Vladimir Nabokov

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Vladimir Nabokov
Nabokov in Montreux, 1973
Nabokov in Montreux, 1973
Born Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov
22 April [O.S. 10 April] 1899[a]
Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire
Died 2 July 1977(1977-07-02) (aged 78)
Montreux, Switzerland
Occupation Novelist, professor
Alma mater University of Cambridge
Literary movement Modernism, postmodernism
Notable works The Defense (1930)
The Gift (1938)
Bend Sinister (1945–46)
Lolita (1955)
Pnin (1957)
Pale Fire (1962)
Speak, Memory (1936–1966)
Ada, or Ardor (1969)
Spouse Vera Nabokov
Children Dmitri Nabokov


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Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov (/nəˈbɒkəf, ˈnæbəkɔːf, -kɒf/;[1] Russian: Влади́мир Влади́мирович Набо́ков [vɫɐˈdʲimʲɪr nɐˈbokəf] (About this sound listen), also known by the pen name Vladimir Sirin; 22 April [O.S. 10 April] 1899[a] – 2 July 1977) was a Russian novelist, poet, translator and entomologist. His first nine novels were in Russian, but he achieved international prominence after he began writing English prose.

Nabokov's Lolita (1955), his most noted novel in English, was ranked fourth in the list of the Modern Library 100 Best Novels;[2] Pale Fire (1962) was ranked 53rd on the same list, and his memoir, Speak, Memory (1951), was listed eighth on the publisher's list of the 20th century's greatest nonfiction.[3] He was a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction seven times.

Nabokov was an expert lepidopterist and composer of chess problems.

Life and career[edit]

The author's grandfather Dmitry Nabokov, Justice Minister under Tsar Alexander II.
The author's father, V. D. Nabokov in his World War I officer's uniform, 1914
The Nabokov family's mansion in Saint Petersburg. Today it is the site of the Nabokov museum


Nabokov was born on 22 April 1899 (10 April 1899 Old Style), in Saint Petersburg,[a] to a wealthy and prominent family of the Russian nobility, which traced its roots back to a fourteenth-century Tatar prince, Nabok Murza, who entered into the service of the Tsars, and from whom the family name is derived.[4][5]:16[6] His father was the liberal lawyer, statesman, and journalist Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov (1870–1922) and his mother was the heiress Yelena Ivanovna née Rukavishnikova, the granddaughter of a millionaire gold-mine owner. His father was a leader of the pre-Revolutionary liberal Constitutional Democratic Party and authored numerous books and articles about criminal law and politics.[7] His cousins included the composer Nicolas Nabokov. His paternal grandfather, Dmitry Nabokov (1827–1904), had been Russia's Justice Minister in the reign of Alexander II. His paternal grandmother was the Baltic German Baroness Maria von Korff (1842–1926). Through his father's German ancestry, he was also related to the music composer Carl Heinrich Graun (1704–1759).[8]

Vladimir was the family's eldest and favorite child, with four younger siblings: Sergey (1900–45); Olga (1903–78); Elena (1906–2000) and Kiril (1912–64). Sergey was killed in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945, after he spoke out publicly denouncing Hitler's regime. Olga is recalled by Ayn Rand (her close friend at Stoiunina Gymnasium) as having been a supporter of constitutional monarchy who had first awakened Rand's interest in politics.[9][10] The youngest daughter Elena, who would in later years become Vladimir's favourite sibling, published her correspondence with her brother in 1985 and would become an important living source for later biographers of Nabokov.

Nabokov spent his childhood and youth in Saint Petersburg and at the country estate Vyra near Siverskaya, to the south of the city. His childhood, which he had called "perfect" and "cosmopolitan", was remarkable in several ways. The family spoke Russian, English, and French in their household, and Nabokov was trilingual from an early age. He relates that the first English book his mother read to him was Misunderstood (1869) by Florence Montgomery. In fact, much to his patriotic father's disappointment, Nabokov could read and write in English before he could in 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, and it provided a theme that echoes from his first book Mary to later works such as Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle. While the family was nominally Orthodox, they felt no religious fervor, and Vladimir was not forced to attend church after he lost interest. In 1916, Nabokov inherited the estate Rozhdestveno, next to Vyra, from his uncle Vasily Ivanovich Rukavishnikov ("Uncle Ruka" in Speak, Memory), but lost it in the October Revolution one year later; this was the only house he ever owned.[citation needed]

The Rozhdestveno estate 16-year-old Nabokov inherited from his maternal uncle. Nabokov possessed it for less than a year before losing it in the October Revolution.

Nabokov's adolescence was also the period in which his first serious literary endeavors were made. In 1916, Nabokov had his first collection of poetry published, Stikhi ("Poems"), a collection of 68 Russian poems. At the time, Nabokov was attending Tenishev school in Saint Petersburg, where his literature teacher Vladimir Vasilievich Gippius had been critical toward his literary accomplishments. Some time after the publication of Stikhi, Zinaida Gippius, renowned poet and first cousin of Vladimir Gippius, told Nabokov's father at a social event, "Please tell your son that he will never be a writer."[11]


After the 1917 February Revolution, Nabokov's father became a secretary of the Russian Provisional Government and, after the October Revolution, the family was forced to flee the city for Crimea, not expecting to be away for very long. They lived at a friend's estate and in September 1918 moved to Livadiya, at the time part of the Ukrainian Republic; Nabokov's father became a minister of justice in the Crimean Regional Government.

After the withdrawal of the German Army in November 1918 and the defeat of the White Army (early 1919), the Nabokovs sought exile in western Europe. They settled briefly in England and Vladimir enrolled in Trinity College of the University of Cambridge, first studying zoology, then Slavic and Romance languages. His examination results on the first part of the Tripos, taken at the end of second year, were a starred first. He sat the second part of the exam in his fourth year, just after his father's death. Nabokov feared that he might fail the exam, but his script was marked second-class. His final examination result was second-class, and his BA conferred in 1922. Nabokov later drew on his Cambridge experiences to write several works, including the novels Glory and The Real Life of Sebastian Knight.

