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Lolita (Nabokov) - Author Bio

Author Bio 
Birth—April 23, 1899
Where—St. Petersburg, Russia
Death—July 02, 1977
Where—Montreux, Switzerland
Education—Trinity College, Cambridge


The eldest son of Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov and his wife Elena, née Elena Ivanovna Rukavishnikova, he was born to a prominent and aristocratic family in St. Petersburg, where he also spent his childhood and youth. Nabokov's childhood, which he called "perfect", was remarkable in several ways. The family spoke Russian, English and French in their household, and Nabokov was trilingual from an early age. In fact, much to his father's patriotic chagrin, Nabokov could read and write English before he could Russian. In Speak, Memory Nabokov recalls numerous details of his privileged childhood, and his ability to recall in vivid detail memories of his past was a boon to him during his permanent exile, as well as providing a theme which echoes from his first book Mary all the way to later works such as Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle.

The Nabokov family left Russia in the wake of the 1917 February Revolution for a friend's estate in Crimea, where they remained for 18 months. At this point the family did not expect to be out of Russia for very long, when in fact they would never return. Following the defeat of the White Army in Crimea in 1919, the Nabokovs left Russia for exile in western Europe. The family settled briefly in England, where Vladimir enrolled in Trinity College, Cambridge and studied Slavic and Romance languages where his experiences would later help him to write the novel Glory.

In 1923, Nabokov graduated from Cambridge and relocated to Berlin, where he gained a reputation within the colony of Russian émigrés as a novelist and poet, writing under the pseudonym Vladimir Sirin. He married Véra Slonim in Berlin in 1925. Their son, Dmitri, was born in 1934.

In 1922, Nabokov's father was assassinated in Berlin by Russian monarchists as he tried to shelter their real target, Pavel Milyukov, a leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party-in-exile. This episode of mistaken, violent death would echo again and again in the author's fiction, where characters would meet their violent deaths under mistaken terms. In Pale Fire, for example, the poet Shade is mistaken for a judge who resembles him and is murdered.

Nabokov was a synesthete* and described aspects of synesthesia in several of his works. In his memoir Speak, Memory, he notes that his wife also exhibited synesthesia; like her husband, her mind's eye associated colors with particular letters. They discovered that Dmitri shared the trait, and moreover that the colors he associated with some letters were in some cases blends of his parents' hues—"which is as if genes were painting in aquarelle".

Nabokov left Germany with his family in 1937 for Paris and in 1940 fled from the advancing German troops to the United States. It was here that he met Edmund Wilson, who introduced Nabokov's work to American editors, eventually leading to his international recognition.

Nabokov came to Wellesley College in 1941 as resident lecturer in comparative literature. The position, created specifically for him, provided an income and free time to write creatively and pursue his lepidoptery. Nabokov is remembered as the founder of Wellesley's Russian Department. His lecture series on major nineteenth-century Russian writers was hailed as "funny," "learned," and "brilliantly satirical." During this time, the Nabokovs resided in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Following a lecture tour through the United States, Nabokov returned to Wellesley for the 1944-45 academic year as a lecturer in Russian. He served through the 1947–48 term as Wellesley's one-man Russian Department, offering courses in Russian language and literature. His classes were popular, due as much to his unique teaching style as to the wartime interest in all things Russian. At the same time he was curator of lepidoptery at Harvard's Museum of Comparative Biology. After being encouraged by Morris Bishop, Nabokov left Wellesley in 1948 to teach Russian and European literature at Cornell University. In 1945, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States.

Also in 1945, Vladimir Nabokov was told by a relative that his homosexual brother, Sergei, who had lived most of his adult life in Paris and Austria, had died in a Nazi concentration camp at Neuengamme, Germany.

Nabokov wrote his novel Lolita while traveling in the Western United States. In June, 1953 he and his family came to Ashland, Oregon, renting a house on Meade Street from Professor Taylor, head of the Southern Oregon College Department of Social Science. There he finished Lolita and began writing the novel Pnin. He roamed the nearby mountains looking for butterflies, and wrote a poem "Lines Written in Oregon". On October 1, 1953, he and his family left for Ithaca, New York.

After the success of Lolita, Nabokov was able to move to Europe and devote himself to writing. From 1960 to the end of his life he lived in the Montreux Palace Hotel in Montreux, Switzerland. (From Wikipedia)

*Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which two or more bodily senses are coupled. In one common form, known as color synesthesia, letters or numbers are perceived as inherently colored. (From Wikipedia.)




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