From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Nabokov wrote his first literary works in Russian, but rose to international prominence as a masterly prose English stylist for the novels he composed in the United States. He is also noted for having made significant contributions to lepidoptery and creating a number of chess problems.
Nabokov's Lolita (1955) is frequently cited as his most important novel, exhibiting his love of intricate wordplay and descriptive detail in his English works. Nabokov himself regarded his four-volume translation of Aleksandr Pushkin's Eugene Onegin as his other major achievement.
Novels written in English
- (1941) The Real Life of Sebastian Knight
- (1947) Bend Sinister
- (1955) Lolita, self-translated into Russian, (1965)
- (1957) Pnin
- (1962) Pale Fire
- (1969) Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
- (1972) Transparent Things
- (1974) Look at the Harlequins!
- (1977) The Original of Laura (Unfinished/Unpublished)
The critic James Wood argued that Nabokov's use of descriptive detail proved an "overpowering, and not always very fruitful, influence on two or three generations after him", including authors such as Martin Amis and John Updike. While a student at Cornell in the 1950s, Thomas Pynchon attended several of Nabokov's lectures and went on to make a direct allusion to Lolita in chapter six his novel The Crying of Lot 49 (1966) in which Serge, counter-tenor in the band The Paranoids, sings:
- What chance has a lonely surfer boy
For the love of a surfer chick,
- With all these Humbert Humbert cats
- Coming on so big and sick?
- For me, my baby was a woman,
- For him she's just another nymphet.
It has also been argued that Pynchon's prose style is influenced by Nabokov's preference for actualism over realism. Of the authors who came to prominence during Nabokov's lifetime, John Banville, Don DeLillo, Salman Rushdie, and Edmund White were all influenced by Nabokov.
Several authors who came to prominence in the 1990s and 2000s have also cited Nabokov's work as a literary influence. Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon listed Lolita and Pale Fire among the "books that, I thought, changed my life when I read them," and stated that "Nabokov's English combines aching lyricism with dispassionate precision in a way that seems to render every human emotion in all its intensity but never with an ounce of schmaltz or soggy language". Pulitzer Prize winner Jeffrey Eugenides said that "Nabokov has always been and remains one of my favorite writers. He's able to juggle ten balls where most people can juggle three or four." T. Coraghessan Boyle said that "Nabokov's playfulness and the ravishing beauty of his prose are ongoing influences" on his writing, Marisha Pessl, Zadie Smith and Ki Longfellow have also acknowledged Nabokov's influence.