In 1920, Nabokov's family moved to Berlin, where his father set up the émigré newspaper Rul' ("Rudder"). Nabokov followed them to Berlin two years later, after completing his studies at Cambridge.

Berlin years (1922–37)[edit]

In March 1922, Nabokov's father was fatally shot in Berlin by the Russian monarchist Piotr Shabelsky-Bork as he was trying to shield the real target, Pavel Milyukov, a leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party-in-exile. This mistaken, violent death would echo again and again in Nabokov's fiction, where characters would meet their deaths under accidental terms. (In Pale Fire, for example, one interpretation of the novel has an assassin mistakenly kill the poet John Shade, when his actual target is a fugitive European monarch.) Shortly after his father's death, Nabokov's mother and sister moved to Prague.

Nabokov stayed in Berlin, where he had become a recognised poet and writer within the émigré community and published under the nom de plume V. Sirin (a reference to the fabulous bird of Russian folklore). To supplement his scant writing income, he taught languages and gave tennis and boxing lessons.[12] Of his fifteen Berlin years, Dieter E. Zimmer has written: "He never became fond of Berlin, and at the end intensely disliked it. He lived within the lively Russian community of Berlin that was more or less self-sufficient, staying on after it had disintegrated because he had nowhere else to go to. He knew little German. He knew few Germans except for landladies, shopkeepers, the petty immigration officials at the police headquarters."[13]

In 1922, Nabokov became engaged to Svetlana Siewert; she broke off the engagement in early 1923, her parents worrying that he could not provide for her.[14] In May 1923, he met a Russian-Jewish woman, Véra Evseyevna Slonim, at a charity ball in Berlin[12] and married her in April 1925.[12] Their only child, Dmitri, was born in 1934.

In 1936, Véra lost her job because of the increasingly anti-Semitic environment; also in that year the assassin of Nabokov's father was appointed second-in-command of the Russian émigré group. In the same year, Nabokov began seeking a job in the English-speaking world. In 1937, he left Germany for France, where he had a short affair with Russian émigrée Irina Guadanini. Yet the family followed him to France, making enroute their last visit to Prague, then spent time in Cannes, Menton, Cap d'Antibes, and Fréjus and finally settled together in Paris. In May 1940, the Nabokov family fled from the advancing German troops to the United States on board the SS Champlain, with the exception of Nabokov's brother Sergei, who died at the Neuengamme concentration camp on 9 January 1945.[15]

United States[edit]

The house at 957 East State St., Ithaca, New York, where Nabokov lived with his family in 1947 and 1953 while teaching at Cornell University. Here he finished Lolita and started writing Pnin.

The Nabokovs settled in Manhattan and Vladimir began volunteer work as an entomologist at the American Museum of Natural History.[16]

Nabokov joined the staff of 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. The Nabokovs resided in Wellesley, Massachusetts, during the 1941–42 academic year. In September 1942 they moved to Cambridge where they lived until June 1948. Following a lecture tour through the United States, Nabokov returned to Wellesley for the 1944–45 academic year as a lecturer in Russian. In 1945, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States. 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.[citation needed] At the same time he was the de facto curator of lepidoptery at Harvard University's Museum of Comparative Zoology.[17] After being encouraged by Morris Bishop, Nabokov left Wellesley in 1948 to teach Russian and European literature at Cornell University, where he taught until 1959. Among his students at Cornell was future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who later identified Nabokov as a major influence on her development as a writer.[18]

Nabokov wrote Lolita while travelling on butterfly-collection trips in the western United States that he undertook every summer. Véra acted as "secretary, typist, editor, proofreader, translator and bibliographer; his agent, business manager, legal counsel and chauffeur; his research assistant, teaching assistant and professorial understudy"; when Nabokov attempted to burn unfinished drafts of Lolita, it was Véra who stopped him. He called her the best-humored woman he had ever known.[12][19][20]

In June 1953 Nabokov and his family went to Ashland, Oregon. There he finished Lolita and began writing the novel Pnin. He roamed the nearby mountains looking for butterflies, and wrote a poem called Lines Written in Oregon. On 1 October 1953, he and his family returned to Ithaca, New York, where he would later teach the young writer Thomas Pynchon.[21]

Montreux and death[edit]

The grave of the Nabokovs at Cimetière de Clarens near Montreux, Switzerland

After the great financial success of Lolita, Nabokov was able to return to Europe and devote himself exclusively to writing. His son had obtained a position as an operatic bass at Reggio Emilia. On 1 October 1961, he and Véra moved to the Montreux Palace Hotel in Montreux, Switzerland; he stayed there until the end of his life.[22] From his sixth-floor quarters he conducted his business and took tours to the Alps, Corsica, and Sicily to hunt butterflies. In 1976 he was hospitalised with a fever doctors were unable to diagnose. He was rehospitalised in Lausanne in 1977 suffering from severe bronchial congestion. He died on 2 July in Montreux surrounded by his family and, according to his son, Dmitri, "with a triple moan of descending pitch".[23] His remains were cremated and are buried at the Clarens cemetery in Montreux.[24]:xxix–l[25]

At the time of his death, he was working on a novel titled The Original of Laura. His wife Véra and son Dmitri were entrusted with Nabokov's literary executorship,[12] and though he asked them to burn the manuscript,[26] they chose not to destroy his final work. The incomplete manuscript, around 125 handwritten index cards long,[27] remained in a Swiss bank vault where only two people, Dmitri Nabokov and an unknown person, had access. Portions of the manuscript were shown to Nabokov scholars. In April 2008, Dmitri announced that he would publish the novel.[28]

Prior to the incomplete novel's publication, several short excerpts of The Original of Laura were made public: German weekly Die Zeit, reproduced some of Nabokov's original index cards obtained by its reporter Malte Herwig in its 14 August 2008 issue. In the accompanying article Herwig concludes that Laura, although fragmentary, is "vintage Nabokov".[29]

In July 2009, Playboy magazine acquired the rights to print a 5,000-word excerpt from The Original of Laura. It was printed in the December issue.[30]

The Original of Laura was published on 17 November 2009.


