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At the age of twenty-one, Brian Boyd wrote a thesis on Vladimir Nabokov that the famous author called "brilliant." After gaining exclusive access to the writer's archives, he wrote a two-part, award-winning biography, Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years (1990) and Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years (1991). This collection features essays written by Boyd since completing the biography, incorporating material he gleaned from his research as well as new discoveries and formulations.
Boyd confronts Nabokov's life, career, and legacy; his art, science, and thought; his subtle humor and puzzle-like storytelling; his complex psychological portraits; and his inheritance from, reworking of, and affinities with Shakespeare, Pushkin, Tolstoy, and Machado de Assis. Boyd offers new ways of reading Nabokov's best English-language works: Lolita, Pale Fire, Ada, and the unparalleled autobiography, Speak, Memory, and he discloses otherwise unknown information about the author's world. Sharing his personal reflections, Boyd recounts the adventures, hardships, and revelations of researching Nabokov's biography and his unusual finds in the archives, including materials still awaiting publication. The first to focus on Nabokov's metaphysics, Boyd cautions against their being used as the key to unlock all of the author's secrets, showing instead the many other rooms in Nabokov's castle of fiction that need exploring, such as his humor, narrative invention, and psychological insight into characters and readers alike. Appreciating Nabokov as novelist, memoirist, poet, translator, scientist, and individual, Boyd helps us understand more than ever the author's multifaceted genius.
revealingly over twenty years. In late 1939 or early 1940, before arriving in the United States, he began to prepare lectures on Russian literature in the hope he would find a university literature post much sooner than he did. He jotted down: “Anna Karenin: Grand looseness of style: The word ‘house’ is repeated 8 times in the course of the first paragraph—17 lines.”4 But in the annotations he began for the Modern Library Anna Karenina fifteen years later, we find this: “the word dom (house,
treatment of a would-be blackmailer while we are preoccupied with the agony of his parting from Ada. And both writers explicitly conceal deeper meanings beneath dazzling surfaces. Machado explains that he writes “one utterance but with two meanings”;5 Nabokov tells the New Yorker that “most of the stories I am contemplating (and some I have written in the past—you have actually published one with such an ‘inside’ . . .) will be composed on these lines, according to this system where a second
fascinated by pattern in nature, like the patterns of butterfly wings, the patterns of matching patterns in natural mimicry, and the complex patterns of relationships a scientist has to disentangle to work out the taxonomic relatedness within a genus or a family of butterflies. As a novelist he was also a shrewd intuitive psychologist, aware of how the mind processes pattern. He realized that the profusion of patterns in nature may obscure or distract us from other significant patterns. Beside
To cooperate in flexible ways, you need to know in detail what the others you wish to cooperate with know and plan. You need to pay close and continuous attention to what others are seeing, feeling, and doing. Tomasello stresses that our minds have evolved a unique capacity to understand one another because we have evolved a unique disposition to engage and cooperate with one another: somehow we have crossed a cooperation divide. We want to share attention and intentionality, to direct our minds
he had time to prepare. But his spontaneity had its own moments. When Alfred Appel Jr. was visiting in the late sixties, he told Nabokov about a nun who complained to him after class that a couple in the back of the lecture theater wouldn’t stop spooning. Pleased with his response, Appel told Nabokov he had had replied: “In this day and age you’re lucky that’s all they were doing.” Nabokov let out a mock groan: “What an opportunity you missed: you should have said ‘You’re lucky they weren’t