Vladimir Nabokov

What have you read by him, besides Lolita?

Consider the range:

Pale Fire–Epic poem plus pie-eyed commentary
Ada–Lyric porn (how many sex scenes in lit make you cringe? this doesn’t, unless you think about it too hard)
Invitation to a Beheading–Surrealism in the best anti-fascist tradition

What do you like?

I read Speak, Memory, his autobiography, in high school, but I don’t remember much about it.

Pale Fire, which I loved. Lolita is better, but I loved the layering of fictional poem, fictional realities and questionable sanity in Pale Fire.

Oops, I deleted a line in my OP–Speak Memory is the Memoir, and it is fabulous and nothing like any other autobiography I’ve ever seen–it talks to the reader instead of sticking to a history. Pnin is the story of a goofy Russian emigre professor, much warmer and different in tone from anything else he did.

I liked Pale Fire a lot. Hard to read but well worth it. I thought the structure was brilliant. Ada consumed me during one exam prep period in college, which didn’t do wonders for my grades. But I did love it. It’s fabulous. I found the science fiction aspect fascinating and the central relationship compelling.

My favourite light read was “King, Queen, Knave” which is somewhat loopy and manic, and I found none of the characters sympathetic (which I guess is what made it light for me- I wasn’t totally wrapped up in their fates.) It was just a real ‘hang on until the ride is over’ read for me.

I also picked up a copy of “The Enchanter” which was a novella that prefigured Lolita, but it was impossible to read it without making comparisons.

Of all of them I feel like I’d like to re-read Ada and Pale Fire most, but I can’t imagine where I’d find the emotional and mental energy I had in college to get through them… kind of takes a lot of active readership… maybe something to pack on my next vacation.

I think that Pale Fire is probably one of the top 5 books ever written, ever, but Ada is my personal favorite. It’s like if Borges wrote a Nabokov novel.

Well, more of a short story, but I liked the way him and his son (who translated) wrote the prose more fast-paced and stilted. I did draw comparisons, but to the movie, for that reason. hunted enchanted—enchanted hunter—hunted enchanter

I like to reread Ada but only bit by bit. It does get a too hard to keep everything in your head but all of Nabokov and especially Ada is just so poetically written I can just pick up anywhere and start reading, more for the words themselves than for a continuous plot.

But Ada did have the only scene in a book that ever really made me break down and cry, not just welling up or a tear or two, a real crying jag.The last scene in the floramor, where the wind and rain are creaking into the cracked concrete with the rat-infested piano. On one level of course Van is pining away for the glory days of the floramor and by extension the carefree life that’s slipping away. And then of course there is the residents themselves whom you not only feel sorry for because of the decay of the place, but also in its degradation you see that it never was all that great anyway in that most of the residents aren’t there of their own accord, and they cant pretend otherwise anymore.

But other than that, I don’t really care about any of the characters in Ada: they’re unsympathetic, the lot of them, which is a pretty good feat considering that most of them are fully fleshed out.

Lolita is a trick of the opposite kind: besides Quilty, I sympathize with all of the charcaters. It’s also the “largest”-seeming book in that there are so many memorable parts to it for its 200-some pages(or maybe even high 100-s, I forget.)

And I guess this would be as good a place as any to ask if anyone else noticed the female worker in Dr Strangelove’s first appearance (tanning herself,) was a clear parody of Lolita’s first appearance, of course in Kubrick’s film before Dr Strangelove (and the funniest bit in the movie, which I am convinced Nabokov himself wrote even though I don’t think it’s in the book: the sign that says “Welcome to Camp Climax. Please Drive Carefully.”

Nabokov was my project last year–I got tired of reading random things that turned out to be disappointing. So, when I read Invitation to a Beheading (having read Lolita time back) and really liked it, I read everything Nabokov wrote (most all of the Russian stuff having been translated). It was extremely satisfying because (i) almost everything was really good–dazzling and puzzling in a good evocative way and (ii) the continuity overlook from doing it all pointed up lots of self-references/themes/revisited obsessions. (I used my little computer to from my desk order every Nabokov work in my regional library database.)

Then I re read Lolita too and THAT is the truely amazing work among an amazing group.

I have been rereading Ada at random, which works quite well, but when I want to reread a whole book, it will be Pnin–I want to find out the secret of why it is so different from the others.

