Columbia Library columns (v.33(1983Nov-1984May))

(New York :  Friends of the Columbia Libraries.  )



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  v.33,no.2(1984:Feb): Page 22  


Nabokov in America


ORN in Russia, Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov spent
his young adulthood in England, Germany, and France;
his middle age in America; and his last years in Switzer¬
land. His life was an extraordinarily peripatetic one, and few
writers in recent years have attracted as much interest among
scholars and collectors. There is no doubt that he ranks as one of
the most original writers of the twentieth century and is unique
in holding this position in two languages. He and Joseph Conrad
are often cited together as the primary examples of writers who
became masters in languages that were not native to them. This
comparison is not, however, entirely apt; Nabokov exhibited his
skill in both his first (Russian) and his second (English) lan¬
guages, while Conrad did not write in Polish, his native tongue.
Another crucial difference is that Nabokov was a far more experi¬
mental and daring writer than Conrad.

Born in 1899 into a wealthy and politically active family—his
grandfather, Dmitri Nabokov, was Russian Imperial Minister of
Justice in the 1880s, and his father, Vladimir D. Nabokov, was
one of the founders of the liberal movement in early twentieth
century Ru.ssia—Nabokov lived most of his life outside his home¬
land. His life was comprised of four fairly equal segments: Rus¬
sian, European, American, and European again.

As a writer, his career breaks fairly neatly into two parts. His
career as a Russian writer began while he was still a teenager dur¬
ing the First World War. In 1916 he published a collection of
poetry which he later would describe as embarrassingly bad, but
which is now eagerly sought by collectors. While living in Berlin
in the 1920s, he started to publish stories and novels, using Russian
emigre publishing houses and also newspapers and literary jour-
  v.33,no.2(1984:Feb): Page 22