The Real Life of Sebastian Knight: Biography

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Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov was born on April 10 (or New Style, April 22), 1899, the eldest of five children, in St. Petersburg, Russia, to Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov and Elena Ivanovna Nabokov. The family had wealth and a country estate, and served the court of the Russian Tsars. He began reading modern poetry and writing poems in Russian, French, and English. In 1916, Nabokov's uncle Rukavishnikov left him a large inheritance including a Russian country estate. Within a year, however, he lost it as a result of the Russian Revolution in 1917. The Nabokovs escaped to the Crimea, losing their rank and property, with his father barely escaping arrest. The family never returned to Russia. Nabokov attended Trinity College at Cambridge where he studied zoology, then earned a degree in modern and medieval French and Russian.

The family moved to Berlin in 1920 where Nabokov's father became editor of a newspaper and where Nabokov published poetry under the name of Vladimir Sirin. His father was shot and killed trying to defend a former Russian politician at an event. This accident, where his father was assassinated instead of the person intended, is seen as a constant motif in the author's writing, of missed or chance events and deaths, and overlapping fates. Nabokov earned money from translations, poetry, journalism, and composing chess problems, as well as teaching Russian emigrants. He married Vera Slonim in 1925, a Russian Jew, who could recite his poetry by heart. She was his indispensable assistant. In 1926, he wrote his first novel in Russian, Mashen'ka.

Nabokov continued to become known as a Russian novelist. In 1934, a year after Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany, Vera gave birth to their only child, Dmitri. When Nabokov went to Paris in 1937 looking for a safe place for his family, he had an affair with Irina Guadanini, causing him great anguish. Finally he returned to his family, reconciling with Vera, as they moved to France. To gain a better income and wider following, Nabokov began writing in English. The Real Life of Sebastian Knight was begun in 1938 and published in 1941. It was not very successful. Nabokov was affected by the tragedies of the Russian Revolution and the world wars, yet he did not write about politics, even though his brother Sergei died in a German concentration camp. When the Germans invaded France in 1940, the Nabokovs went to the United States where the author wrote book reviews, had teaching appointments at Wellesley College, Stanford, Cornell, and a research position at Harvard and the American Museum of Natural History with his Lepidoptera studies. He gave lectures on Russian literature while writing novels in English. He published stories in the Atlantic and the New Yorker, and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship.

In 1947, Nabokov published Nine Stories.Lolita was published in France in 1955, and in the United States in 1958. Though controversial, it made his reputation. Other famous works include Pale Fire (1962),Ada,(1969), and Transparent Things(1972). From 1961, Nabokov lived in Switzerland, where he died in 1977 of influenza and pneumonia. One of the greatest fiction writers of the twentieth century, he had written seventeen novels, sixty short stories, poems, and dramas, in both English and Russian.

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