Nabokov in the 1960s
Nabokov in 1973

Nabokov's first writings were in Russian, but he achieved his greatest fame with the novels he wrote in the English language. As a trilingual (also writing in French, see Mademoiselle O) master, he has been compared to Joseph Conrad; Nabokov, however, disliked both the comparison and Conrad's work. He lamented to the critic Edmund Wilson, "I am too old to change Conradically" – which John Updike later called, "itself a jest of genius". (This lament came in 1941, when Nabokov had been an apprentice American for less than one year[31]:50 [32] Later in a November 1950 Wilson letter, Nabokov offers a solid, non-comic appraisal: "Conrad knew how to handle readymade English better than I; but I know better the other kind. He never sinks to the depths of my solecisms, but neither does he scale my verbal peaks."[31]:282 Nabokov translated many of his own early works into English, sometimes in cooperation with his son Dmitri. His trilingual upbringing had a profound influence on his artistry.

Nabokov himself translated into Russian two books that he had originally written in English, Conclusive Evidence and Lolita. The "translation" of Conclusive Evidence was made because of Nabokov's feeling of imperfections in the English version. Writing the book, he noted that he needed to translate his own memories into English, and to spend a lot of time explaining things that are well known in Russia; then he decided to re-write the book once again, in his first native language, and after that he made the final version, Speak, Memory (Nabokov first wanted to name it "Speak, Mnemosyne"). Nabokov was a proponent of individualism, and rejected concepts and ideologies that curtailed individual freedom and expression, such as totalitarianism in its various forms, as well as Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis.[24]:412ff Poshlost, or as he transcribed it, poshlust, is disdained and frequently mocked in his works.[24]:628ff On translating Lolita, Nabokov writes, "I imagined that in some distant future somebody might produce a Russian version of Lolita. I trained my inner telescope upon that particular point in the distant future and I saw that every paragraph, pock-marked as it is with pitfalls, could lend itself to hideous mistranslation. In the hands of a harmful drudge, the Russian version of Lolita would be entirely degraded and botched by vulgar paraphrases or blunders. So I decided to translate it myself."[33]

Nabokov's creative processes involved writing sections of text on hundreds of index cards, which he expanded into paragraphs and chapters and rearranged to form the structure of his novels, a process that has been adopted by many screenplay writers in subsequent years.[22]

Nabokov published under the pseudonym "Vladimir Sirin" in the 1920s to 1940s, occasionally to mask his identity from critics.[34] He also makes cameo appearances in some of his novels, such as the character "Vivian Darkbloom" (an anagram of "Vladimir Nabokov"), who appears in both Lolita and Ada, or Ardor, and the character Blavdak Vinomori (another anagram of Nabokov's name) in King, Queen, Knave.

Nabokov is noted for his complex plots, clever word play, daring metaphors, and prose style capable of both parody and intense lyricism. He gained both fame and notoriety with his novel Lolita (1955), which tells of a grown man's devouring passion for a twelve-year-old girl. This and his other novels, particularly Pale Fire (1962), won him a place among the greatest novelists of the 20th century. His longest novel, which met with a mixed response, is Ada (1969). He devoted more time to the composition of this novel than any of his others. Nabokov's fiction is characterized by linguistic playfulness. For example, his short story "The Vane Sisters" is famous in part for its acrostic final paragraph, in which the first letters of each word spell out a message from beyond the grave. In another of his short stories, "Signs and Symbols" (1958), Nabokov creates a character suffering from an imaginary illness called "Referential Mania," in which the afflicted is faced with a world of environmental objects exchanging coded messages.[35]

Nabokov's stature as a literary critic is founded largely on his four-volume translation and commentary for Alexander Pushkin's novel in verse, Eugene Onegin, published in 1964. That commentary ended with an appendix titled Notes on Prosody, which has developed a reputation of its own. It 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.

Nabokov's lectures at Cornell University, as collected in Lectures on Literature, reveal his controversial ideas concerning art.[36] He firmly believed that novels should not aim to teach and that readers should not merely empathize with characters but that a 'higher' aesthetic enjoyment should be attained, partly by paying great attention to details of style and structure. He detested what he saw as 'general ideas' in novels, and so when teaching Ulysses, for example, he would insist students keep an eye on where the characters were in Dublin (with the aid of a map) rather than teaching the complex Irish history that many critics see as being essential to an understanding of the novel.[37] In 2010, Kitsch magazine, a student publication at Cornell, published a piece that focused on student reflections on his lectures and also explored Nabokov's long relationship with Playboy.[38] Nabokov also wanted his students to describe the details of the novels rather than a narrative of the story and was very strict when it came to grading. As Edward Jay Epstein described his experience in Nabokov's classes that he made it clear from the very first lectures that he had little interest in fraternizing with students, who would be known not by their name but by their seat number.[39]


Nabokov was a self-described synesthete, who at a young age equated the number five with the colour red.[40] Aspects of synesthesia can be found in several of his works. His wife also exhibited synesthesia; like her husband, her mind's eye associated colours with particular letters. They discovered that Dmitri shared the trait, and moreover that the colours he associated with some letters were in some cases blends of his parents' hues—"which is as if genes were painting in aquarelle".[41]

For some synesthetes, letters are not simply associated with certain colors, they are themselves colored. Nabokov frequently endowed his protagonists with a similar gift. In Bend Sinister Krug comments on his perception of the word "loyalty" as being like a golden fork lying out in the sun. In The Defense, Nabokov mentioned briefly how the main character's father, a writer, found he was unable to complete a novel that he planned to write, becoming lost in the fabricated storyline by "starting with colors". Many other subtle references are made in Nabokov's writing that can be traced back to his synesthesia. Many of his characters have a distinct "sensory appetite" reminiscent of synesthesia.[42]


