Vladimir Nabokov

Like Singer, Vladimir Nabokov was an Eastern European immigrant. Born into an affluent family in Czarist Russia, he came to the United States in 1940 and gained U.S. citizenship five years later. From 1948 to 1959 he taught literature at Cornell University in upstate New York; in 1960 he moved permanently to Switzerland. He is best known for his novels, which include the autobiographical Pnin (1957), about an ineffectual Russian emigre professor, and Lolita (U.S. edition 1958), about an educated, middle-aged European who becomes infatuated with an ignorant 12-year-old American girl. Nabokov's pastiche novel, Pale Fire (1962), another successful venture, focuses on a long poem by an imaginary dead poet and the commentaries on it by a critic whose writings overwhelm the poem and take on unexpected lives of their own.

Nabokov is an important writer for his stylistic subtlety, deft satire, and ingenious innovations in form, which have inspired such novelists as John Barth. Nabokov was aware of his role as a mediator between the Russian and American literary worlds; he wrote a book on Gogol and translated Pushkin's Eugene Onegin. His daring, somewhat expressionist subjects, like the odd love in Lolita, helped introduce expressionist 20th-century European currents into the essentially realist American fictional tradition. His tone, partly satirical and partly nostalgic, also suggested a new serio-comic emotional register made use of by writers such as Pynchon, who combines the opposing notes of wit and fear.