By Brian Boyd, University of Auckland, email@example.com
Please contact me with suggestions and corrections.
Another rich chronology, focusing on the exact locations Nabokov stayed or worked at, and reproducing photographs (contemporary where available) and maps of these areas, is available at the Nabokov's Whereabouts page of Dieter E. Zimmer's splendid website.
See also the very extensive Nabokov family genealogy on Zimmer's website.
April 10/22: Vladimir Vladimirovich is born, at 47 Bol’shaya Morskaya, Saint-Petersburg, the first child of Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov and Elena Ivanovna, née Rukavishnikov.
[Note on date: In the nineteenth century the Russian (Julian) calendar was twelve days behind the Western (Gregorian). From 1900, it slipped a further day behind, with the result that Russia’s April 10 was now equivalent to Western Europe’s April 23, which therefore became Nabokov’s birthday whenever the family left Russia, including for the final time, in 1919.]
Vladimir Dmitrievich, born July 8/20 1870, is a lecturer in criminal law at the Imperial School of Jurisprudence, and an editor of the liberal-opposition law journal Pravo (Right or Law). Vladimir Dmitrievich is the sixth child of Dmitri Nikolaevich Nabokov (b. 1827), Minister of Justice (1878-1885) under Alexander II and Alexander III, and Maria Ferdinandovna, nee Baroness von Korff (b. 1842). The Nabokovs are reputed to descend from a fourteenth-century Tartar prince, Nabok Murza.
Elena Ivanovna, born August 16/28, 1876, is the third child of the millionaire landowner, Ivan Vasilievich Rukavishnikov (b. 1841), son of an old mine-owning family, and Olga Nikolaevna, nee Kozlov (b. 1845), a daughter of the first president of the Royal Academy of Medicine.Vladimir Dmitrievich and Elena Ivanovna married on November 2/14 1897. Elena Nabokov had given birth to a still-born son in 1898.
The family lives most of the year in their stylish rosy-stone house on fashionable Bol’shaya Morskaya and spends the summer on the three adjacent estates of Rozhdestveno, Vyra (both Ivan Rukavishnikov’s) and Batovo (Maria Nabokov’s), on the banks of the Oredezh, forty miles to the south of St. Petersburg. Other Nabokovs also have summer homes in the area.
Late spring: Vladimir is christened in an Orthodox ceremony at St. Spiridon Trimifuntski’s in St. Petersburg.
February 28/March 13: A second son, Sergey, is born.
Nabokov, who will remain his parents’ favourite, speaks and learns numbers at an early age.
March: Ivan Rukavishnikov dies of cancer.
June: Olga Rukavishnikov dies of cancer. Elena Nabokov inherits the Vyra estate, while her one surviving brother, Nabokov’s uncle Vassili “Ruka” Rukavishnikov, inherits Rozhdestveno. The Nabokovs’ two-story St. Petersburg home is expanded to three stories.
Summer-autumn: On doctors’ advice Elena Nabokov takes her sons to Pau (Basses Pyrenees), to Perpigna, her brother’s chateau. V.D. Nabokov joins them in Biarritz but returns to St. Petersburg for the teaching year.
Nabokov and Sergey learn English from the first of a succession of British governesses. Their mother, as much an Anglophile as their father, reads Nabokov English fairy tales, and brings out her jewels for him to play with.
December 23 1902/January 5 1903: A third child, Olga, is born. The brothers and sisters will be reared separately.
V.D. Nabokov is elected a member of the St. Petersburg City Duma.
April: When forty-five Jews are killed in a pogrom at Kishinev, V.D. Nabokov writes a major article for Pravo, “The Kishinev Blood-Bath,” which charges the government with tacitly encouraging pogroms. It causes a considerable stir. During the year he publishes his first three books on law.
August: Nabokov’s earliest distinct memory, his first flash of self-consciousness.
September-December?: The family travels to Paris for an operation on Sergey, and then to Nice, where grandfather Dmitri Nabokov is now senile.
February: The Russo-Japanese War begins.
March 15/28: Dmitri Nabokov dies in St. Petersburg.
April: The Nabokov family travels for three weeks to Rome and Naples.
Summer: The family travels to Beaulieu, where Nabokov falls in love with a Rumanian girl with the surname Ghika.
July: The Russian Minister of the Interior Count von Plehve is assassinated.
September: The appointment of Plehve’s successor Prince Sviatopolsk-Mirski raises hopes for the reform now widely felt to be necessary after setbacks in the Russo-Japanese War.
November 6-9/19-22: The first national congress of zemstvos (local assemblies) is held in St. Petersburg. The final session, held in the Nabokov home on Bol’shaya Morskaya, effectively launches the “1905 [or First] Revolution.”
November 14/27: V.D. Nabokov, told that his political activities are incompatible with his post at the Imperial School of Jurisprudence, resigns at once.
January 9/22: Nicholas II’s troops fire on a massive but peaceful demonstration, killing more than a hundred (“Bloody Sunday”).
January 12/25: V.D. Nabokov denounces the killings in the St. Petersburg City Duma, and on January 20/February 2 is stripped of his court title.
February: Advised to remove his family from strife, V.D. Nabokov takes them to Abbazia (now Opatija, Croatia), where they stay with his sister Natalia de Peterson.
Summer: In Abbazia Nabokov misses Vyra and nostalgically traces with his finger a map of the estate on his pillow.
September: Iosif Hessen of Pravo urges V.D. Nabokov back to St. Petersburg, where a leading role awaits him in the political revolution taking place. He returns at once.
October: A general strike takes place in Russia. V.D. Nabokov travels to Moscow for a conference that establishes the Constitutional Democratic (C.D.) Party. When Nicholas II issues the October Manifesto, promising a national legislature, V.D. Nabokov attacks it in Pravo for not going far enough.
Autumn: Elena Nabokov takes her children from Abbazia to Wiesbaden, where Nabokov becomes friends with his cousin, Baron Yuri Rausch von Traubenberg, son of his father’s sister Nina.
Winter: Elena Nabokov and the children return to Russia, remaining at Vyra to avoid turmoil in St. Petersburg. Cecile Miauton, a Swiss, arrives as the boys’ French governess. Mlle Miauton (“Mlle O” inSpeak, Memory) will tutor them in the mornings and in the afternoon read them her favorite French novels, poetry and stories, beginning with Corneille and Hugo. The boys will soon be fluent in French.
March: V.D. Nabokov is elected as a CD candidate for the First State Duma.
March 18/31: Fourth child, Elena, is born.
May 2/15: V. D. Nabokov, as the leading speaker of the largest party in the Duma (which had opened six days previously), is chosen to deliver the Address to the Throne. He phrases the Address in such a way as to arrogate to the Duma the powers of a constituent assembly. His parliamentary skills help ensure its unanimous passage.
May 13/26: The Chief Minister, Goremykin, announces to the Duma that the administration rejects the program signaled in the Address to the Throne. With his wife proudly watching from the gallery, V.D. Nabokov leaps to his feet in reply, ending his speech with the resounding cry: “Let the executive power submit to the legislative!”
Summer: Shocked to discover that his sons can read and write in English but not Russian, V.D. Nabokov hires the village schoolmaster, Vasili Zhernosekov, a Socialist Revolutionary, to teach them over summer.
Nabokov begins to catch butterflies, which will remain a life-long passion.
July 9/22: Nicholas II unexpectedly dissolves the Duma.
July 10/23: In Vyborg, Finland, V.D. Nabokov along with the other CD members of the Duma signs a manifesto calling the country to resist conscription and taxes. Within a week, the signatories of the Vyborg Manifesto are stripped of political rights. V.D. Nabokov will not be able to stand for election again or to play a direct part in politics until after the fall of the tsarist regime in the February 1917 Revolution. In the meantime, he serves the CD cause as a journalist and as editor of the new CD newspaper Rech’, St. Petersburg’s leading liberal daily.
Autumn: The Nabokov family, returning to St. Petersburg, moves into a rented house at 38 Sergievskaya Street, since the highly sensitive Elena Nabokov remains too distraught by the killings of children in Mariinskaya Square to return to the nearby family home on the Morskaya before the autumn of 1908.
January-February: Nabokov has a severe bout of pneumonia, during which he loses his former capacity for prodigious mathematical calculation. After his mother surrounds his bed with butterfly books, “the longing to describe a new species completely replaced that of discovering a new prime number.” (Speak, Memory)
Nabokov and Sergey graduate from governesses to the first of their Russian tutors, Ordyntsev.
August: The Nabokovs travel to Biarritz. Nabokov falls in love with Serbian girl called Zina.
