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Nabokov's Gogol book is one of the most exhilarating, engaging, and original works ever written by one writer about another.

—Elizabeth Hardwick

Vladimir Nabokov

20th Century Russian novelist

Born in 1899 in St. Petersburg to an aristocratic, wealthy, highly educated, and liberal family, Vladimir Nabokov became one of the 20th-century’s greatest writers.

He published his first four books in America with New Directions: Nine Stories, his novels Laughter in the Dark and The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, as well as his fabulous study of another Russian genius, Nikolai Gogol.

Nine Stories and Laughter in the Dark were both written in Russian and translated by the author into English; The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941) was the first novel Nabokov wrote in English. Nikolai Gogol, a biography which goes to considerable lengths to skewer existing English translations of Gogol’s works, was also written in English.

Nabokov fled with his family to Berlin after the Russian Revolution but attended Trinity College, Cambridge (graduating in 1923), before returning to live for another fifteen years in Berlin, writing and working as a translator, tutor, and tennis coach. In 1924 Nabokov married Vera Evseekna Slonim; they had one son, Dmitri. He published his first nine novels in Russian, under the nom de plume Vladimir Sirin, bringing out his first novel Mashenka in 1926. In 1936 the Nabokovs moved to Paris and three years later the family emigrated to the United States. Nabokov taught at Wellesley College and Cornell University, delivering astonishing lectures on literature. He was also a renowned, self-taught lepidopterist and held a position at Harvard’s Museum of Contemporary Zoology: some of his far-sighted theories about the Polyommatus blues (he envisioned them coming to the New World from Asia over millions of years in a series of waves) have only been recently confirmed by new gene-sequencing technology, and one buttefly has been named in his honor: Nabokovia cuzquenha. "My pleasures," he stated, "are the most intense known to man: writing and butterfly hunting."

Nikolai Gogol (1944) was his last book with New Directions; James Laughlin declined to publish the literary bombshell and masterpiece Lolita, which rocketed Nabokov to worldwide fame. Outstanding among his many other books are the brilliant novels Pnin and Pale Fire, and his memoir, Speak Memory. Nabokov also brought forth, after ten years of labor, a four-volume translation of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin.


The Real Life of Sebastian Knight

Fiction by Vladimir Nabokov

with a contribution by Michael Dirda

The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, Nabokov’s first novel in English, was completed in Paris in 1938, first published by New Directions in 1941, reissued in 1959 to wide critical acclaim, and now relaunched again with an appreciative introduction by Pulitzer-Prize winning critic Michael Dirda. This, the narrator tells us, is the real life of famous author Sebastian Knight, the inside story. After Knight’s death, his half-brother sets out to penetrate the mystery of the famous English novelist’s life, but he is impeded by the false, the distorted, the irreverent. Yet the search proves to be a story quite as intriguing as any of Sebastian Knight’s own books, as baffling, and, in the end, as uniquely rewarding. On one level, this literary detective story has pungent points to make about the role of the artist in a society basically hostile to the creative spirit. On another, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight probes the essential problem of the ambiguity of human identity: Just who was Sebastian Knight?



Laughter in the Dark

Fiction by Vladimir Nabokov

with a contribution by John Banville

"Once upon a time there lived in Berlin, Germany, a man called Albinus. He was rich, respectable, happy; one day he abandoned his wife for the sake of a youthful mistress; he loved; was not loved; and his life ended in disaster." Thus begins Vladimir Nabokov’s Laughter in the Dark; and this, the author tells us, is the whole story—except that he starts from here, with his characteristic dazzling skill and irony, and brilliantly turns a fable into a chilling, original novel of folly and destruction. Amidst a Weimar-era milieu of silent film stars, artists, and aspirants, Nabokov creates a merciless masterpiece as Albinus, an aging critic, falls prey to his own desires, to his teenage mistress, and to Axel Rex, the scheming rival for her affections who finds his greatest joy in the downfall of others. Published first in Russian as Kamera Obskura in 1932, this book appeared in Nabokov’s own English translation six years later. Our edition, based on the text as he revised it in 1960, features a new introduction by Booker Prize-winner John Banville.



Nikolai Gogol

Nonfiction by Vladimir Nabokov


The work of Gogol—one of the greatest of Russia’s literary geniuses—has become fairly well known in America but has seldom been understood. There have been many unfortunate translations of his work in English and few good ones. Critics have often tried to label him “the Russian Dickens” or viewed him as a forerunner of our own literary champions of the oppressed. In this brilliant study, Vladimir Nabokov shows us that Gogol’s comedy was not Dickensian, but biting and salty, textured throughout by a use of the irrational not duplicated by any other writer; that in the play The Government Inspector and Dead Souls, a novel, his depiction of the frauds of bureaucracy and the vagaries of Russian serf-owners were not so much intended to hasten social change as to serve as a framework for displaying the fantasies of the human spirit. Nabokov, whose own uniqueness is known through his many novels, brings the singularity of Gogol’s genius to life—the strange, unhappy, self-deluding man and his extraordinary literary methods and achievements.