Nabokov's interest in entomology had been inspired by books of Maria Sibylla Merian he had found in the attic of his family's country home in Vyra.[43] Throughout an extensive career of collecting he never learned to drive a car, and he depended on his wife Véra to take him to collecting sites. During the 1940s, as a research fellow in zoology, he was responsible for organizing the butterfly collection of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. His writings in this area were highly technical. This, combined with his specialty in the relatively unspectacular tribe Polyommatini of the family Lycaenidae, has left this facet of his life little explored by most admirers of his literary works. He described the Karner blue. The genus Nabokovia was named after him in honor of this work, as were a number of butterfly and moth species (e.g. many species in the genera Madeleinea and Pseudolucia bear epithets alluding to Nabokov or names from his novels).[44] In 1967, Nabokov commented: "The pleasures and rewards of literary inspiration are nothing beside the rapture of discovering a new organ under the microscope or an undescribed species on a mountainside in Iran or Peru. It is not improbable that had there been no revolution in Russia, I would have devoted myself entirely to lepidopterology and never written any novels at all."[22]

The palaeontologist and essayist Stephen Jay Gould discussed Nabokov's lepidoptery in his essay, "No Science Without Fancy, No Art Without Facts: The Lepidoptery of Vladimir Nabokov" (reprinted in I Have Landed). Gould notes that Nabokov was occasionally a scientific "stick-in-the-mud". For example, Nabokov never accepted that genetics or the counting of chromosomes could be a valid way to distinguish species of insects, and relied on the traditional (for lepidopterists) microscopic comparison of their genitalia.

The Harvard Museum of Natural History, which now contains the Museum of Comparative Zoology, still possesses Nabokov's "genitalia cabinet", where the author stored his collection of male blue butterfly genitalia.[45][46] "Nabokov was a serious taxonomist," says museum staff writer Nancy Pick, author of The Rarest of the Rare: Stories Behind the Treasures at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. "He actually did quite a good job at distinguishing species that you would not think were different—by looking at their genitalia under a microscope six hours a day, seven days a week, until his eyesight was permanently impaired."[46] The rest of his collection, about 4,300 specimens, was given to the Lausanne's Museum of Zoology in Switzerland.

Though his work was not taken seriously by professional lepidopterists during his life, new genetic research supports Nabokov's hypothesis that a group of butterfly species, called the Polyommatus blues, came to the New World over the Bering Strait in five waves, eventually reaching Chile.[47]

Many of Nabokov's fans have tried to ascribe literary value to his scientific papers, Gould notes. Conversely, others have claimed that his scientific work enriched his literary output. Gould advocates a third view, holding that the other two positions are examples of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. Rather than assuming that either side of Nabokov's work caused or stimulated the other, Gould proposes that both stemmed from Nabokov's love of detail, contemplation, and symmetry.

Chess problems[edit]

Nabokov spent considerable time during his exile on the composition of chess problems. Such compositions he published in the Russian émigré press, Poems and Problems (18 chess compositions) and Speak, Memory (one problem). He describes the process of composing and constructing in his memoir: "The strain on the mind is formidable; the element of time drops out of one's consciousness". To him, the "originality, invention, conciseness, harmony, complexity, and splendid insincerity" of creating a chess problem was similar to that in any other art.

Politics and views[edit]

Russian politics[edit]

Nabokov was a classical liberal, in the tradition of his father, a liberal statesman who served in the Provisional Government following the February Revolution of 1917 as a member of the Constitutional Democratic Party.[48][49] In Speak, Memory, Nabokov proudly recounted his father's campaigns against despotism and staunch opposition to capital punishment.[50] Nabokov was a self-proclaimed "White Russian",[22] and was, from its inception, a strong opponent of the Soviet government that came to power following the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917. In a poem he wrote as a teenager in 1917, he described Lenin's Bolsheviks as "grey rag-tag people".[51]

Throughout his life, Nabokov would remain committed to the classical liberal political philosophy of his father, and equally opposed Tsarist autocracy, communism and fascism.[5]:24–36

Nabokov's father Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov was the most outspoken defender of Jewish rights in the Russian Empire, continuing in a family tradition that had been led by his own father, Dmitry Nabokov, who as Justice Minister under Tsar Alexander II had successfully blocked anti-semitic measures from being passed by the Interior Minister. That family strain would continue in Vladimir Nabokov, who fiercely denounced anti-semitism in his writings, and in the 1930s Nabokov was able to escape Hitler's Germany only with the help of Russian Jewish émigrés who still had grateful memories of his family's defense of Jews in Tsarist times.[5]:24

When asked, in 1969, whether he would like to revisit the land he had fled in 1918, now the Soviet Union, he replied: "There's nothing to look at. New tenement houses and old churches do not interest me. The hotels there are terrible. I detest the Soviet theater. Any palace in Italy is superior to the repainted abodes of the Tsars. The village huts in the forbidden hinterland are as dismally poor as ever, and the wretched peasant flogs his wretched cart horse with the same wretched zest. As to my special northern landscape and the haunts of my childhood – well, I would not wish to contaminate their images preserved in my mind."[49]:148

American politics[edit]

In the 1940s, as an émigré in America, Nabokov would stress the connection between American and English liberal democracy and the aspirations of the short-lived Russian provisional government. In 1942 he declared: "Democracy is humanity at its best ... it is the natural condition of every man ever since the human mind became conscious not only of the world but of itself."[52] Later, during the 1960s, he expressed contempt for student activism, and all collective movements. In both letters and interviews, he reveals a profound contempt for the New Left movements, describing the protesters as "conformists" and "goofy hoodlums".[53][49]:139 In a 1967 interview, Nabokov stated that he refused to associate with supporters of Bolshevism or Tsarist autocracy but that he had "friends among intellectual constitutional monarchists as well as among intellectual social revolutionaries."[54] Nabokov supported the Vietnam War effort and voiced admiration for both Presidents Johnson and Nixon.[53][55][56][57] Racism against African-Americans appalled Nabokov, who touted Pushkin's multiracial background as an argument against segregation.[55]