October: The family returns to Russia.
A second tutor, Pedenko, is soon replaced by a Lett. The boys also have a Mr. Burness as an English tutor. Nabokov, whom the family expects to become a painter, has an Englishman, Mr. Cummings, as a drawing master.
December: V.D. Nabokov is tried for signing the Vyborg Manifesto.
Boleslav Okolokulak becomes tutor to the boys.
May 14/27: After an unsuccessful appeal, V.D. Nabokov enters Kresty prison in St. Petersburg for a three-month sentence. There, he learns Italian.
By now Nabokov has mastered the known butterflies of Europe.
August 12/25: On his release from prison V.D. Nabokov is greeted by a triumphal reception at Rozhdestveno, the village near Vyra.
Nabokov is permitted to stop going to church after telling his father that he finds services boring.
Out walking with his son, V.D. Nabokov stops and talks to an old man. “That was Tolstoy,” he says afterward. Although he still enjoys English boys’ magazines and Punch, Nabokov has begun to read widely in his father’s 10,000-volume library. Early favorites include Verne, Wells, Conan Doyle, Kipling, Conrad, Chesterton, Wilde, Pushkin and Tolstoy.
Autumn: The Nabokovs vacation at Biarritz. Nabokov falls in love with the nine-year-old Claude Depres (the “Colette” of Speak, Memory), and “elopes” for a few hours with her.
Filip Zelenski (“Lenski” in Speak, Memory) becomes tutor to the boys. Nabokov also has the impressionist painter Yaremich as his drawing master.
He continues his friendship with cousin Yuri; they provoke each other to repeated tests of derring-do. He translates Mayne Reid's The Headless Horseman, a Western, into French Alexandrines.
Summer: At Vyra, Nabokov ventures further afield for butterflies, to a bog across the Oredezh that the family call “America” because of its remoteness. He rears caterpillars, keeps notes in English on the butterflies he collects, and has “dreamed his way through” Adalbert Seitz's multivolume Die Gro?schmetterlinge der Erde (Butterflies of the World).
Autumn: The Nabokovs travel to Bad Kissingen and Berlin. Nabokov and Sergey stay on in Berlin with Zelenski for three months for orthodontic work. Nabokov falls in love with an American woman, “Louise Poindexter,” until he discovers she is a dancing girl.
December: Nabokov and Sergey return to St. Petersburg.
January: Nabokov and Sergey begin classes at the elite but liberal Tenishev School, Nabokov in the “second” class, at the start of the third semester. He rankles at the conformity of school life but copes easily with the courses, which include history, geography, geometry, algebra, physics, chemistry, Russian, French, German, Scripture, and woodworking. He plays soccer, always as goal-keeper. His closest school friends are Samuil Rosov and Samuil (“Sava”) Kyandshuntsev.
June 17/30 The fifth and last of V.D. and Elena Nabokov’s children, Kirill, is born.
Summer: Nabokov falls in love with Polenka, daughter of the family's head coachman.
August: The family visits the estate of V.D. Nabokov’s sister Elizaveta Sayn-Wittgenstein in the province of Podolsk, southwest Russia.
October 24/November 5: At school, Nabokov sees a mocking newspaper account of his father’s having called the editor of the conservative newspaper Novoe vremya out to a duel for insinuating he married for money. Terrified all day that his father will be killed in duel, Nabokov returns home to find that it will not take place after all.
Nabokov has the prominent St. Petersburg painter Mstislav Dobuzhinski as his drawing master for two years.
Summer: While chasing a Parnassius mnemosyne butterfly, Nabokov catches sight of Polenka swimming naked.
Mlle Miauton returns to Switzerland.
Nabokov begins reading the new Symbolist, Acmeist and Futurist poets, along with the works of Pushkin, Poe, Browning, Keats, Verlaine, Rimbaud, Gogol, Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Flaubert and William James.
Summer: A Swiss tutor, Nussbaum, fills in for Zelenski, when the latter takes his honeymoon.
October: In financial difficulties, Grandmother Maria Nabokov has to sell off her estate, Batovo, which adjoins Vyra.
November: V.D. Nabokov goes to Kiev to attend the Beilis trial, Russia’s Dreyfuss affair, and is fined for his reporting of the court proceedings.
H.G. Wells, whose work Nabokov admires, dines at the Nabokov home during his tour of Russia.
Spring: A school report characterizes Nabokov: “zealous football-player, excellent worker, respected as comrade by both flanks (Rosoff-Popov), always modest, serious and restrained (though not averse to a joke), Nabokov creates a most agreeable impression by his moral decency.” [Nabokov’s friend Samuil Rosov was usually top of the class, and a teacher’s dream; the strong but slow Grigoriy Popov, held back year after year, was a teachers’ and students’ nightmare—but became an admirer of Nabokov for his goalkeeping and boxing prowess.]
Zelenski quits as tutor. Vladimir’s and Sergey’s final tutor, Nikolai Sakharov, lasts only over the summer.
June: Yuri Rausch visits Vyra and impresses Nabokov with his sexual exploits.
July: Nabokov composes what he calls in Speak, Memory his “first poem,” and from this point on becomes prey to “the numb fury of verse-making.”
July 19/August 1: Germany declares war on Russia. St. Petersburg's name is quickly changed to Petrograd.
July 21/August 3: V.D. Nabokov is mobilized as ensign in the reserves and leaves with his regiment for Vyborg. His wife volunteers as a nurse in a hospital for wounded soldiers.
Autumn: Nabokov has a poem duplicated and bound for distribution to friends and relatives.
Evgenia Hofeld, governess for Elena and Olga, arrives. She will remain with the family for many years and become the closest companion of Madame Nabokov in her last years.
Summer: Nabokov is confined to bed with typhus. After recovering, he begins his first real love affair, with Valentina (“Lyussya”) Shulgina (the “Tamara” of Speak, Memory and the “Mashen’ka” of Mashen’ka).
September: V.D. Nabokov is transferred from the front to St. Petersburg.
November: Nabokov co-edits the school journal, Yunaya mysl', which contains the poem “Osen’ ” (“Autumn”), his first publication. He skips school frequently to be with Lyussya, and writes many love-poems for her. He smokes heavily.
January: The poet and critic Vasili Hippius becomes Nabokov’s teacher of Russian literature. Nabokov likes his teacher’s verse but loathes his pressure toward civic responsibility. He publishes a translation of Musset’s “La Nuit de decembre” in Yunaya mysl', where his “Osen’ ” is singled out for particular praise in a review of the previous number.
February: V.D. Nabokov visits Britain as a representative of the Russian press.
Spring: Nabokov has his father’s librarian type out one of his poems and send it to Vestnik Evropy, Russia’s best literary review, where it is published in the July issue.
June: Nabokov has Stikhi (Poems), sixty-seven passionate but uninspiring effusions, privately printed in Petrograd.
His mother’s brother Vasili dies, leaving Nabokov the two-thousand-acre estate and manor of Rozhdestveno, worth several million dollars.
Autumn: Discovering that his second summer with Lyussya is no match for the first, Nabokov realizes the affair is over by the time he returns to Petrograd, where he begins “the kind of varied experience which I thought an elegant litterateur should seek. . . . an extravagant phase of sentiment and sensuality” (Speak, Memory) that lasts until the mid-1920s. By late 1916, he is conducting affairs with three married women, including his twenty-seven-year-old cousin Tatiana Segerkranz, Yuri Rausch's sister.
January: After another bout of pneumonia, Nabokov is sent with his mother to recuperate at Imatra, Finland, where he meets Eva Lubryjinska, his next love.
February 27/March 12: The February Revolution: in Petrograd, soldiers refuse to shoot demonstrators and begin to mutiny, thereby precipitating the collapse of the Tsarist regime.
March 2/15: Nicholas II abdicates in favor of his brother.
March 3/16: V.D. Nabokov co-drafts letter of abdication for Grand-Duke Mikhail Aleksandrovich. The Grand-Duke’s abdication ends the Romanov dynasty.
March: V.D. Nabokov is named Chancellor (minister without portfolio) in the first Provisional Government.
May: Nabokov is operated on for appendicitis. He composes the poem “Dozhd’ proletel” (“The Rain Has Flown”), the earliest he will include in his collected poems.
July 3/16: V.D. Nabokov, with other CDs, resigns from the Provisional Government, and is elected to the Constituent Assembly.
Autumn: Nabokov selects poems to be published with those of his Tenishev schoolmate, Andrey Balashov, in a volume Dva puti (Two paths), which appears in 1918.
