The papers of Russian poet and novelist Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov (1899-1977) are now open to researchers in the Library of Congress Manuscript Division. The collection is of major value to Nabokov scholars as well as to specialists in the areas of Russian and American literary history and translation. The Nabokov Papers are among the Library’s holdings of 20th-century novelists’ papers such as those of Philip Roth, Bernard Malamud and Ralph Ellison.
Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, Nabokov and his family were forced into exile after the Russian Revolution. They settled briefly in England before moving to Berlin in 1920. Before joining his family in Germany, the multilingual Nabokov earned a bachelor’s degree in French and Russian literature at Trinity College in Cambridge in 1922. That same year, his father was assassinated in Berlin by Russian monarchists as he fought to protect their real target, a leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party-in-exile.
In 1936, Nabokov’s wife lost her job due to the increasingly anti-Semitic environment in Germany, and his father’s assassin was appointed second-in-command of the Russian émigré group. Unable to remain in Germany or return to Russia, Nabokov and his family in 1940 immigrated to the United States where Nabokov lectured at Wellesley College and Cornell University. With a lifelong interest in butterflies, Nabokov also made contributions to the field of entomology. He became a U.S. citizen in 1945.
In America, Nabokov began to translate many of his earlier writings into English. It was as a writer in English that Nabokov began to achieve serious recognition as a novelist. His writings were banned in the Soviet Union until the 1970s.
After the great financial success of “Lolita,” published in 1955, Nabokov was able to return to Europe and devote himself exclusively to writing. He moved to Montreux, Switzerland, in 1961, and remained there until his death in 1977.
At the time of the initial donation of his papers in 1959, Nabokov stipulated that the collection not be opened until June 23, 2009, without special permission. The papers were arranged and described in 1969. They were reorganized in 2000 when additional material was integrated into the collection, with further processing and description completed in 2003. The collection was prepared for microfilming in 2007. The finding aid, which was revised in 2009, will be available online at www.loc.gov/rr/mss/.
The Nabokov Papers span the years from 1918 to 1974, with the bulk of the items concentrated in the period between 1925 and 1965. Focusing on Nabokov’s work as a poet, novelist, literary critic, lecturer and translator, the collection is arranged in the following categories: Correspondence, Writings, Miscellany and Oversize materials. The Writings series, which constitutes the largest portion of the collection, consists of material relating to works of nonfiction, translations of works by others and Nabokov’s considerable output of novels (in both Russian and English). Files related to Nabokov’s English translation of “Eugene Onegin,” a novel in verse by Alexander Pushkin, include material in which Nabokov reflects upon the translation process. Also included are the manuscripts or notes for his American novels “Pale Fire,” “Lolita” and “The Real Life of Sebastian Knight.” A considerable amount of material documents the author’s film adaptation of “Lolita.”