The eldest son of Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov, he was born in St. Petersburg, Russia. He is noted for his complex plots and clever word play. He gained both fame and notoriety with his novel Lolita (1955) which tells of a grown man's consummated passion for a 12-year-old girl. This and his other novels, particularly Pale Fire (1962) place him in the top rank of novelists of the 20th century. In 2001, Lolita and Pale Fire would both be on the list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century as selected by the editorial board of the American Modern Library. Perhaps his defining work, which met with a mixed response, is the large Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle. It is to the construction of this novel that he dedicated the most time.
Nabokov's stature as a literary critic is founded on his four volume translation of and commentary on Aleksandr Pushkin's Russian soul epic Eugene Onegin. That commentary ended with an appendix called Notes on Prosody which has developed a reputation of its own. This essay stemmed from his observation that while Pushkin's iambic tetrameters had been a part of Russian literature for a fairly short two centuries, they were clearly understood by the Russian prosodists. On the other hand, he viewed the much older English iambic tetrameters as muddled and poorly documented. In his own words:
- "I have been forced to invent a simple little terminology of my own, explain its application to English verse forms, and indulge in certain rather copious details of classification before even tackling the limited object of these notes to my translation of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin, an object that boils down to very little -- in comparison to the forced preliminaries -- namely, to a few things that the non-Russian student of Russian literature must know in regard to Russian prosody in general and to Eugene Onegin in particular."
His first writings were in the Russian language, but he came to his greatest distinction in the English language. For this achievement, he has been compared with Joseph Conrad (some view as a dubious comparison, as Conrad only composed in English, never in his native Polish). Nabokov translated many of his early works into English, sometimes in cooperation with his son Dmitri Nabokov. His trilingual upbringing (English, Russian and French) had a profound influence on his artistry.
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