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Vladimir Nabokov was forced to leave his native Russia in 1919 at the age of twenty to escape what he called "the bloated octopus of the state." He took with him a passionate love for his homeland and for the "fiery, fanciful, free" literature of his countrymen, intensified later by the knowledge that the Soviet government had dedicated itself to smothering the independence and creativity that had flourished before the Bolshevik Revolution. For Nabokov the great Russian writers of the 19th century were more than artists; they were the last unfettered voices from the land of his birth. It was, therefore, with a spirit of angry nostalgia augmented by his admiration for literary art that Nabokov delivered these lectures. His subjects here are "Russian Writers, Censors, and Readers," Gogol, Turgenev, Dostoevski, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Gorki, "Philistines and Philistinism," and "The Art of Translation." Nabokov delivers his remarks with a compelling blend of wit, iconoclasm, and critical genius, skillfully guiding us through the intricacies of plot and character in the books he discusses, caressing the details, explaining their significance, and illuminating the artistic accomplishments of the authors. Thirty-eight illustrations show the care with which Nabokov prepared these lectures. There are, for example, his drawings of a Russian tennis dress and a skating costume similar to those mentioned in Anna Karenin, and a plan for the sleeping car in which Anna rode from Moscow to St. Petersburg. His diligent retranslations of the standard English texts are shown in sample pages from his annotated books. The painstaking process of composing these lectures is revealed in specimen pages of his notes that show his extensive preparation and layers of revision. These lectures on his native literature confirm the high praise earned by Lectures on Literature. Vladirnir Nabokov was a spellbinding critic-teacher because he was also a major literary artist.
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Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977), Russian-born poet, novelist, literary critic, translator, and essayist was awarded the National Medal for Literature for his life's work in 1973. He taught literature at Wellesley, Stanford, Cornell, and Harvard. He is the author of many works including Lolita, Pale Fire, Ada, and Speak, Memory.
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