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Who Was Vladimir Nabokov?

Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977) is not one of my most favorite writers, but then my most favorite writers are Pope and Swift, Dante and Corneille, Goethe and Tolstoy (not mentioning Theocritus, Vergil, and Marcus Aurelius) compared to whom any modern writer looks rather like a peculiarly dressed dwarf; however, when Nabokov is accused of some artistic or human sin, I always rush to defend him.

The present essay was prompted, in part, by the newest volume on Nabokov by Andrew Field—VN: The Life and Art of Vladimir Nabokov—the volume which generated hostile reviews from people who consider Nabokov one of the best writers who ever lived, and a favorable reaction from those who think of him as but a juggler of exquisite images and intricate words, a snob with eccentric literary tastes, and an unrepentant political conservative.

The controversy renewed my interest in Nabokov. I reread many of his works and tried to formulate my thoughts on who, after all, Vladimir Nabokov was.

In 1923, a year after his father was assassinated, 24-year-old Nabokov wrote these lines to his grieving and devastated mother:

. . . We shall again see him, in an unexpected but completely natural paradise, in a country where everything is radiance and finesse. He will walk toward us in our common bright eternity, slightly raising his shoulders in the way that he used...

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