October 24-25/November 6-7: The Bolsheviks seize power in Petrograd. V.D. Nabokov remains as president of the Electoral Commission for the Constituent Assembly, but after Nabokov completes school leaving exams early, his father sends the family to Crimea.
November 2/15: Nabokov and Sergey leave Petrograd first to avoid conscription into the Red Army, and reach the Crimea three days later. There they stay at Gaspra, the estate of CD leader Countess Panin, and are soon joined by Elena Nabokov and the other children.
November 23/December 6: V.D. Nabokov is arrested by Bolshevik soldiers and imprisoned. Released after six days, he escapes to Crimea, arriving December 3/16.
January: The Bolsheviks seize the Yalta area.
February 13/26: After receiving a letter from Lyussya Shulgin, now in Ukraine, Nabokov feels intense pangs of exile.
April 17/30: The Germans take Yalta. V.D. Nabokov begins to write his memoir The Provisional Government.
Summer: Nabokov enjoys the holiday atmosphere in Yalta, has an affair with Lidia Tokmakov, and undertakes a solo butterfly expedition onto the Crimean plateau.
August: Nabokov meets the poet Maximilian Voloshin, who introduces him to Andrey Beli’s system of metrical scansion, which preoccupies him as poet and prosodist for most of the next year.
September: The Nabokovs move to Livadia, the tsars’ former residence outside Yalta, so that Sergey, Olga and Elena can attend school. Nabokov takes Latin lessons, publishes two anti-Bolshevik poems in the CD newspaper, Yaltinski golos, and tutors his favorite sister, Elena.
November: The Germans withdraw, and local CDs and Tatar nationalists set up the Crimean Provisional Regional Government, with V.D. Nabokov as Minister of Justice.
January: Writes “Dvoe” (“The Two”), a 430-line riposte to Alexandre Blok’s “Dvenadsat’ ” (“The Twelve”).
February: Nabokov decides to join Yuri Rausch’s regiment, but on February 23/March 8, he learns that Yuri has just been killed in combat. Nabokov serves as a pallbearer at the funeral in Yalta on March 1/14.
March/April: Evacuation of the Crimea is ordered as Bolshevik troops advance deep into the peninsula. On March 26/April 8, the Nabokovs leave Livadia.
April 2/15: The Nabokovs flee from Sebastopol to Athens on the Greek steamer Nadezhda as the Red Army retakes the Crimea.
April-May: The Nabokovs stay in a hotel in Piraeus, near Athens. Nabokov manages three love affairs in three and a half weeks.
May 27: The Nabokovs arrive in London and rent rooms at 55 Stanhope Gardens. Nabokov meets and resumes his relationship with Eva Lubryjinska.
July: The Nabokovs move to 6 Elm Park Gardens.
October 1: Nabokov goes up to Cambridge, where he shares rooms with Mikhail Kalashnikov at R6, Great Court, Trinity. At first he reads Natural Sciences (Zoology) and Modern and Medieval Languages (French and Russian), though he devotes his energies to writing Russian poetry and tending goal for Trinity's soccer team. During October he writes (in English) his first Lepidoptera paper, on his Crimean catches (published in The Entomologist in February 1920). He reads Housman, Rupert Brooke and Walter de la Mare and writes a few English poems. He buys Dahl’s four-volume Russian dictionary and reads it every day, jotting down verbal finds.
January: Nabokov moves with Kalashnikov into lodgings at 2 Trinity Lane. He becomes friends with Prince Nikita Romanov, and spends time with his brother Sergey, who has left Oxford for Christ’s College, Cambridge.
February: Nabokov ends his relationship with Eva Lubryjinska, and conducts an active love-life in Cambridge and London. He drops zoology to leave time for verse, women and soccer.
May-June: V.D. Nabokov visits Berlin to set up a Russian newspaper there. Because of its low cost of living, the city is becoming the center of the Russian emigration.
Summer: Nabokov accepts his father’s wager that he cannot translate Romain Rolland’s Colas Breugnon into Russian.
August: The Nabokovs move to Berlin, renting rooms at 1 Egerstrasse in the Grunewald. V.D. Nabokov helps to set up Russian publishing firm, Slovo, and a daily liberal newspaper, Rul’, of which he becomes editor.
November 16: Rul’ begins publication.
November 27: Nabokov's first poem appears in Rul’, signed “Cantab.”
January 7: Nabokov publishes a poem and story, using the nom de plume “Vladimir Sirin” to distinguish his by-line from his father's. He begins to flood Rul’ with his compositions (at first poems, then also plays, stories, crossword puzzles and reviews). He will retain the “Sirin” pseudonym for his Russian work until the 1960s.
March: He completes his translation of Colas Breugnon.
April: He sits exams for Part I of Cambridge Tripos, passing with first-class honors and distinction in Russian.
June: In Berlin he meets sixteen-year-old Svetlana Siewert. They are soon in love.
September 5: The Nabokovs move closer to town, 67 Sachsische Strasse in Wilmersdorf. Visitors include poet Sasha Chorny, Iosif Hessen, head of Slovo, cousin Nicholas Nabokov, Konstantin Stanislavsky and actors from Stanislavsky’s Moscow Art Theatre.
October: Poet Sasha Chorny helps V.D. Nabokov choose poems for a large collection of Nabokov’s verse.
October-November: Nabokov writes his first playlet, a supposed translation of an early-nineteenth-century play The Wanderers by “Vivian Calmbrood.”
December: He takes a ski trip to Switzerland with Cambridge friend Robert de Calry, and visits Cecile Miauton in Lausanne.
March 28: In Berlin’s Philharmonie, two Russian ultra-rightists, aiming to assassinate CD leader Paul Milyukov, instead shoot and kill V.D. Nabokov when he leaps to Milyukov’s defense.
May: Nabokov sits exams for Part II of Cambridge Tripos.
June: He graduates with second-class honors, and on his return to Berlin on June 21, becomes engaged to Svetlana Siewert. He takes a bank job but lasts only three hours.
Summer: Commissioned by Gamayun press to translate Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland into Russian (the fee is $5), he completes the job quickly.
October: Nabokov joins the short-lived literary group Vereteno (The Spindle) during emigre Berlin’s most volatile artistic period.
November: With his friend Gleb Struve he joins the literary group Bratstvo kruglogo stola (Brotherhood of the Round Table), and becomes friends with fiction-writer Ivan Lukash. His Nikolka Persik (the Colas Breugnon translation) is published by Slovo.
December: Grozd’ (The Cluster) is published by Gamayun, a short collection of poems, most written for Svetlana Siewert.
January: Svetlana Siewert’s parents break off her engagement with Nabokov because he has not found a steady job. He begins to write short stories.
Gornii put’ (The Empyrean Path), the substantial collection of poems selected by Chorny and V.D. Nabokov, is published by Grani.
March: Nabokov’s translation of Alice in Wonderland, Ania v strane chudes, is published by Gamayun. He writes the verse play Smert’ (Death).
Spring: He works occasionally as a film extra.
May 8: Nabokov meets Vera Evseevna Slonim at a charity ball.
May-August: To stave off depression after his father's death and the end of his engagement to Svetlana, Nabokov works as an agricultural laborer near Toulon, where he writes verse plays.
August: He returns to Berlin and seeks out Vera Slonim. They are soon in love. Vera, who had been following Nabokov’s literary career closely for years, was born on December 23 1901/January 5 1902 in St. Petersburg, the daughter of Evsey Lazarevich Slonim (b. January 19/31 1865), a businessman trained in law, and Slava Borisovna, nee Feigin (b. November 14/26 1872).
September: Nabokov begins writing stories regularly, and Vera to act as his typist.
October: To obtain a pension for Russian emigre widows, Nabokov’s mother moves to Prague with her daughter Elena.
December: Nabokov challenges the writer Alexandre Drozdov to a duel for his dishonest attack on his work. Drozdov does not reply. Nabokov accompanies his brother Kirill to Prague, where he writes a five-act verse play, The Tragedy of Mr. Morn. Evsey Slonim’s businesses fail in the German hyperinflation.
January: Nabokov meets poet Marina Tsvetaeva and walks with her on the hills above Prague.
January 26: He completes Morn and returns the next day to Berlin.
Spring: Nabokov writes stories and composes with Lukash sketches for Russian cabarets in Berlin. Though the center of the emigration shifts to Paris during this year, Nabokov alone of major emigre writers remains in Berlin--partly out of fear that his Russian will atrophy in country where he knows the local language well.
August: He visits his mother and family outside Prague.