On his religious views, Nabokov was an agnostic.[58]

Views on women writers[edit]

Despite the fact that Nabokov's wife Véra was his biggest supporter and assisted him throughout his lifetime, Nabokov admitted to having a "prejudice" against women writers. He wrote to Edmund Wilson, who had been making suggestions for his lectures: "I dislike Jane Austen, and am prejudiced, in fact against all women writers. They are in another class."[31][59] However, on rereading Austen's Mansfield Park, he soon changed his mind and taught it in his literature course; he also praised the work of Mary McCarthy.[31]:274 Although his wife worked as his personal translator and secretary, he made publicly known that his ideal translator was a male, and particularly not a "Russian-born female".[60][61] In the first chapter of Glory he attributes the protagonist's similar prejudice to the impressions made by children's writers like Lidiya Charski,[62] and in the short story "The Admiralty Spire" deplores the posturing, snobbery, antisemitism, and cutesiness he considered characteristic of Russian women authors[disputed ].


Monument of Nabokov in Montreux
External video
Nabokov Centenary Celebration hosted by New Yorker magazine, April 15, 1999, C-SPAN

The Russian literary critic Yuly Aykhenvald was an early admirer of Nabokov, citing in particular his ability to imbue objects with life: "he saturates trivial things with life, sense and psychology and gives a mind to objects; his refined senses notice colorations and nuances, smells and sounds, and everything acquires an unexpected meaning and truth under his gaze and through his words."[63] The critic James Wood argued that Nabokov's use of descriptive detail proved an "overpowering, and not always very fruitful, influence on two or three generations after him", including authors such as Martin Amis and John Updike.[64] While a student at Cornell in the 1950s, Thomas Pynchon attended several of Nabokov's lectures[65] and alluded to Lolita in chapter six of his novel The Crying of Lot 49 (1966) in which Serge, counter-tenor in the band the Paranoids, sings:

What chance has a lonely surfer boy
For the love of a surfer chick,
With all these Humbert Humbert cats
Coming on so big and sick?
For me, my baby was a woman,
For him she's just another nymphet.

It has also been argued that Pynchon's prose style is influenced by Nabokov's preference for actualism over realism.[66] Of the authors who came to prominence during Nabokov's lifetime, John Banville,[67] Don DeLillo,[68] Salman Rushdie,[69] and Edmund White[70] were all influenced by him. The novelist John Hawkes (novelist) took inspiration from Nabokov and considered himself his follower. Nabokov's story "Signs and Symbols" was on the reading list for Hawkes's writing students at Brown University. "A writer who truly and greatly sustains us is Vladimir Nabokov," Hawkes stated in a 1964 interview.[71]

Several authors who came to prominence in the 1990s and 2000s have also cited Nabokov's work as a literary influence. Aleksandar Hemon, whose high-wire wordplay and sense of the absurd are often compared to Nabokov's, has acknowledged the latter's impact on his writing.[citation needed] Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon listed Lolita and Pale Fire among the "books that, I thought, changed my life when I read them,"[72] and stated that "Nabokov's English combines aching lyricism with dispassionate precision in a way that seems to render every human emotion in all its intensity but never with an ounce of schmaltz or soggy language".[73] Pulitzer Prize winner Jeffrey Eugenides said that "Nabokov has always been and remains one of my favorite writers. He's able to juggle ten balls where most people can juggle three or four."[74][dubious ] The translingual author and critic Maxim D. Shrayer, who studied fiction writing with John Hawkes (novelist), acknowledges Nabokov's influence and writes of reading Nabokov soon after leaving the USSR as a "culture shock."[75] T. Coraghessan Boyle said that "Nabokov's playfulness and the ravishing beauty of his prose are ongoing influences" on his writing,[76] and Marisha Pessl has also been influenced by Nabokov.[77]

Nabokov appears in W. G. Sebald's 1993 novel The Emigrants.[78]


The song cycle "Sing, Poetry" on the 2011 contemporary classical album Troika comprises settings of Russian and English versions of three of Nabokov's poems by such composers as Jay Greenberg, Michael Schelle and Lev Zhurbin.

List of works[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Confusion over his birth date was generated by some people misunderstanding the relationship between the Julian and Gregorian calendars. At the time of Nabokov's birth, the offset between the calendars was 12 days. His date of birth in the Julian calendar was 10 April 1899; in the Gregorian, 22 April 1899.[79] The fact that the offset increased from 12 to 13 days for dates occurring after February 1900 was always irrelevant to earlier dates, and hence a 13-day offset should never have been applied to Nabokov's date of birth. Nevertheless, it was so misapplied by some writers, and 23 April came to be erroneously shown in many places as his birthday. In his memoirs Speak, Memory Nabokov indicates that 22 April was the correct date but that he nevertheless preferred to celebrate his birthday "with diminishing pomp" on 23 April (p. 6)[vague]. As he happily pointed out on several occasions during interviews, this meant he also shared a birthday with William Shakespeare and Shirley Temple[80][5]


