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Vladimir Nabokov's Biography

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Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov was born on April 23, 1899 in St. Petersburg, Russia.

However, the precise date of birth has a story to it, as Vladimir Nabokov himself relates in his autobiography, Speak Memory:

"By the Old Style I was born on 10 April at daybreak, in the last year of the last century, and that was (if I could have been whisked across the border at once) 22 April in, say, Germany; but; since all my birthdays were celebrated, with diminishing pomp, in the twentieth century, everybody, including myself, upon being shifted by revolution and expatriation from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian, used to add thirteen, instead of the twelve days to the 10th of April. The error is serious. What is to be done? I find '23 April' under 'birth date' in my most recent passport, which is also the birthdate of Shakespeare, my nephew Vladimir Sikorski, Shirley Temple and Hazel Brown (who, moreover, shares my passport)."

The Nabokovs were a cultured, liberal family. As a boy Nabokov was already reading the likes of Poe, Keats, Flaubert, Rimbaud, Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Vladimir's father was an opponent of anti-semitism and a leader of the opposition party, the Kadets. In 1919, When the Bolsheviks seized power, he took his family into exile. First to London and then to Berlin, where in 1923 he was shot dead at a political rally in Berlin while trying to shield the speaker from right-wing assassins.

Vladimir Nabokov had only just rejoined his family after finishing Slavic and romance languages at Trinity College, Cambridge.

From 1923 to 1940 Vladimir Nabokov published novels, short stories, plays, poems and translations. He lived in Berlin and Paris, often writing under the pseudonym Sirin.

In 1925 Vladimir Nabokov had married Vera Slonim, with whom he had a son, Dmitri. In 1940 they moved to America where Nabokov was a lecturer at Wellesley College from 1941 to 1948 and then Professor of Russian Literature at Cornell University until he retired in 1959.

In 1959, he published his first novel written in English, The Real Life of Sebastien Knight. Other works that followed included Bend Sinister (1947), Lolita (1955), Pnin (1957), and Pale Fire (1962).

Lolita is Vladimir Nabokov's most famous novel. Nabokov once said: 'Lolita is famous, not I'.

Nabokov failed to find a publisher in America and in the end turned to the Olympia Press in Paris, who had published the likes of Samuel Beckett.

In The Olympia Press's edition of Lolita, it has a 'Publisher's Digression', which says:

"Publication, in September 1955, was followed by complete silence. For many months sales were ridiculously low, until Lolita received publicity from an unexpected quarter.

"A columnist named John Gordon wrote in the London Sunday Express of January 29, 1956:

"Has Mr Graham Greene, of Third Man fame, been pulling the leg of the sedate Sunday Times?

"He was asked by that newspaper to help its readers in their choice of good reading ...On his recommendation I bought Lolita. Without doubt it is the filthiest book I have ever read. Sheer unrestrained pornography. It's central character is a pervert with a passion for debauching what he calls 'nymphets'. ... The entire book is devoted to an exhaustive, uninhibited and utterly disgusting description of his pursuits and successes.

"It is published in France. Anyone who published it or sold it here would certainly go to prison ..." "

In the ensuing controversy, Lolita was banned in France on December 20, 1956. In the aforementioned publishers note, it explains how it successfully fought against that ban but was (at the time of their writing) in the process of fighting another ban imposed on July 1958.

On February 8, 1957, U.S. Customs replied to a letter from the publishers saying that although copies of the book had been before their office, they had been released. Publication in America was therefore possible. An American edition was published on August 18, 1958 and dominated the best-seller list.

Stanley Kubrick came to film the book in 1961 and the book has sold in excess of 50 million copies in 20 languages.

Vladimir Nabokov spent his last years in Montreux, Switzerland where amongst many things he translated Zuschita Luschina (1929) into "The Luzhin Defense". It is a must for any chess fan (better than the film) and is emblematic of Nabokov's love of chess and chess problems.

Vladimir Nabokov died in Montreux in 1977.

In April 2008, Dmitri Nabokov, the son of Vladimir Nabokov, decided to publish the writer's final work, Laura, which was incomplete when Nabokov died and he had told his family to burn it.

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