September: He begins earning a living by tutoring English, Russian, tennis, even boxing. Tutoring will remain his major source of income until 1929 and continue sporadically until 1941. He will continue to send his mother money as he can spare it.
January: He begins writing part of his first novel, called Mashen'ka (Mary).
April 15: He marries Vera Slonim in Berlin town hall.
Late April: They move to 13 Luitpoldstrasse, in the Schoneberg area. Nabokov takes on regular pupils, especially Alexandre Sak and Sergey Kaplan.
August: Nabokov takes Vera to meet his mother, near Prague; they then have two weeks at Zoppot on the Baltic looking after Alexander Sak. Nabokov takes Sak on a walking tour of the Schwarzwald, and rejoins Vera in Constance.
September: Back in Berlin, they move to rooms at 31 Motzstrasse. Nabokov begins Mary in earnest, completing it at end of October.
October: He writes the major story “The Return of Chorb.”
December: He writes the major story “A Guide to Berlin.” Raisa Tatarinov and the distinguished critic Yuli Aikhenvald establish a literary circle in which Nabokov will play an active part for eight years. The Nabokovs accompany Sergey Kaplan on a skiing trip to Krummhubel.
January: Nabokov reads Mary from end to end in his literary circle. Aikhenvald proclaims “A new Turgenev has appeared!”
March: Machen'ka is published (trans. Mary, 1970) by Slovo, to good reviews.
August: The Nabokovs act as chaperones for three children at Binz, on the Baltic coast, then move on their own to nearby Misdroy, where Nabokov hunts for moths.
September: They move into rooms at 12 Passauer Strasse, Berlin.
Autumn: Nabokov writes play Chelovek iz SSSR (trans. The Man from the USSR, 1984) for Berlin’s new emigre Group Theater. He begins to contribute frequent poetry reviews for Rul’.
December: He writes long Pushkinian poem, “A University Poem.”
April 1: Successful premiere of Chelovek iz SSSR at the Grotrian-Steinweg Saal.
May: Nabokov acts the part of playwright Nikolay Evreynov in a revue.
July-August: The Nabokovs act as chaperones for three boys at Binz. There Nabokov hits on the idea for his next novel, Korol’, dama, valet (King, Queen, Knave).
September: Nabokov writes the major story “An Affair of Honor.”
January-June: He writes Korol’, dama, valet (King, Queen, Knave).
March: Signs agreement with newspaper Vossische Zeitung for serialization in German of Machen’ka.
June 28: Vera’s father dies.
July: The Nabokovs return to the Baltic resort of Misdroy.
August 12: Vera’s mother dies. Vera takes a job as secretary in the French embassy to pay their medical bills.
September: Korol', dama, valet is published by Slovo to good reviews (trans. King, Queen, Knave, 1968); Ullstein publishing house pays 7500 Marks for German serial and book rights.
December 15: Aikhenvald, the first major critic to champion Nabokov’s work, is killed by a tram after leaving a party at the Nabokovs’.
February: With the money from German rights to Korol’, dama, valet, the Nabokovs travel to Le Boulou in the Eastern Pyrenees to hunt butterflies. There Nabokov begins his first masterpiece, Zashchita Luzhina (The Defense or The Luzhin Defense).
April: They move west to Saurat for warmth.
June: They return to Berlin, and spend the summer at Kolberg on a small lakeside plot of land on which they have placed a deposit.
August: Nabokov finishes Zashchita Luzhina, which is published serially in the leading literary review of the emigration, Sovremennye zapiski, from October 1929 to April 1930. Already considered the best of the young emigre writers, Sirin is now recognized as among the Russian classics. All his remaining Russian novels will be published serially in Sovremennye zapiski, which pays better than emigre book publishers.
September: The Nabokovs return to Berlin, to rooms in 27 Luitpoldstrasse.
December: Nabokov’s first collection of stories and poems, Vozvrashchenie Chorba (The Return of Chorb), is published by Slovo.
February: Nabokov completes the novella Soglyadatay (The Eye).
March: Emigre poet and critic George Ivanov launches a scurrilous attack on Sirin. Nabokov writes the major story “The Aurelian.”
May: He begins a new novel, Podvig (Glory). While visiting his mother in Prague for two weeks, he counsels his younger brother Kirill on his poetry and gives public readings.
September: Zashchita Luzhina is published in book form by Slovo (trans. into French as La Course du fou, 1933, into English as The Defense, 1964).
November: He completes Podvig. Soglyadatay is published in Sovremennye zapiski (trans. into French as L’Aguet, 1935, and into English as The Eye, 1966).
January-May: He writes the novel Kamera obskura (trans. into French as Chambre obscure, 1934, and into English as Camera Obscura, 1936 and Laughter in the Dark, 1938).
February-December: Podvig is published in Sovremennye zapiski.
May: He writes his first French article, “Les Ecrivains et l’epoque.”
October: Long struggling, Rul’ at last ceases publication.
November: Nabokov joins the soccer team of Berlin’s Russian Sports Club as goalkeeper.
January: In the Paris emigre paper Poslednie novosti (The Latest News) he writes an appeal for assistance to the unemployed. He meets Hollywood director Sergey Bertenson, a Russian emigre, offering him Kamera obskura, but Bertenson thinks it unsuitable for filming. In severe financial constraints, the Nabokovs take a room in a crowded family apartment at 29 Westfalische Strasse.
April: Nabokov visits his family in Prague, and is delighted with his nephew Rostislav Petkevich, infant son of his sister Olga.
May: He writes the major story “Perfection.”
May 1932-May 1933: Kamera obskura is published in Sovremennye zapiski.
June: He begins novel Otchayanie (Despair).
July 31: The Nabokovs move into 22 Nestorstrasse, where they will remain with Vera's cousin Anna Feigin until they leave Germany.
September: Nabokov finishes first draft of Otchayanie.
October: The Nabokovs have a two-week visit with cousin Nicholas Nabokov and his wife Nathalie in Kolbsheim.
Late October-November: Nabokov visits Paris for a highly successful public reading and explores opportunities for work; he sees his brother Sergey, and meets poet Vladislav Khodasevich, novelists Nina Berberova and Mark Aldanov, and the editors of Sovremennye zapiski, and among French literary figures, Jean Paulhan, Gabriel Marcel and Jules Supervielle.
November: Podvig is published in book form by Sovremennye zapiski (trans. Glory, 1972).
November 26: Nabokov leaves Paris for Berlin, via readings in Antwerp and Brussels, bringing with him the revised text of Otchayanie.
January: Nabokov begins gathering materials for his greatest Russian novel, Dar (The Gift), but an attack of neuralgia intercostalis keeps him in bed for much of the winter. On January 30 Hitler is appointed Chancellor and begins to quash civil liberties.
March: Vera loses her secretarial job when the Jewish law firm for which she works is closed down; she earns a little as a free-lance stenographer, tourist guide, and interpreter.
Late Summer: Nabokov applies for a teaching position at a small Swiss university, but is turned down.
November: At the invitation of an emigre publisher, he writes to James Joyce, offering to translate Ulysses: “the Russian language can be made to convey in a most subtle way the musical peculiarities and intricacies of the original.”
December: Kamera obskura is published in book form by Sovremennye zapiski.
December 30: Nabokov speaks at a reception for Ivan Bunin, who has just become the first Russian to win Nobel Prize for Literature.
January-October: Otchayanie is published in Sovremennye zapiski.
January-February: Nabokov writes the story “The Circle,” an eccentric orbit around the world of Dar.
February: La Course du fou (Zashchita Luzhina), the first French translation of one of his novels, is published to excellent reviews.
Spring: Nabokov continues to work on the Chernyshevsky chapter of Dar, writing to Khodasevich that it is “monstrously difficult.”
May 10: The Nabokovs’ only child, Dmitri, is born.
June: Nabokov breaks off writing the long “Life of Chernyshevsky” excursus in Dar to write the anti-totalitarian novel Priglashenie na kazn’ (Invitation to a Beheading).
September 15: He completes the first draft (or first revision?).
Late December: He completes final revisions to Priglashenie na kazn’.
Nabokov helps care for Dmitri, “a mixture of hard labor and heaven.”
January-February: He writes the major story “Torpid Smoke.”
May: He deplores the quality of Winifred Roy’s translation Camera Obscura, the first English translation of his work.
June: He begins writing Chapter 2 of Dar (Fiodor’s father’s butterfly expeditions into Central Asia). Unable to find a reliable English translator, and starting to sense that Hitler’s plans may well put an end to the Russian emigration and so force him to switch languages, he translates Otchayanie into English himself, as Despair.
June 1935-March 1936: Priglashenie na kazn’ is published in Sovremennye zapiski.
