, venerated by both ...

Rhino-Breeder

John Sturrock, 24 May 1990

Vladimir NabokovSelected Letters 1940-1977 
edited by Dmitri Nabokov and Matthew Bruccoli.
Weidenfeld, 582 pp., £29.95, February 1990, 0 297 81034 0
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... Nabokov liked to write standing up (‘Piles,’ he told a fellow-teacher at Cornell, who thought it might be some short cut to creativity), and his letters reflect that inflexible posture, being all backbone and no upholstery. But prize them we must, for bringing us this otherwise impregnably stylish man’s first, unscripted thoughts; letters at least he wrote and sent, without – that we hear of – asking for them back, to groom them for permanent annexation to his oeuvre ...

Two Sad Russians

Walter Kendrick, 5 September 1985

The Confessions of Victor X 
edited by Donald Rayfield.
Caliban, 143 pp., £7.95, October 1984, 9780904573947
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Novel with Cocaine 
by M. Ageyev, translated by Michael Henry Heim.
Picador, 174 pp., £7.95, February 1985, 0 330 28574 2
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... On 1 June 1948, Edmund Wilson sent to Vladimir Nabokov a copy of Volume VI of Havelock Ellis’s Studies in the Psychology of Sex, French edition. What had caught Wilson’s attention – and would surely beguile his friend – was the ‘Confession Sexuelle d’un Russe du Sud’, a pseudonymous hundred-page memoir that for more than two decades had lurked unnoticed among the appendices to Ellis’s forgotten book ...

Tsvetaeva’s Turn

Simon Karlinsky, 12 November 1987

A Captive Lion: The Life of Marina Tsvetayeva 
by Elaine Feinstein.
Hutchinson, 287 pp., £15.95, February 1987, 0 09 165900 0
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The Selected Poems of Marina Tsvetayeva 
translated by Elaine Feinstein.
Hutchinson, 108 pp., £6.95, February 1987, 0 09 165931 0
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... two volumes of poetry, Marina Tsvetaeva wrote the following prophetic lines, translated by Vladimir Nabokov in 1972: Amidst the dust of bookshops, wide dispersed     And never purchased there by anyone, Yet similar to precious wines, my verse     Can wait: its turn will come. The turn of Marina Tsvetaeva’s verse and biography has now ...

Dear Poochums

Michael Wood: Letters to Véra, 23 October 2014

Letters to Véra 
by Vladimir Nabokov, edited and translated by Olga Voronina and Brian Boyd.
Penguin, 798 pp., £30, September 2014, 978 0 14 119223 9
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... this view. ‘All was confusion in the Oblonskys’ house.’ Very promising. Throughout his life Vladimir Nabokov was keen to refute all three of these claims: that happiness is monotonous, that happy families are indistinguishable and that only unhappiness provides narrative. He begins his novel Ada, for example, with a bumbling comic inversion of ...

Very Nasty

John Sutherland, 21 May 1987

VN: The Life and Art of Vladimir Nabokov 
by Andrew Field.
Macdonald, 417 pp., £14.95, April 1987, 0 356 14234 5
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... Field’s VN: The Life and Art of Vladimir Nabokov is a biography which can make one wonder what biography is all about. On the face of it, the book marks the end of a tempestuous literary love affair. As his publishers proclaim, Field has devoted his professional life to the study of Nabokov ...

Protonymphet

Frank Kermode, 5 February 1987

TheEnchanter 
by Vladimir Nabokov, translated by Dmitri Nabokov.
Picador, 127 pp., £8.95, January 1987, 0 330 29666 3
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... also known as The Magician, was well attested, and its relation to Lolita was established by Nabokov himself. In his essay ‘On a book entitled Lolita’, first published in 1957, and thereafter appended to the novel, he referred to this opusculum of 1939 as the product of ‘the first little throb of Lolita’, and added that its ‘anonymous ...

Nabokov’s Dreams

John Lanchester, 10 May 2018

... have liked Insomniac Dreams, because this short book is focused entirely on the dream-life of Vladimir Nabokov.* It has at its heart a record of dreams that Nabokov kept for eighty days from October 1964, while he was living at the Montreux Palace Hotel – in terms of his books, after he had finished Pale Fire and ...

Coats of Every Cut

Michael Mason, 9 June 1994

Robert Surtees and Early Victorian Society 
by Norman Gash.
Oxford, 407 pp., £40, September 1993, 0 19 820429 9
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... Vladimir Nabokov said that it was ‘childish’ to read novels for information about society. In the same context (the Afterword to Lolita) he also wrote that ‘reality’ was ‘one of the few words which mean nothing without quotes’. Such scepticism about the capacity of fiction to report on the world is still very fashionable, and in that sense Norman Gash’s book on Robert Surtees goes against the grain of present-day literary analysis ...

Buttoned

Michael Ignatieff, 20 December 1990

Vladimir NabokovThe Russian Years 
by Brian Boyd.
Chatto, 607 pp., £20, November 1990, 0 7011 3700 2
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... Any literary biographer must proceed on the assumption that the life gives us the work, yet Nabokov’s scorn for this way of thinking was proverbial. The butterflies of his art were always flying free of the dingy Continental hotel rooms in which they happened to have had their pupation. So what exactly do we learn about the butterfly darting out of ...

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