Vladimir Nabokov — A biography of European years

Son of Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov, a liberal politician, and Elena Ivanovna, Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov was a novelist, poet and lepidopterologist who was born on April 23rd, 1899, in St. Petersburg, Russia. The oldest of five children in an aristocratic family, the young Nabokov learned and spoke three languages at home — English, French and Russian. He described his childhood as perfect and lived all his life missing those times, being the nostalgia a very important and present aspect in his literature. With large interest in art, chess and butterflies, he also played a lot of sports, like soccer, tennis and boxing. Furthermore, he had a special condition named sinestesia — which means he could see colors in letters. In 1916, he published, by himself, his first book of poems.

Although all those aspects that might suggest a bright and stable future, in 1917, with the Bolshevik Revolution, his family left Russia — the country he loved — to never return. He and his brother, Sergey, enrolled in Cambridge, where VN studied French and Russian Literature and translated, by that time, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland to Russian language. The Nabokov family had settled in Berlin, Germany. Unfortunately, in 1922, his father was murdered by two right-wing assassins who were attempting to kill the politician Pavel Miliukov. After that, Elena, VN’s mother, decided to live in Prague, where she was offered a government pension.

Young Vladimir Nabokov

After his graduation in Cambridge, Vladimir Nabokov moved to Berlin, where there were a large Russian population of émigrés. He published short stories and books in his mother language, using the pseudonym “Vladimir Sirin” to avoid confusion with his father, and became a prestigious writer in émigré community. He had different works to improve his income, living with little money. In 1923, he met a Russian woman, Vera Slonim. They married in 1925; had a son, Dmitri, in 1934; and stayed together until Nabokov’s death, in 1977. Because of the profound disgust with the Nazi regime and because of Vera’s Jewish heritage, they needed to move to Paris in 1937. He continued writing in Russian, publishing some of his books there, but he couldn’t obtain a work authorization. In 1940, he was invited to work in America, leaving Paris just two weeks before the Nazi occupation in France.

He lived in America until 1961, teaching, studying butterflies and writing in English. Nabokov restructured all his literature and language, being considered one of the best English novelists in the 20th century. Then, he and his wife moved to Montreux, Switzerland. Lolita, his most famous book, allowed him to dedicate his life only to literature, translation and butterflies hunting.

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