  1. ^ "Nabokov". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  2. ^ "100 Best Novels". randomhouse.com. Modern Library. 2007. Retrieved 12 February 2009. 
  3. ^ "100 Best Nonfiction". randomhouse.com. Modern Library. 2007. Retrieved 12 February 2009. 
  4. ^ Nabokov, Vladimir Vladimirovich (1951). Speak, Memory: A Memoir. Gollancz. p. 37. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Boyd, Brian (1990). Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-7011-3700-2. 
  6. ^ Wyllie, Barbara (2010). Vladimir Nabokov. Reaktion Books. p. 7. 
  7. ^ "Vladimir Nabokov | American author". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2016-05-03. 
  8. ^ Giroud, Vincent (2015). Nicolas Nabokov: A Life in Freedom and Music. Oxford University Press. p. 2. 
  9. ^ Sciabarra, Chris Matthew (2013), Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, Penn State Press, pp. 66, 367–68 .
  10. ^ Gladstein, Mimi Reisel (2009), Ayn Rand, Major Conservative and Libertarian Thinkers, New York: Continuum, p. 2, ISBN 978-0-8264-4513-1 .
  11. ^ "Cycnos". Retrieved 5 December 2015. 
  12. ^ a b c d e Amis, Martin (1994) [1993], Visiting Mrs Nabokov: And Other Excursions (reprint ed.), Penguin Books, pp. 115–18, ISBN 0-14-023858-1 .
  13. ^ Zimmer, Dieter E (15 July 2002). "Presentation of the book Nabokov's Berlin". The International Vladimir Nabokov Symposium. St. Petersburg. .
  14. ^ Schiff, Stacy. "Vera, chapter 1, para 6". The New York Times. 
  15. ^ Grossman, Lev (18 May 2000), "The gay Nabokov", Salon, retrieved 8 December 2013 .
  16. ^ "Nabokov's Type: Lysandra cormion". Retrieved 18 April 2013. 
  17. ^ "Nabokov, Scientist". Natural History. July 1999. 
  18. ^ "Supreme Court Interviews". LawProse.org. Retrieved 5 December 2015. 
  19. ^ "Vera Nabokov, 89, Wife, Muse and Agent". The New York Times. 11 April 1991. 
  20. ^ Boyd, Brian. Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years. pp. 170, 601. 
  21. ^ Dodge, Dani (5 November 2006). "Snapshot: Nabokov's Retreat". Mail Tribune (Medford, Oregon). Ashland, Oregon. p. 2. Archived from the original on 2 December 2010. Retrieved 9 August 2018. 
  22. ^ a b c d Nabokov, Vladimir (Summer–Fall 1967). "Vladimir Nabokov, The Art of Fiction No. 40". The Paris Review (Interview) (41). Interviewed by Herbert Gold. Retrieved 5 June 2018. 
  23. ^ McCrum, Robert (25 October 2009). "The Final Twist in Nabokov's Untold Story". The Observer – via theguardian.com. 
  24. ^ a b c Alexandrov, Vladimir E., ed. (1995). The Garland Companion to Vladimir Nabokov. New York: Garland Publishing. ISBN 0-8153-0354-8. 
  25. ^ Vladimir Nabokov at Find a Grave
  26. ^ Connolly, Kate (22 April 2008). "Nabokov's last work will not be burned". The Guardian. UK. Archived from the original on 24 July 2008. Retrieved 24 June 2008. 
  27. ^ "Interview with Dmitri Nabokov". NPR.org. 30 April 2008. 
  28. ^ Van Gelder, Lawrence (28 April 2008). "Son Plans to Publish Nabokov's Last Novel". The New York Times. Retrieved 12 February 2009. 
  29. ^ "Sein letztes Spiel". Die Zeit (in German). 14 August 2008. Retrieved 12 February 2009. 
  30. ^ "Playboy gets exclusive rights to publish Nabokov's last work /". Mosnews.com. Archived from the original on 12 March 2010. Retrieved 10 March 2010. 
  31. ^ a b c d Nabokov, Vladimir (2001). Karlinsky, Simon, ed. Dear Bunny, Dear Volodya: The Nabokov-Wilson Letters, 1940–1971 (Revised ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press. :268
  32. ^ Updike, John. Hugging the Shore. p. 221. 
  33. ^ Toffler, Alvin. "Playboy interview: Vladimir Nabokov". Playboy. Playboy. Retrieved 5 December 2013. 
  34. ^ Whiteman, Alden (5 July 1977). "Vladimir Nabokov, Author of 'Lolita' and 'Ada,' Is Dead". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 February 2009. 
  35. ^ Wershler, Darren (2010). "The Locative, the Ambient, and the Hallucinatory in the Internet of Things". Design and Culture. 2 (2). 
  36. ^ Strehle, Susan (1971). Actualism: Pynchon's Debt to Nabokov. University of Wisconsin Press. pp. 37–38. 
  37. ^ Collected by Fredson Bowers in 1980 and published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
  38. ^ "Kitsch Magazine". Kitsch Magazine. Retrieved 5 December 2015. 
  39. ^ Epstein, Edward Jay (4 April 2013). "An A from Nabokov". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 5 June 2018. 
  40. ^ Martin, Patrick. "Synaesthesia, metaphor and right-brain functioning" in Egoist.
  41. ^ "Nabokov's interview". BBC Television. 1962. Retrieved 5 December 2015 – via kulichki.com. 
  42. ^ Foster, John Burt (1993). Nabokov's Art of Memory and European Modernism. Princeton University Press. pp. 26–32. 
  43. ^ Todd, Kim. Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis. Harcourt. p. 11. ISBN 978-0-15-101108-7. 
  44. ^ "Butterflies and moths bearing Nabokov's name". libraries.psu.edu. Zembla. 1996. Retrieved 12 February 2009. 
  45. ^ Pick, Nancy; Sloan, Mark (2004). The Rarest of the Rare: Stories Behind the Treasures at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. Harper. ISBN 978-0-06-053718-0. Retrieved 10 March 2010. 
  46. ^ a b Pick, Nancy (Spring 2005). "Blood, Sweat, and Bones" (PDF). Colloquy (Alumni Quarterly). Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University: 8. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 September 2015. Retrieved 19 November 2014. 
  47. ^ Zimmer, Carl (25 January 2011). "Nabokov Theory on Butterfly Evolution Is Vindicated". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 January 2011. 
  48. ^ Dragunoiu, Dana (2011). Vladimir Nabokov and the Poetics of Liberalism. Northwestern University Press. p. 17. 
  49. ^ a b c Nabokov, Vladimir (1990). Strong opinions. Vintage Books. 
  50. ^ Dragunoiu, Dana (2011). Vladimir Nabokov and the Poetics of Liberalism. Northwestern University Press. p. 29. 
  51. ^ Wyllie, Barbara (2010). Vladimir Nabokov. London. p. 22. 
  52. ^ Boyd, Brian (2016). Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years. Princeton University Press. p. 41. 
  53. ^ a b Larmour, David Henry James (2002). Discourse and ideology in Nabokov's prose. Routledge. p. 17. 
  54. ^ Pifer, Ellen (2003). Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita: A Casebook. Oxford University Press. pp. 195–199. 
  55. ^ a b Pitzer, Andrea (2013). The Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov. Open Road Media. [page needed]
  56. ^ Schiff, Stacy (2000). Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov). Random House Digital. [page needed]
  57. ^ Epstein, Jacob (2002). Book business: publishing past, present, and future. W. W. Norton. pp. 76–77. 
  58. ^ Morton, Donald E. (1974). Vladimir Nabokov. F. Ungar Publishing Company. p. 8. ISBN 9780804426381. Nabokov is a self-affirmed agnostic in matters religious, political, and philosophical. 
  59. ^ Frank, Siggy (2012). Nabokov's Theatrical Imagination. Cambridge University Press. p. 170. 
  60. ^ Pifer, Ellen (1999). Connolly, Julian W., ed. "Her monster, his nymphet: Nabokov and Mary Shelley". Nabokov and His Fiction: New Perspectives. Cambridge University Press. 
  61. ^ Rutledge, David S. (2011). "fn. 7". Nabokov's Permanent Mystery: The Expression of Metaphysics in His Work. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. p. 187. 
  62. ^ From Chapter 1: "Martin's first books were in English: his mother loathed the Russian magazine for children Zadushevnoe Slovo (The Heartfelt Word), and inspired in him such aversion for Madame Charski's young heroines with dusky complexions and titles that even later Martin was wary of any book written by a woman, sensing even in the best of such books an unconscious urge on the part of a middle-aged and perhaps chubby lady to dress up in a pretty name and curl up on the sofa like a pussy cat."
  63. ^ Chamberlain, Lesley (2006). The Philosophy Steamer. Great Britain: Atlantic Books. p. 283. ISBN 978 184354 093 9. 
  64. ^ Wood, James. "Discussing Nabokov", Slate. Retrieved 12 April 2008.
  65. ^ Siegel, Jules. "Who is Thomas Pynchon, and why did he take off with my wife?" Playboy, March 1977.
  66. ^ Strehle, Susan. "Actualism: Pynchon's Debt to Nabokov", Contemporary Literature 24.1, Spring 1983. pp. 30–50.
  67. ^ "John Banville", The Guardian. Retrieved 12 April 2008.
  68. ^ Gussow, Mel. "Toasting (and Analyzing) Nabokov; Cornell Honors the Renaissance Man Who, oh Yes, Wrote 'Lolita'", The New York Times, 15 September 1998.
  69. ^ Lowery, George (23 October 2007). "Bombs, bands and birds recalled as novelist Salman Rushdie trips down memory lane". Cornell Chronicle. Cornell University. Retrieved 12 February 2009. 
  70. ^ "An Interview with Edmund White". Bookslut.com. February 2007. Retrieved 12 April 2008. 
  71. ^ "John Hawkes: An Interview. 20 March 1964. John J. Enck and John Hawkes," Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature 6.2 (summer 1965): 144. See also see also Maxim D. Shrayer, "Writing in Tongues," Brown Alumni Monthly September/October 2017; Bez Nabokova," Snob.ru 2 July 2017.
  72. ^ Chabon, Michael (July 2006). "It Changed My Life". michaelchabon.com. Archived from the original on 2006-07-20. Retrieved 12 February 2009. 
  73. ^ Stringer-Hye, Suellen. "VN Collation No.26". Zembla. Retrieved 12 February 2009. 
  74. ^ "Q & A with Jeffrey Eugenides". fifthestate.co.uk. 12 April 2008. 
  75. ^ Maxim D. Shrayer. Interlude: Literature Is Love. In: Shrayer. Waiting for America: A Story of Emigration. Syracuse, 2006. P. 185; Maxim D. Shrayer. Waiting for Nabokov, New Writing, 5:1 (2008): 35-40
  76. ^ "A Conversation with T. C. Boyle". penguingroup.com. Penguin Reading Guides. Archived from the original on 11 December 2004. 
  77. ^ "An interview with Marisha Pessl". Bookslut.com. September 2006. Retrieved 15 June 2007. 
  78. ^ Cohen, Lisa (February–March 1997). "Review: The Emigrants by W. G. Sebald". Boston Review. 
  79. ^ Brian Boyd p. 37
  80. ^ Whitman, Alden (23 April 1969). "Interview with Vladimir Nabokov". The New York Times. p. 20. 

