Flawed Genius

Vladimir Nabokov—like Hemingway, Lorca, and Borges—was born in 1899, began life in the stable Victorian era, lived through the horrors of the Great War, and came to artistic maturity in the 1920’s.  Driven out of Russia by the revolution of 1917, exiled in Berlin and Paris for the next two decades, Nabokov reached New York in 1940.  Like the magnificent butterflies he so lovingly studied, he adapted perfectly to his American habitat.  He was handsome, witty, and athletic, multilingual, sophisticated, cosmopolitan—and nice.  He had an engaging personality and a brilliant mind, and he was a versatile man of letters with a catholic interest in both science and art.

Nabokov’s training as an entomologist inspired his interest in minute details and the exactness of his literary works.  Unlike the scientifically trained Aldous Huxley, Arthur Koestler, and Norman Mailer (with his Reichian orgone box), however, Nabokov never derailed into fuzzy mysticism.  As an amusing, flamboyant, and formidable teacher at Wellesley College (1941-48) and Cornell University (1948-59), he combined the precision and patience of the scientist with the passion and pity of the artist.  His regal demeanor, aristocratic manners and old-world charm, superb acting, rich Russian-French intonation and eccentric personality, idiosyncratic ideas, lively wit, and enthusiasm for literature all made a profound...

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