Late summer: Nabokov writes a short autobiographical piece in English, “It Is Me” (later lost), about his English education. He complains to his mother: “The New York Times says ‘our age has been enriched by the appearance of a great writer,’ but I have no good trousers and I just don’t know what I will wear to Belgium, where the PEN Club has invited me.” Summing up his financial situation as “utterly disastrous,” he asks his friend Gleb Struve about the possibility of teaching Russian or French literature in England.
December 29: He finishes his translation, Despair.
January: Having to prepare at short notice something to read a French-speaking audience, Nabokov writes “Mademoiselle O,” a memoir of his French governess.
January-February: On his short reading tour of Brussels, Antwerp and Paris, both his Russian and French readings are highly successful. He shares a reading in Paris with Khodasevich, whom he regards as the greatest contemporary Russian poet.
February: Otchayanie is published as a book by Petropolis (trans. Despair, 1936, and revised, 1966).
spring?: Nabokov composes the verse for Dar.
April: He writes the major story “Spring in Fialta.”
May: After Vera, as a Jew, is fired from her last job, at an engineering firm, Nabokov learns that one of the assassins of his father, Sergey Taboritsky, has been appointed second-in-command to Hitler’s head of Russian emigre affairs. He immediately begins searching for a job teaching Russian literature in the US.
Late spring-summer?: He writes a few chapters (all lost) of an autobiography in English.
August: He begins the final consecutive composition of Dar, from Chapter 1.
September-November: He searches for a job anywhere in the English-speaking world.
January 18: Nabokov leaves Germany for last time for a reading tour of Brussels, Paris and London. He hopes to find employment in France or England while Vera winds up their affairs in Berlin.
February: In Paris he is pleased to see James Joyce in the audience during a reading. He begins a four-month affair with Russian emigre Irina Guadanini. Plagued by guilt, he develops severe psoriasis and comes close to suicide.
Late February: He gives readings in London, visits Cambridge, and unsuccessfully looks for work.
March: He returns to Paris and obtains permits for him and Vera to stay there.
April: Despair is published in London by John Long, the first book he has written in English. Chapter 1 of Dar appears in Sovremennye zapiski, although he has yet to complete the remaining chapters. Vera and Dmitri leave Berlin for Prague, where Nabokov joins them in May and sees his mother for the last time.
June: In Marienbad, he writes the major story “Cloud, Castle, Lake.”
June 30: The Nabokovs return to Paris. Nabokov sells the French rights to Despair to Gallimard, then in July settles with Vera and Dmitri in Cannes, where it is cheaper to live. He tells Vera of the affair, and after stormy arguments, an uneasy calm is restored.
August: The Sovremennye zapiski editors refuse to print the Chernyshevsky chapter of Dar; Nabokov protests against the political censorship but, needing the money, continues publishing the novel in the journal (the remaining chapters appear September 1937-October 1938).
September: Irina Guadanini visits Nabokov in Cannes; he asks her to leave. The American publisher Bobbs-Merrill offers a $600 advance for Camera Obscura, which Nabokov begins to retranslate and rewrite, retitling it as Laughter in the Dark.
Mid-October: He moves with his family to Menton (11 rue Partonneaux), where he works on Chapter 3 of Dar.
November-December: He writes a three-act play Sobytie (The Event) for the new Russian Theater in Paris.
January: He completes Dar.
March: Successful premiere of Sobytie in Paris; the play appears in Russkie zapiski in April.
April 22: Laughter in the Dark, published in New York by Bobbs-Merill, receives some good reviews but does not sell well.
May-June: Nabokov writes the major story “Tyrants Destroyed.”
July: He moves with his family to Moulinet, in the hills behind Menton, and captures what he will identify as his first new species of butterfly (after his death it proves to be a hybrid, as he had suspected might be possible).
Late August: The family redescends to Cap d’Antibes, where in September Nabokov writes the play Izobretenie Val’sa (published in Russkie zapiski in November and later translated as The Waltz Invention). His story collection Soglyadatay (The Eye) is published by Russkie zapiski. Nabokov writes to the Russian Literary Fund in the US about his financial desperation; in return for his request for monthly support, they send him a once-off $20.
October: After receiving an official identity card, he moves to Paris, renting a small apartment at 8 rue de Saigon. He sees friends including Khodasevich, Georges Hessen, Mark Aldanov, and Sovremennye zapiski editors Ilia Fondaminski and Vladimir Zenzinov. He writes the major story “The Visit to the Museum.”
November: He writes the major story “Lik.” Priglashenie na kazn’ is published in book form in Paris by Dom Knigi (trans. Invitation to a Beheading, 1959).
December: He begins his first English novel, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, completing it the next month.
January: He asks his friend Lucie Leon Noel to check his English in The Real Life of Sebastian Knight. In February, has dinner with James Joyce at the Leons’ home.
February: The family move to a larger apartment in the cheaper Porte St. Cloud area of Paris, at 31 rue le Marois.
April: Financially desperate without a work permit in France, Nabokov travels to England again in a vain search for literary or academic work. At the end of the month the family moves into a dingy apartment at 59 rue Boileau.
May 2: Nabokov’s mother dies in Prague.
May 31-June 14: He travels again to England seeking work.
June 14: Khodasevich dies of cancer.
June-September: The family summer at Frejus on the Riviera. Nabokov publishes the poem “Poety” (“The Poets”) over the pseudonym “Vasily Shishkov” to catch out the influential critic and poet Georges Adamovich, who has regularly condescended to Nabokov’s and Khodasevich’s work. Adamovich enthusiastically announces the arrival of a major new talent; Nabokov obliquely discloses the hoax in his story “Vasily Shishkov.”
September: The family returns to Paris. Germany invades Poland on September 1 and France declares war on Germany September 3. Fearing Paris will be bombed, the Nabokovs send Dmitri to stay with Anna Feigin in Deauville.
Autumn: Nabokov fails to find a publisher for Sebastian Knight; with no other work to sell, he begins accepting 1,000 francs monthly from his old Tenishev friend, Samuil Kyandzhuntsev, which he supplements by tutoring in English. Mark Aldanov, offered a job teaching a summer course in Russian literature at Stanford, declines and recommends Nabokov in his place. Nabokov receives and accepts the Stanford offer and applies for a U.S. visa.
October-November: He writes the novella Volshebnik (The Enchanter), about a man who marries a woman for access to her twelve-year-old daughter.
December: After securing U.S. visas, the Nabokovs begin the laborious process of seeking French exit visas and bring Dmitri back to Paris.
Winter-spring: In preparation for an academic future in US, Nabokov writes many lectures on Russian literature, and begins his final Russian novel, Solus Rex. The first chapter completed is published in Sovremennye zapiski in April.
May 10: Germans begin offensive against France and the Low Countries. With the help of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, given in appreciation of Nabokov’s father’s championing of Jews in pre-revolutionary Russia, the Nabokovs flee to the U.S. on board the Champlain just before the fall of Paris.
May 27: They arrive in New York with $600 and stay with Nathalie Nabokov (cousin Nicholas’s ex-wife). Nabokov meets Sergey Rachmaninoff, who had twice sent him money to Europe, and receives a small grant from the Russian Literary Fund.
June 10: The Nabokovs move to an apartment at 1326 Madison Avenue.
July 15: They head for West Wardboro, Vermont, where Harvard history professor Mikhail Karpovich has a farmhouse vacation home for emigre friends.
Mid-September: After a week back in New York, they move into an apartment at 35 West 87th Street. Nabokov seeks ways to bring Anna Feigin and other emigre friends to the U.S. Realizing that his English style can develop only if he renounces Russian fiction, Nabokov abandons Solus Rex, although another chapter, “Ultima Thule” has been completed (published in Novy zhurnal, 1942).
October 8: Through his cousin Nicholas Nabokov, he meets Edmund Wilson, acting literary editor of The New Republic, and is soon writing literary reviews for the journal and for the New York Sun.
Autumn-Winter: He sees old friends including Roman Grynberg, Mstislav Dobuzhinski, Aldanov and Zenzinov, meets Max Eastman, and becomes friends with Wilson and his wife, Mary McCarthy, and Harry and Elena Levin. He receives the final terms of the offer from Stanford, to teach Modern Russian Literature and the Art of Writing in the summer of 1941. He begins to prepare a full set of lectures on Russian literature, and also begins Lepidoptera research at the American Museum of Natural History, first checking on his Moulinet find.
Winter: He tutors privately in Russian, writes his first scientific papers (rather than collector’s notes) on Lepidoptera, and establishes himself on the lecture roster of the Institute of International Education. He has eight teeth extracted and dentures fitted.