Further reading[edit]


  • Boyd, Brian. Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990. ISBN 0-691-06794-5 (hardback) 1997. ISBN 0-691-02470-7 (paperback). London: Chatto & Windus, 1990. ISBN 0-7011-3700-2 (hardback)
  • Boyd, Brian. Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991. ISBN 0-691-06797-X (hardback) 1993. 0-691-02471-5 (paperback). London: Chatto & Windus, 1992. ISBN 0-7011-3701-0 (hardback)
  • Chien, Evelyn Nien-Ming (2005). "A Shuttlecock Over the Atlantic". Weird English. Cambridge, Massachusetts; London: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-01819-8. 
  • Field, Andrew. VN The Life and Art of Vladimir Nabokov. New York: Crown Publishers. 1986. ISBN 0-517-56113-1
  • Golla, Robert. Conversations with Vladimir Nabokov. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. 2017. ISBN 978-1496810953
  • Parker, Stephen Jan. Understanding Vladimir Nabokov. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press. 1987. ISBN 978-0872494954
  • Proffer, Elendea, ed. Vladimir Nabokov: A Pictorial Biography. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1991. ISBN 0-87501-078-4 (a collection of photographs)
  • Rivers, J.E., and Nicol, Charles. Nabokov's Fifth Arc. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1982. ISBN 978-0-292-75522-2.
  • Schiff, Stacy. Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov). New York, NY.: Random House, 1999. ISBN 0-679-44790-3.


