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The Tender Friendship and the Charm of Perfect Accord

Nabokov and His Father

Gavriel Shapiro

Publication Year: 2014

Vladimir Nabokov (1899–1977), a writer of world renown, grew up in a culturally refined family with diverse interests. Nabokov’s father, Vladimir Dmitrievich (1870–1922), was a distinguished jurist and statesman at the turn of the twentieth century. He was also a great connoisseur and aficionado of literature, painting, theater, and music as well as a passionate butterfly collector, keen chess player, and avid athlete. This book, the first of its kind, examines Vladimir Nabokov’s life and works as impacted by his distinguished father. It demonstrates that V. D. Nabokov exerted the most fundamental influence on his son, making this examination pivotal to understanding the writer’s personality and his world perception, as well as his literary, scholarly, and athletic accomplishments. The book contains never heretofore published archival materials. It is appended with rare articles by Nabokov and his father and is accompanied by old photographs. In addition, the book constitutes a survey of sorts of Russian civilization at the turn of the twentieth century by providing a partial view of the multifaceted picture of Imperial Russia in its twilight hours. The book illumines the historical background, political struggle, juridical battles, and literary and artistic life as well as athletic activities during the epoch, rich in cultural events and fraught with sociopolitical upheavals. Cover illustration: Vladimir Nabokov and his father, 1906. The Nabokov family photographs. Copyright © The Estate of Vladimir Nabokov, used by permission of The Wylie Agency, LLC; and of The Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Contents

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pp. vii-viii

Note on Transliteration

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pp. ix-x

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xi-xii

List of Illustrations

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pp. xiii-xiv

Acknowledgments

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pp. xv-xviii

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Introduction

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pp. 1-6

The family milieu habitually exerts an important, often decisive, influence on a human being. It has been long observed and established that parents, specifically fathers, “are in a unique position to be the most powerful single source of influence on a child, and the only consistent influence the child is exposed to throughout childhood.”1 Vladimir Nabokov (1899–1977), one of the most celebrated writers of our time, is no exception. He grew up in a refined family of diverse interests. The liberal values and wide-ranging cultural activities of the writer’s parents had a crucial impact on his worldview, personality, predilections, and tastes.

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1. Jurisprudence

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pp. 7-45

Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov was a jurist by occupation. In his choice of profession, he followed in the footsteps of his father, Dmitri Nikolaevich (1826–1904), who served as the minister of justice (1878–85) under two tsars and who oversaw the implementation of the legal reforms introduced in the reign of Alexander II. Among D. N. Nabokov’s most important accomplishments was the preservation of the jury system that the reactionary forces led by Konstantin Pobedonostsev, the chief procurator of the Holy Synod, sought to abolish...

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2. Politics

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pp. 46-95

After being forced to resign from teaching for his opposition to and outspokenness against the regime policies, Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov continued to be active as a jurist by addressing various legal matters in his books and articles, by taking active part in Russian judicial organizations, and by attending domestic and international professional symposia. At the same time, while still teaching criminal law at the Imperial School of Jurisprudence, he became involved in the political life of Russia. His judicial and political activities went hand in hand and complemented each other...

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3. Literature

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pp. 96-139

Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov was a great aficionado and connoisseur of literature. His diverse literary interests are manifest in his voluminous library at the St. Petersburg family residence, which contained, alongside professional books, belles lettres in English, French, German, Italian, Russian, and other languages.2 A passionate bibliophile, Vladimir Dmitrievich possessed broad literary erudition. This is confirmed by even such an unfavorably inclined memoirist as Kornei Chukovsky...

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4. Painting, Theater, and Music

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pp. 140-179

In chapter 3, I have shown V. D. Nabokov’s great appreciation for and outstanding erudition in belles lettres and his impact on his son’s literary edification and tastes. No less passionately did the senior Nabokov love painting, theater, and music. In this chapter, I demonstrate Vladimir Dmitrievich’s deep and sophisticated knowledge in these three spheres of culture and discuss its bearing on his eldest son...

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5. Lepidoptera, Chess, and Sports

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pp. 180-222

Alongside the devotion to creative writing that became Nabokov’s lifetime vocation, his great fascination with the fine arts, interest in theater, and enviable knowledge of music, V. D. Nabokov inculcated in his firstborn a lasting passion for butterflies and an enduring enthusiasm for chess and sports. All of these pursuits, without which Nabokov’s persona and his literary legacy cannot be fully comprehended, manifest themselves in his oeuvre...

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Conclusion

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pp. 223-230

In this book, I have examined the various ways in which Nabokov’s personality and worldview were affected by his father. To be sure, their lives were different in so many ways. Nabokov lived to the rather advanced age of seventy-eight and died of natural causes, whereas his father was cut down in the prime of life, shortly before his fifty-second birthday. Nabokov attained enormous success as a world-famous writer, whereas his father, who steadfastly toiled to create a democratic Russia, only witnessed his life’s work destroyed by the Bolshevik usurpation of power, his own name and accomplishments gradually relegated into undeserved oblivion from which history only recently has begun extricating him...

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Appendix 1: V. D. Nabokov, “The Kishinev Bloodbath”

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pp. 231-238

Everyone in whom human sentiment is not dead has read the sad tale of the Kishinev pogroms with deep indignation and heartache. Already a concise government report that enumerated the dead and the wounded, in spite of its laconism and official aridity, made it possible to guess that something monstrous had happened.1...

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Appendix 2: V. D. Nabokov, “Soviet Rule and Russia’s Future”

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pp. 239-262

When in the autumn of 1917 the question of a Bolshevist coup d’état was discussed in authoritative circles, all those in Russia who admitted this contingency—and there were not a few—entertained no doubt that the duration of a Bolshevist regime would be ephemeral. These anticipations were based on essentially the same line of argument as those which were applied to the great European War. In August, 1914, everybody thought that in 1915 all would be over...

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Appendix 3: Vladimir Nabokov, “What Faith Means to a Resisting People”

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pp. 263-264

When a certain scientist in a certain country after a certain civic upheaval was asked officially how he regarded the new regime, his answer was, “with surprise.” To a normal human being it is a surprise to discover that one’s mind is something that can and must be nationalized and rationed by the government, and this is about all that can be said about modern dictatorships. In themselves they are much too ugly and dull and unappetizing to provoke anything more than contempt...

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Appendix 4: Vladimir Nabokov, “About Opera”

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pp. 265-268

It would be rather amusing to find out whether or not opera is a natural art. By natural art I mean such art that either has its likeness or correspondence in nature, as for example a Doric column or Beethoven sonata, or that directly emulates nature and human life, as for example painting or theater. The question about the naturalness of opera, of course, gets more complicated in that opera is a mixture of several arts; it is necessary therefore to determine whether this mixture is something natural, or more precisely, which conditions are required for this mixture to be natural. Let’s begin ab ovo...

Bibliography

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pp. 269-292

Index

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pp. 293-306


E-ISBN-13: 9780472029891
E-ISBN-10: 0472029894

Page Count: 328
Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Nabokov, Vladimir Vladimirovich, 1899-1977 -- Family.
  • Nabokov, Vladimir, 1869-1922 -- Family.
  • Authors, Russian -- 20th century -- Biography.
  • Fathers and sons -- Russia -- Biography.
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