March: He receives $750 and a bonus for two weeks of extremely successful lectures at Wellesley College. His frank anti-Sovietism particularly appeals to Wellesley president Mildred McAfee. Through Wilson, he meets Edward Weeks, editor of Atlantic Monthly. (“Cloud, Castle, Lake,” a translation of “Ozero, oblako, bashnya,” will appear in June, the first of many Nabokov stories and poems published in the Atlantic over the next five years.)
April: Nabokov begins translating Pushkin and other Russian verse for the Stanford course.
May: He is appointed to a one-year position at Wellesley College as Resident Lecturer in Comparative Literature, at a salary of $3,000.
June: Nabokov and his family are driven across the US by his Russian tutee Dorothy Leuthold. On June 7 he discovers a new species of butterfly on the rim of the Grand Canyon, and will name it Neonympha dorothea in Leuthold’s honor.
June-August: The Nabokovs rent a house at 230 Sequoia Avenue, Palo Alto. Nabokov teaches creative writing and Russian literature at Stanford, and meets Henry Lanz and Yvor Winters. In July, he learns that The Real Life of Sebastian Knight has been accepted by James Laughlin of New Directions on the recommendation of reader Delmore Schwartz.
September 11: The family returns east by train, to New York and then Wellesley.
Late September: They rent a house at 19 Appleby Road, Wellesley. Nabokov begins his year as virtual writer-in-residence at Wellesley College. About this time he starts writing the novel that will become Bend Sinister, but partly because of the anguish it causes him to have to abandon his Russian, and partly because of the lure of Lepidoptera, progress will at first be very slow.
Autumn: Nabokov translates Gogol, Pushkin, Lermontov and Tiutchev for teaching. He begins traveling regularly into Cambridge to Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, where he volunteers to set the Lepidoptera collection in order.
December 18: The Real Life of Sebastian Knight is published by New Directions and receives mostly good reviews but sells poorly.
Spring: Despite faculty backing, Nabokov is not reappointed at Wellesley, as his antagonism to the Soviet Union, acceptable a year earlier, embarrasses college president Mildred McAfee (named head of the Women’s Naval Reserve, WAVES) now that Germany has invaded Russia.
May: He is commissioned by New Directions to translate poems of Pushkin and Tyutchev and to write a critical book on Gogol.
June: He is appointed to a part-time position as Research Fellow in Entomology at the MCZ for 1942-43 at a salary of $1000. For the next four years he will spend more time at the microscope or preparing his Lepidoptera research for publication than in writing fiction.
June 6: “The Refrigerator Awakes,” the first of his poems to be published in The New Yorker, appears.
June, July-August: Nabokov spends most of the summer with his family at the Karpoviches’ in West Wardboro, Vermont, working in the attic for 8 to 10 hours a day on his Gogol book.
September 1: The family moves to an apartment at 8 Craigie Circle, Cambridge, where they will remain until 1948 and will often see the Levins, Wilson and Mary McCarthy.
September 30-October 25: To bring in some money, Nabokov undertakes a whistle-stop lecturing tour in the South (South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee), and catches local butterflies. He makes a lasting friendship with Florence Read, president of Spelman, a college for black women in Atlanta.
November 5-18: He resumes the lecture tour in Minnesota and Illinois. Because travel costs are consuming his lecture fees, he cancels the remainder of the tour.
December: He gives a final lecture in Virginia. While Vera is hospitalized with pneumonia, he gives Dmitri lessons in Russian grammar, and finishes his book on Gogol.
Winter: By now he specializes in Lycaenids, and begins a major rethinking of the genus.
January: He writes his first English story, “The Assistant Producer” (published in Atlantic Monthly in May).
Spring: He teaches a noncredit course in elementary Russian at Wellesley College.
March: He is awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship of $2,500 to complete his new novel.
April: On his way back from a lecture in Virginia, he visits emigre friends in New York, including George Hessen and Anna Feigin, whom he helped bring to America.
May: He finishes dictating Gogol through the Looking Glass to Vera and sends it to Laughlin.
Late June-early September: Nabokov stays with his family at Laughlin’s Alta Lodge, Sandy, Utah, where he catches butterflies and several new species of moths, and works on his new novel.
September: He resumes his noncredit Russian language course at Wellesley.
Autumn: He receives a $200 salary increase on a new annual contract at the MCZ (which will be renewed annually until he leaves Cambridge in 1948). He works intensely on Lepidoptera, up to fourteen hours a day, and builds up the most representative series of American Lycaeides in the world.
January: Vera persuades him to devote more time to his new novel, and he soon completes four chapters under the working title The Person from Porlock.
March: He is offered an official 1944-45 Wellesley course in elementary Russian.
June: Through fiction editor Katharine White, an admirer of his Atlantic stories, he signs a first-reading agreement with The New Yorker (it will last until his death). White also arranges a $500 advance, having been informed by Wilson that Nabokov is short of money.
June 6: He is hospitalized by a serious attack of food poisoning but escapes the next day, as soon as he has recovered.
Summer: He writes more of his new novel and the major story “Time and Ebb.” In late July-early August, he and Vera spend two weeks with Wilson and McCarthy at Wellfleet, Mass., and the rest of August with a family in Wellesley, often playing tennis with his Wellesley colleague the poet Jorge Guillen.
August 15: Nikolai Gogol is published by New Directions.
September: Appointed to a one-year contract as lecturer at Wellesley for $800, Nabokov teaches elementary Russian.
Autumn: After completing his exhaustive analysis of the North American Lycaeides, “Notes on the Morphology of the Genus Lycaeides,” he reclassifies the neotropical (Central and Southern American) blues (“Notes on Neotropical Plebejinae (Lycaenidae, Lepidoptera)”).
January 10: Nabokov’s brother Sergey dies in Neuengamme concentration camp.
February: Three Russian Poets (verse translations of Pushkin, Lermontov and Tyutchev) is published by New Directions.
April: The New Yorker accepts its first story from Nabokov, “Double Talk,” and pays $817.50, the most he has ever received for a story.
Spring: He begins wearing glasses for reading, a consequence of his work at the microscope.
June: After heart palpitations, he stops smoking on his doctor’s advice, and begins “inhaling” molasses candy, gaining 60 pounds over the summer.
July 12: Nabokov and Vera become US citizens.
Autumn: He begins teaching intermediate as well as elementary Russian at Wellesley, with his salary increased to $2000. He learns in a letter from Kirill that Sergey died from malnutrition in a German concentration camp after being arrested as a “British spy” for criticizing Nazi Germany, and hears from his sister Elena Sikorski and Evgenia Hofeld, who is caring for his nephew Rostislav Petkevich; he sends them money and packages and seeks a way to bring them out of Czechoslovakia. He receives $2,500 from the film rights to Laughter in the Dark.
January: After a third Wellesley course, his first in Russian literature, is approved for the 1947-48 academic year, Nabokov hurries to complete his novel. By June he finishes revising it, now tentatively called Solus Rex, and sends to Allen Tate at Henry Holt.
June-August: Near nervous collapse after the rush to complete his novel, he takes his family for an unsuccessful holiday on Newfound Lake, New Hampshire (the butterflies are poor) and then in August to Wellesley.
September: He begins teaching a Russian literature in translation course at Wellesley, and rereads Tolstoy and Dostoevsky for the purpose.
Autumn 1946-spring 1947: He undertakes research for his major Lepidoptera monograph, “The Nearctic Members of the Genus Lycaeides Hubner” (published 1949), which involves examining 2,000 specimens. He continues seeking a permanent job, but is passed over at the Voice of America, Harvard and Vassar.
November: Just before the novel goes to the printer, Nabokov settles on a title: Bend Sinister.
April: He begins to plan his autobiography and a novel about “a man who likes little girls.”
May: He completes the first draft of his Lycaeides monograph and writes the major story “Signs and Symbols.”
June 12: Bend Sinister is published to mixed reviews; since Tate has left Henry Holt, it is poorly promoted and does not sell well.
June-September: Nabokov takes his family to Estes Park, Colorado, where he loses 20 pounds butterfly hunting and climbing with Vera and Dmitri, and writes the first chapters of autobiography for The New Yorker, whose publisher, Harold Ross, is enthusiastic.
September: Nabokov resumes his work at Wellesley and the M.C.Z. on new annual contracts.