Here is a bit of Ada (I posted this once before but it is the epitome of Ada to me, French and all):

A sort of hoary riddle (Les Sophismes de Sophie by Mlle Stop-
chin in the Bibliothèque Vieux Rose series): did the Burning
Barn come before the Cockloft or the Cockloft come first. Oh,
first! We had long been kissing cousins when the fire started.
In fact, I was getting some Château Baignet cold cream from
Ladore for my poor chapped lips. And we both were roused in
our separate rooms by her crying au feu! July 28? August 4?
Who cried? Stopchin cried? Larivière cried? Larivière? An-
swer! Crying that the barn flambait
No, she was fast ablaze—I mean, asleep. I know, said Van,
it was she, the hand-painted handmaid, who used your water-
colors to touch up her eyes, or so Larivière said, who accused
her and Blanche of fantastic sins.
Oh, of course! But not Marina’s poor French—it was our
little goose Blanche. Yes, she rushed down the corridor and
lost a miniver-trimmed slipper on the grand staircase, like Ash-
ette in the English version.
“And do you remember, Van, how warm the night was?”
“Eshchyo bï! (as if I did not!). That night because of the

That night because of the bothersome blink of remote sheet
lightning through the black hearts of his sleeping-arbor, Van
had abandoned his two tulip trees and gone to bed in his room.
The tumult in the house and the maid’s shriek interrupted a
rare, brilliant, dramatic dream, whose subject he was unable to
recollect later, although he still held it in a saved jewel box.
As usual, he slept naked, and wavered now between pulling
on a pair of shorts, or draping himself in his tartan lap robe.

The fact that he was writing books like these in his third language (after Russian and French) is amazing to me. There is a variety of book that I tend to think of as the “wow, can I write, or what?” kind of book - where the author seems to be going out of their way to make their writing style an up-front feature of the book, trying to dazzle you with their prowess. Nine times out of ten, I hate those books and find the author comes across like an arrogant, self-absorbed twit - yes, I am looking at you, Tom Robbins and Tom Wolfe. Nabokov delivers.

I love Lolita and Pnin - I find the unreliable Kinbote in Pale Fire an amazing construction, but tiring to read.

Minor hijack: you all probably know that Nabokov was an amateur *lepidopterist * - butterfly collector and researcher. He even has a variety named after him. But what’s also cool is that when he autographed books for close friends and family, he used colored pencils to draw in butterflies with his signature. There is a rare book dealer on the Upper East Side who brokered Nabokov’s son’s (?) collection of books - and most had really beautiful butterfly drawings in them…

I have a first U.S. edition of Lolita (not nearly as pricey as the true first from France) and one of Pale Fire, too.

He also did a couple of English into Russian book translations, including Alice in Wonderland

Just commenting on his theory of trnaslation (per Annie’s linked article): Nabokov was a strict literalist. One can easily articulate the theory–why should some schlub translator think he has the right to change a jot of what the real author wrote? Isn’t the goal of a translation to make the person like the work enough to learn the original language and read it in the original (!)?

I myself beg for the mercies of a non-literalist trnaslator since I will not be learning Russian. I would like to know what the fuss is about Pushkin as a poet, for instance. So I plowed through Nabokov’s dull translation of Eugene Onegin. I don’t see the poetry. Nabokov’s few throwaway rhymed trnaslations of a few verses, however, were excellent.

Wish he hadn’t let the translation thing set into a hard and fast academic position he then needed to defend tooth and nail.

Major hijack: Nabokov also joins Albert Camus and Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko in a distinguished literary trio of amateur football goalkeepers.

I agree wholeheartedly. I’ve only read Lolita, but I couldn’t get around the thought the whole time of what a mastery of the english language he had. IIRC, he had only been living in America for about 10 years at the time.

Though I like Tom Robbins, I agree with you there as well.

Nabokov came to America in 1940 and published Lolita in 1955 (though of course he’d been composing it for years and it wasn’t his first work in English). But he’d known English since childhood, and in his autobiography he says he could read and write in English before Russian.

Of course, his knowledge of English is still amazing by any standard, even if he already knew it well before coming to America.

I’ve read Pale Fire, Lolita, and a short story collection. Pale fire was my favorite. For all its experimental form, I found it very readable.

A bit of Trivia: Nabokov was Thomas Pynchon’s creative writing teacher. Nabokov claimed not to remember him, but his wife recalled Pynchon’s “Small neat handwriting.”

Aha! Time for another digression…

Since X-files DVD’s are now available in the much cheaper SlimSet format, I’ve been the proud owner of Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” since last Friday. The commentary mentioned that Pale Fire was the source of Lord Kinbote’s name. The whole episode is a fine example of “unreliable narration.”

(But the commentators didn’t mention the ramifications of Roky Crickenson’s name. It’s definitely not Nabokovian.)

I misread that as X-men–Charles Xavier!

The poem in Pale Fire could have stood alone on its own merits–let’s see, how do I get an epic poem published in America in the second half of the 20th Century?

It made me jump up and ruffle my hair.

I haven’t read anything else but Lolita. However, I think I will definitely try Ada.

Humble Servant, didn’t you also start the “Paradise Lost” thread? If so, then you make good CS threads and I hope you keep it up. If not, well, I like this one too, so same comment.

I wondered about that as soon as I started reading Pale Fire, thanks for resolving the question. Small wonder that that’s the best episode the show ever did. :wink: