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Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov (April 23, 1899-July 7, 1977) was a Russian-American novelist. He is most famous for his novel Lolita, which was written in English, although many of his novels were in Russian. His family was of Russian nobility, but fled as a result of the Bolshevik Revolution. He taught at Wellesley College and Cornell University. He was a self-proclaimed synesthete.

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Nabokov was born in Saint Petersburg to Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov and Elena Ivanovna Nabakov. His father was a statesman and a journalist, and Nabokov's childhood was one of nobility. He was trilingual from an early age, speaking Russian, French, and English and reading authors far above his age level, including Wells, Poe, Browning, Keats, Flaubert, Verlaine, Rimbaud, Tolstoy, and Chekhov.

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His family was forced to flee after the Bolshevik Revolution first to Crimea, then on to Western Europe. While his father played secretary of the Russian Provisional Government, Nabokov studied Slavic and Romance Languages at Trinity College, Cambridge. By 1920, the Nabokov's moved to Berlin with Nabokov to follow in 1922, and although he lived there fifteen years, Nabokov later said he never liked the city nor felt at home there.

A major turning point occurred for Nabokov in 1922, when he father was assassinated while trying to shield Pavel Milyukov, a leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party. This event would prove influential in Nabokov's writings.

By this point, Nabokov was a recognized writer in Berlin's Russian immigrant community, and he wrote for a living, along with giving sports and language lessons. The Nabakov family moved on to live briefly in France, but eventually had to flee to the United States in 1940 to escape German troops. (Image source)

Soon after arriving in the U.S., Nabokov was given a position at Wellesley College as a professor of comparative literature and went on to become the founder of the college's Russian department.

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Nabokov was an avid lepidopterist, spending trips collecting butterflies of different sorts. He became the de facto curator of lepidoptery at Harvard University's Museum of Comparative Zoology. It was on a butterfly-collecting trip to the western U.S. that Nabokov wrote Lolita. The success of this novel allowed him to return to Europe and focus entirely on his writing with his wife, Véra Evseyevna Slonim. They lived in Switzerland until the end of his life.

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Vladimir Nabokov with his wife, Vera. Image source

Nabokov was known for his linguistic aesthetics and for his attention to detail. This could be a result of the fact that he was a self-described synesthete, associating colors with letters and other objects from an early age. This aspect of his perception regularly entered into his prose.

Some of Nabokov's most notable English-language works include:

Bend Sinister (1947)

Speak, Memory (1951)

Pnin (1957)

Pale Fire (1962)

The Original of Laura (2009)

Nabokov was a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction seven times, but never won it.

Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Wednesday, 23 April 2014
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