  • Alexandrov, Vladimir E. (1991). Nabokov's otherworld. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-06866-4. 
  • Bader, Julia (1972). Crystal land; artifice in Nabokov's English novels. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-02167-9. 
  • Barabtarlo, Gennady (1989). Phantom of fact: a guide to Nabokov's Pnin. Ann Arbor: Ardis. ISBN 978-0-87501-060-1. 
  • Blackwell, Stephen H. (2009). The quill and the scalpel: Nabokov's art and the worlds of science. Columbus: Ohio State University Press. ISBN 978-0-8142-1099-4. 
  • Boyd, Brian (1999). Nabokov's Pale fire: the magic of artistic discovery. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-00959-9. 
  • Connolly, Julian W. (2009). A reader's guide to Nabokov's "Lolita". Studies in Russian and Slavic literatures, cultures and history. Boston: Academic Studies Press. ISBN 978-1-934843-65-9. 
  • Foster, John Burt (1993). Nabokov's art of memory and European modernism. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-06971-5. 
  • Hardy, James D.; Martin, Ann (2011). "Light of my life": love, time and memory in Nabokov's Lolita. Jefferson, N.C. ; London: McFarland & Co. ISBN 978-0-7864-6357-2. 
  • Johnson, Donald B. (1985). Worlds in regression: some novels of Vladimir Nabokov. Ann Arbor: Ardis. ISBN 978-0-88233-908-5. 
  • Livry, Anatoly. «Nabokov le Nietzschéen», HERMANN, Paris, 2010 (in French)
  • Ливри, Анатолий. Физиология Сверхчеловека. Введение в третье тысячелетие. СПб.: Алетейя, 2011. – 312 с. https://web.archive.org/web/20110816062952/http://exlibris.ng.ru/non-fiction/2011-06-02/6_game.html
  • Meyer, Priscilla (1988). Find what the sailor has hidden: Vladimir Nabokov's Pale fire (1st ed.). Middletown, Conn: Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 978-0-8195-5206-8. 
  • Morris, Paul Duncan (2010). Vladimir Nabokov: poetry and the lyric voice. Toronto ; Buffalo: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-1-4426-4020-7. 
  • Nicol, Charles; Barabtarlo, Gennady, eds. (1993). A Small Alpine form: studies in Nabokov's short fiction. Garland reference library of the humanities. New York: Garland. ISBN 978-0-8153-0857-7. 
  • Pifer, Ellen (1980). Nabokov and the novel. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-59840-9. 
  • Rutledge, David S. (2011). Nabokov's permanent mystery: the expression of metaphysics in his work. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland & Co. ISBN 978-0-7864-6076-2. 
  • Schuman, Samuel (2014). Nabokov's Shakespeare. New York: Bloomsbury. ISBN 978-1-62892-426-8. 
  • Shrayer, Maxim D. (1998). The World of Nabokov's Stories. Literary modernism series. Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0-292-77733-0. 
  • Julian W. Connolly, ed. (1999). "Jewish Questions in Nabokov's Life and Art". Nabokov and his fiction: new perspectives. Cambridge studies in Russian literature. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 73–91. ISBN 978-0-521-63283-6. 
  • Toker, Leona (1989). Nabokov: the mystery of literary structures. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0-8014-2211-9. 
  • Trousdale, Rachel (2010). Nabokov, Rushdie, and the transnational imagination: novels of exile and alternate worlds (1st ed.). New York: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-230-10261-3. 
  • Wood, Michael (1995). The magician's doubts: Nabokov and the risks of fiction. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-00632-1. 
  • Azam Zanganeh, Lila (2011). The enchanter: Nabokov and happiness (1st ed.). New York: W.W. Norton & Co. ISBN 978-0-393-07992-0. 


  • Juliar, Michael. Vladimir Nabokov: A Descriptive Bibliography. New York: Garland Publishing, 1986. ISBN 0-8240-8590-6.
  • Montalbán, Manuel Vázquez; Glasauer, Willi. Escenas de la Literatura Universal y Retratos de Grandes Autores. Barcelona: Círculo de Lectores, 1988.
  • Alexandrov, Vladimir E., ed. The Garland Companion to Vladimir Nabokov. New York: Garland Publishing, 1995. ISBN 0-8153-0354-8.
  • Funke, Sarah. Véra's Butterflies: First Editions by Vladimir Nabokov Inscribed to his Wife. New York: Glenn Horowitz Bookseller, 1999. ISBN 0-9654020-1-0.

Media adaptations[edit]


  • Johnson, Kurt, and Steve Coates. Nabokov's blues: The scientific odyssey of a literary genius. New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-137330-6 (very accessibly written)
  • Sartori, Michel, ed. Les Papillons de Nabokov [The butterflies of Nabokov]. Lausanne: Musée cantonal de Zoologie, 1993. ISBN 2-9700051-0-7 (exhibition catalogue, primarily in English)
  • Zimmer, Dieter E. A Guide to Nabokov's Butterflies and Moths. Privately published, 2001. ISBN 3-00-007609-3 (web page)


  • Deroy, Chloé, Vladimir Nabokov, Icare russe et Phénix américain (2010). Dijon: EUD
  • Gezari, Janet K.; Wimsatt, W. K., "Vladimir Nabokov: More Chess Problems and the Novel", Yale French Studies, No. 58, In Memory of Jacques Ehrmann: Inside Play Outside Game (1979), pp. 102–115, Yale University Press.

External links[edit]

  • Vladimir-Nabokov.org – Site of the Vladimir Nabokov French Society, Enchanted Researchers (Société française Vladimir Nabokov : Les Chercheurs Enchantés).