October-November: At the suggestion of New Yorker contributor Morris Bishop, Nabokov is invited to Cornell to be considered for a Russian literature post. When he receives a firm offer at a salary of $5,000, he accepts after Wellesley declines him a permanent appointment. He helps obtain a position for Elena Sikorski at the United Nations library in Geneva, and continues sending money to Hofeld and Rostislav and writes an affidavit in an unsuccessful attempt to bring Rostislav to the U.S.
December: Nine Stories is published by New Directions.
Spring: Nabokov has serious lung trouble, caused by a broken blood vessel in one lung. While he is confined to bed, Vera reads his lectures at Wellesley and takes his students through their final examinations. During and between bouts in bed he writes three more chapters of his autobiography and prepares his Lycaeides monograph for print.
July 1: He arrives with his family in Ithaca the day his appointment as professor of Russian literature at Cornell begins. They move into a furnished house at 802 East Seneca Street and buy their first car, which Vera learns to drive (Nabokov never learns).
September: They move to 957 East State St. With Dmitri at Holderness School in New Hampshire, which consumes a third of Nabokov’s salary, they take in a lodger to help pay the rent. Nabokov begins teaching Russian Literature 151-2 (a survey in translation) and Russian Literature 301-2 (a survey in Russian).
Autumn: Nabokov has to translate the medieval Russian heroic tale, Slovo o polku Igoreve (The Song of Igor's Campaign) for classes. Vera acts as his teaching assistant, continues to type up his literary work, and begins to conduct much of his business correspondence in her own name. They become good friends with Morris and Alison Bishop.
January: Nabokov begins to contemplate undertaking a literal translation of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin.
February: He teaches an additional seminar course, Russian Poetry 1870-1925, holding classes in his own home, while continuing the two survey courses.
Spring: He writes two more chapters of his autobiography. In May Vera drives him to New York City for a reading from his Russian works and visits with emigre friends and relatives.
June: They drive West for their first summer butterfly hunt by car, establishing a pattern for most of their remaining American summers.
July: Nabokov conducts classes at the University of Utah Writers’ Workshop in Salt Lake City, where he enjoys the company of Wallace Stegner, John Crowe Ransom and especially Theodore Geisel (“Dr. Seuss”).
Late July-August: He hunts butterflies in Wyoming.
September: Back in Cornell, he recommences his two Russian survey courses and introduces a Pushkin seminar.
October: He sends The New Yorker the “Student Days” chapter of his autobiography. Katharine and E.B. White visit. Nabokov cannot agree to the suggested changes to his chapter that Katharine White sends, and withdraws it (published as “Lodgings in Trinity Lane,” Harper’s Magazine, Jan. 1951).
January: Needing money, he lectures at the University of Toronto for $150 during the semester break.
March: He meets Harold Ross at a New Yorker party and sees Edmund Wilson for the first time since Wilson went to Europe in 1948.
April: He is hospitalized for two weeks with neuralgia intercostalis; he has a relapse and is unwell until May. Vera conducts his classes in his absence.
May: He finishes his autobiography, Conclusive Evidence (published in England in November as Speak, Memory).
June: He has his remaining six teeth extracted in Boston, and on the return trip to Ithaca he discovers specimens of the rare Lycaeides samuelis, which he had been the first to classify, at Karner, near Albany.
Summer: Under pressure from David Daiches, the head of Cornell’s Division of Literature, to teach larger classes, he writes lectures for a new Masterpieces of European Fiction course on Austen, Dickens, Flaubert, Tolstoy, Stevenson, Proust, Kafka and Joyce. During the second half of the year he begins writing a novel called The Kingdom by the Sea (later called Lolita). Dissatisfied, he decides to burn the manuscript, but Vera dissuades him.
February 14: Conclusive Evidence is published by Harper and Brothers to excellent reviews but sells poorly (published in England in November as Speak, Memory).
February-March: He writes the major story “The Vane Sisters.”
May 25: He receives a National Institute of Arts and Letters award of $1,000 in New York City.
June: With Dmitri about to enter Harvard, Nabokov borrows from his friend Roman Grynberg, explaining: “I can’t write stories for money, a pathological cold seizes my joints--and something else has me, a novel.” He is invited to replace Karpovich and one course of Harry Levin’s at Harvard in spring 1952.
Late June-August: He and Vera sell their furniture and piano and move out of their rented house before heading off to hunt butterflies in Colorado, Nabokov working on Lolita in cars and motels along the way. He catches the first known female of Lycaeides sublivens above Telluride, Colorado, where Dmitri joins them, before they move on to Wyoming and Montana.
Late August: Back in Ithaca, Nabokov and Vera move into a professor’s house at 623 Highland Road for the fall semester; they will live in the homes of professors on sabbatical for almost all their remaining time at Cornell.
Autumn: Nabokov does research on schoolgirls for Lolita. In October, he writes his last short story, “Lance” and suffers from severe insomnia because of the nervous energy it releases.
December 8: He reads and lectures at a evening staged in his honor by the Russian emigre community in New York City.
Spring: As Visiting Lecturer for the second semester at Harvard, Nabokov teaches courses on Russian Modernism and on Pushkin, and Humanities 2, The Novel, including Don Quixote. He and Vera see Dmitri, the Levins, Alice and William James (the son of the philosopher), old Wellesley friends, and Edmund Wilson and his fourth wife, Elena. He reads in the Morris Gray Poetry Series.
April: Dar is at last published in book form and complete, by Chekhov, a Russian publishing house in New York (trans. into English as The Gift, 1963, into French as Le Don, 1967). He agrees to a Russian version of Conclusive Evidence for Chekhov and receives a $1,500 advance. He is awarded a second Guggenheim Fellowship for an annotated translation of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin.
Late June-August: He hunts butterflies in Wyoming with Vera and carries on with Lolita.
September: In Ithaca, the Nabokovs take a house at 106 Hampton Road. Nabokov resumes his Cornell courses, including the European fiction course, now with 200 students. Over the autumn, he continues to work on Lolita.
February: Supported by his Guggenheim Fellowship, he takes an unpaid semester’s leave from Cornell to research for his Eugene Onegin commentary in Harvard’s libraries.
April-May: They hunt butterflies in Arizona. Nabokov works on Lolita.
June-August: They settle in Ashland, Oregon, for more butterflies; Nabokov works on Lolita and a story about Professor Pnin as the first instalment of a novel he can publish as sketches (four chapters are published in The New Yorker November 23, 1953-Nov. 12, 1955).
September: Back in Ithaca, the Nabokovs take a house at 957 East State Street. Over the fall, Nabokov applies intense pressure to complete Lolita. Finishing on December 6, he begins to search for an American publisher.
December 9: Morris Bishop recommends Nabokov’s promotion to a full professorship, with a salary of $6,000.
January: Viking turns down Lolita for fear of prosecution. Nabokov writes the second chapter of Pnin, which The New Yorker rejects as “unpleasant.”
February-March: Nabokov rushes to complete Drugie berega, his Russian translation and expansion of his autobiography.
April: He gives several lectures at the University of Kansas, Lawrence.
June-August: Nabokov stays with his family in Taos, New Mexico, where he works on notes (never completed) for a projected Modern Library edition of Anna Karenin. In July, Simon and Schuster rejects Lolita as “pure pornography.”
September: In Ithaca, the Nabokovs move to an apartment at 700 Stewart Avenue, where he works feverishly on Eugene Onegin.
Autumn: Lolita is turned down by New Directions, Farrar, Straus, and in December by Doubleday. Philip Rahv of Partisan Review counsels Nabokov that publishing the book anonymously as he has planned will destroy its best defense.
January: Nabokov writes Chapter 3 of Pnin.
February: Convinced that he will not find an American publisher for Lolita, he sends the typescript to his European agent, Doussia Ergaz, in Paris.
Spring: Nabokov works on Pnin.
June 6: He signs a contract for Lolita with Olympia Press, Paris, whose founder, Maurice Girodias, has agreed to publish it on condition that it carry Nabokov’s name.
June: Dmitri graduates cum laude from Harvard and enrols in the Longy School of Music in Cambridge. Jason Epstein of Doubleday (whose vote in favor of Lolita had been overruled) visits and arranges for Nabokov and Dmitri to translate Lermontov’s Geroy nashego vremeni (A Hero of Our Time) and for Nabokov to translate Anna Karenin (his translation is never completed).
July: The Nabokovs move to a house at 808 Hanshaw Road.
Late July-early August: Nabokov is hospitalized for lumbago.
August: He completes Pnin.
September: Lolita is published in Paris in Olympia’s Traveler’s Edition, a line consisting mostly of pornographic books aimed at the English-speaking tourist market. Nabokov receives copies of the book in October and discovers that copyright has been assigned to Olympia Press as well as to him.
