A question for the group: is Nabokov Russian?

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A question for the group: is Nabokov Russian?

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Jul 4, 2007, 12:24pm

He wrote in Russian and published in Russian during his Sirin-phase. But his fame comes from the American novels, and he spent the majority of his life outside of Russia.

So, in the scope of the group, and just to spark some conversation, was Nabokov the Author a)Russian, b)American, c)English, or d) a well-blended synchretic pan-European hybrid that just happened to write his most innovative work in English?

Jul 4, 2007, 12:55pm

gregtmills: i'd say d or a; but probably a. He had an english nanny, and went to Cambridge, but that didn't make him an enlishman as any englishman will admit. I thing Russia was always a huge part of his soul, and he only lived in Germany and the US to make a living. As soon as he had the Lolita money, he went to Montreux, and lived in an hotel, so Vera could live like a Russian Aristocrat with servants. She never would have had to do housework in Russia before the revolution, and Nabokov himself came from a wealthy aristocratic family in spite of their liberal politics. So would you call him Swiss because he liked Swiss hotels? Their service is good, and so is their food. Swiss hoteliers are the gold standard for the world in discreet behavior.

Jul 4, 2007, 1:42pm

If you'll allow me a banal observation, his most "American" novels (I'm thinking Pnin, Lolita and Pale Fire) are written from the perspective of a bewildered (Pnin), bemused (Humbert) or just plain disassociated (Kinbote) European narrator.

Write what you know, I guess.

As for the Swiss, I like their cheese and the knives of their armed forces. But I am not Swiss.

Jul 1, 2011, 5:18pm

Yes, what a good question. And what would Nabokov himself think? He certainly spent his most critical formative years of childhood in Russia and this is pretty much what determines a person. We all do grow "spiritually" later on and Nabokov of course did borrow a lot from many cultures. He did spend long periods of time in many countries, not just Russia and America. He is really a creative soul, who found his life's calling I guess.

Jul 2, 2011, 12:00pm

Regarding politics: I recall Nabokov was a subscriber to National Review and a friend of William F. Buckley. Wikipedia describes his politics this way:

Nabokov described himself as a classical liberal, in the tradition of his father. Throughout his life he was profoundly opposed to all forms of socialism and fascism. In a poem he wrote in 1917, he described the Bolshevik revolutionaries as "grey rag-tag people." Later, during his American period, he expressed contempt for student activism, and all collective movements. In both letters and interviews, he shows a profound contempt for the left-wing protest movements of the 1960s, describing the protestors as "conformists" and "goofy hoodlums."

Jul 31, 2011, 6:39am

There is no doubt that Nabokov was Russian. He is part of a long tradition of Russian emigré authors that includes Turgenev and today Andre Makine based in Paris and Olga Grushin based in New York. Two things that strike me about this tradition is that nostalgia for Russia and the imprint that Russia makes in their early lives is an important feature of their writing. The other is their extraordinary ability to write so fluently in a second language. Turgenev, Makine and Grushin display their nostalgia for Russia blatantly. Nabokov less so, in fact is there any echo of Russia in a book such as Lolita?

Editado: Out 6, 2011, 10:18am

Nabokov is as American as Tarte Tatin. For me, America is Hemingway, Melville, and (unfortunately) Fitzgerald. I thank God Nabokov wrote in English, and brilliantly to boot, but he's European if not Russian through and through.

Out 6, 2011, 9:30am

Well, of course he was a multi-lingual Russian/European. I think he became a US citizen in 1939ish. Here's an interesting comment he made about the subject:

"An American writer means, in the present case, a writer who has been an American citizen for a quarter of a century. It means, moreover, that all my works first appear in America. It also means that America is the only country where I feel mentally and emotionally at home."

Editado: Out 6, 2011, 10:53am

That's certainly flattering, but I think he's qualifying the designation to an extent. Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, etc...Poe, Hawthorne; these are American writers.

He became an American citizen out of necessity. Still, you won't find a bigger admirer of Nabokov than me and if someone wants to consider him an American author, that is fine. He did move to Switzerland when he had the money to do so, and on his grave it says: ecrivain. I believe America provided a safe haven for this talented man to work and in that sense it deserves credit. Lolita is certainly a wonderful driving tour of the States and the Haze women are acute representations of mid-century New England affectation. Perhaps if he stayed in America he wouldn't have died from a series of bungled hospital visits...

Out 25, 2011, 9:14pm

One of the great ways to piss off Russians is by suggesting Nabokov is an American writer. He's not unfortunately, demonstrated not so much by biographical facts as much as by how is writing is so far removed from his contemporary Americans. If you read his work in parallal with his American contemporaries , it is clear that he belongs in the European tradition. An intersting aside and a point against the Russian writer argument is that his father sent his dry-cleaning to England.

Editado: Out 26, 2011, 6:20pm

Just saw this yesterday, hopefully my library will buy it:


On a presonal note, I just have Speak Memory. It is quite an oeuvre, to say the least. I think I may reread Ada soon. Maybe this spring. I read Pale Fire last fall. Boy, once Kinbote's narrative takes over...utterly fantastic.

* Here is a little bit of obsessiveness by master obsessor Rosenbaum concerning the actual merits of Shade's poem:


Perhaps my palate isn't fine enough for poetry...

Nov 11, 2011, 3:06pm

He was Russian, but a master of the English language and an expert in American culture.

Nov 27, 2011, 6:27pm

I think that there is a difference between Nabokov as a person and Nabokov as a writer.

His books are an amalgam of literary traditions and culture of all these countries where he lived, so I would agree with some of you and go with "a pan-European hybrid" who was "an expert in American culture". As an individual, attaching himself to one particular nationality was entirely up to him and whatever he felt like at this or that period of his life. But yes, many Russians get angry with rage whenever another country tries to appropriate him.

Editado: Dez 9, 2011, 3:34pm

I think that trying to call him American or Russian is unhelpfully reductionist. He was an emigre Russian writer. He was an emigre Russian writer who began writing in English (he grew up bi-lingual in Russian and English). And many other things as well, clearly. But to try to squash him into a box is a misguided exercise, in this LTer's humble opinion!

Jul 3, 2012, 2:08pm

In publishing terms, he can certainly be called an American writer. He is recognised as one of American classics. He can also be described as Russian writer. He primarily wrote in English and Russian. But the most appropriate term here would be a world writer. He is certainly an internationally recognised classic

Editado: Set 3, 2012, 12:16pm

Sorry, wrong thread!

Editado: Set 3, 2012, 12:16pm

And wrong thread again! (I've moved a couple of posts.)

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