November: Viking reject the novel, provisionally entitled My Poor Pnin, as too short; Harper and Brothers also turn it down.
December: Graham Greene selects Lolita as one of the three best books of the year in the London Sunday Times.
February Living in Cambridge (16 Chauncy Street) for the start of a semester’s sabbatical, Nabokov carries out the final research for Eugene Onegin in Harvard’s libraries.
February-March: Scandal begins to break around Lolita after John Gordon attacks Greene for praising it and denounces it as “Sheer unrestrained pornography” in the London Sunday Express. After the New York Times Book Review reports on the dispute and cites letters praising Lolita’s quality, Nabokov receives offers for rights from several American publishers.
March: Vesna v Fial’te i drugie rasskazy (Spring in Fialta and other stories) is published by Chekhov.
May: Nabokov hunts butterflies with his wife in southern Utah.
May-July: He finishes revising and writes an introduction for Dmitri’s translation of Lermontov’s novel A Hero of Our Time. In June the U.S. Customs seizes, then releases, copies of Lolita (it will do so again in November).
July-early August: He and Vera go butterfly hunting in Wyoming, Montana, Minnesota and Michigan, before returning to Ithaca.
October: Nabokov travels to New York to discuss with Epstein, Fred Dupee, and Melvin Lasky, the editor of Anchor Review, plans to publish excerpts from Lolita to prepare the way for public acceptance. Back in Ithaca he writes “On a Book Entitled Lolita” for the special Anchor Review issue.
December: At the request of Britain, the French Ministry of the Interior bans Lolita and 24 other Olympia titles. Girodias sues to have the ban lifted (he wins in January 1958); the case becomes known as “l'affaire Lolita.”
January: Nabokov completes Eugene Onegin’s “Notes on Prosody.”
Winter: Harvard University, seeking a new Russian professor, almost appoints Nabokov, until Roman Jakobson opposes: “Gentlemen, even if one allows that he is an important writer, are we next to invite an elephant to be Professor of Zoology?”
February: The Nabokovs move to 880 Highland Road, Ithaca.
March: Nabokov begins but has to leave aside work on a novel (later Pale Fire) as he rushes to finish Eugene Onegin.
March 7: Pnin is published by Doubleday to rapturous reviews and goes into its second printing within two weeks.
Summer: Nabokov stays in Ithaca in order to complete Eugene Onegin.
June: Anchor Review publishes nearly a third of Lolita, with Nabokov's afterword and critical commentary by Dupee.
September: In protest against what he has long considered inadequate Russian-language training at Cornell, Nabokov drops his Russian seminar course because of lack of qualified students.
Autumn: He contracts with publishers in Italy, France, Germany and Sewden for translation rights to Lolita. Doubleday and then McDowell, Obolensky withdraw their offers for American rights when Girodias demands up to 62.5 percent of Nabokov’s royalties. Nabokov becomes a campus celebrity in the wake of Lolita publicity and the nomination of Pnin for the National Book Award.
December: He finishes Eugene Onegin.
February: The Nabokov move to 404 Highland Road, their final Ithaca address. Despite Girodias’s insisting on half of the royalties, a contract for the American Lolita is at last worked out with Putnam’s.
March 6: A Hero of Our Time is published by Doubleday.
March-April: Nabokov hears from Weidenfeld and Nicolson in England and Gallimard in France that they want to publish as many Nabokov works as possible.
June-July: Vera drives Nabokov to Montana, Alberta and Wyoming in pursuit of butterflies.
August 18: Lolita is published in the U.S., selling 100,000 copies in three weeks, the fastest sales for an American novel since Gone With the Wind.
September: Harris-Kubrick Pictures buy the Lolita film rights for $150,000.
September 18: Nabokov's Dozen (thirteen stories) is published by Doubleday.
November: Nabokov is awarded a year's leave of absence from Cornell, and searches for a replacement so that leave can commence in February. By December he finds novelist Herbert Gold to fill the position.
January 19: He delivers his last Cornell lecture.
January: Bollingen Press agrees to publish Eugene Onegin.
February: Nabokov makes the first notes for a project called “The Texture of Time” (later incorporated into Ada)
February 24: After storing their belongings in Ithaca, the Nabokovs leave for New York City, taking an apartment in the Windermere Hotel.
March: Nabokov is interviewed by major American and English publications, and meets George Weidenfeld. He completes his translation of The Song of Igor's Campaign, and begins preparing annotations.
April: With Vera, he collects butterflies in Tennessee and Texas.
May-July: Staying at Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona, he catches butterflies and checks Dmitri’s translation, Invitation to a Beheading.
Early August: Asked again to write the Lolita screenplay, he travels to Los Angeles with Vera to discuss it with director Stanley Kubrick and producer James Harris, but cannot accept the changes they propose to the story.
August 20: Poems is published by Doubleday.
September: In New York for business, and about to sail to Europe for three months, Nabokov realizes with Vera that he does not want or have to return to university teaching for the spring semester. He submits his resignation to Cornell.
September 21: Invitation to a Beheading (Priglashenie na kazn’, written 1934, serialized 1935-6, published 1938) is published by Putnam’s. Translated by Dmitri Nabokov in collaboration with his father, this is the first of the Russian works to be resurrected because of Nabokov’s new fame. The rest of his Russian fiction will appear in the same way: with a new introduction by the author, the text translated entirely by him when major revisions are required, or by Dmitri (when he has time) or another translator working under the author’s detailed supervision.
September 29: Nabokov sails to Europe with Vera to see his sister Elena and his brother Kirill, to promote the French, British and Italian Lolitas, and to install Dmitri, who hopes for an operatic career, with a singing teacher in Milan. They still expect to return to the U.S. for good in three months.
October: With Kirill, they spend two weeks in Geneva, where Elena is a UNESCO librarian.
Late October: Gallimard stages a mammoth reception in Paris for the French Lolita. Nabokov asks to meet Alain Robbe-Grillet, whose work he admires, and is interviewed by him.
Early November: In London, Nabokov meets Graham Greene and appears on The Bookman television show. He delivers a lecture at Cambridge as part of a campaign to establish the respectability of Lolita, in case of last-minute censorship problems.
November 6: The English Lolita is published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson, without the feared prosecution for obscenity. It immediately sells out.
November-December: The Nabokovs travel through Rome, Taormina, Genoa, Milan and San Remo. In Genoa at the end of November they manage to elude the press, and Nabokov begins work on his Letters to Terra project (which will also become part of Ada).
December: Kubrick cables asking Nabokov to write the Lolita screenplay, with more artistic freedom allowed; having seen his own solution to the problems of the screenplay, Nabokov accepts. In Milan for a reception by Mondadori, he arranges an audition for Dmitri with singing teacher Maestro Campogalliani. The Nabokovs spend Christmas holidays in San Remo, joined by Dmitri and Elena and her son Vladimir Sikorski. Dmitri begins translating Dar as The Gift.
January-February: During his stay in the Hotel Astoria in Menton, Nabokov accepts an offer of $40,000 for writing the Lolita screenplay, plus an additional $35,000 if the script is credited solely to him. Dmitri is taken on by Campogalliani.
February 18: Nabokov and Vera head for Los Angeles by boat from Le Havre and train from New York.
March 10: They settle at 2088 Mandeville Canyon Road, Brentwood Heights, where Nabokov starts writing the Lolita screenplay.
July: With the first draft completed on July 9, Nabokov relaxes by butterfly hunting in the High Sierras.
Late July-early September: Told by Kubrick that the first version would take seven hours to run, Nabokov writes a much shorter version and sends it to Kubrick on September 8. His nephew Rostislav Petkevich dies in Prague of the effects of alcoholism on August 16. Dmitri wins first prize in the bass section of an international opera competition in Italy.
October 12: The Nabokovs head for New York, where they stay at Hampshire House. There on October 28 Nabokov records in his diary the idea for a novel “which is only the elaborate commentary to a gradually evolved short poem.”
November: They cross the Atlantic on the Queen Elizabeth, and spend time in Paris, Milan and Nice. On November 29, Nabokov begins writing the poem “Pale Fire,” using elements he had started gathering in Ithaca in 1957, and composes it intently over the winter.
December 3: In Nice, they settle into an apartment at 57 promenade des Anglais.
February 11: Nabokov completes the poem and begins work on the prose parts of the novel.
Late April: With Vera he attends Dmitri’s operatic debut in La Boheme in Reggio, in which Luciano Pavarotti also debuts, then sees Dmitri in Lucia di Lammermoor (they will try to see each of his new roles).
May: They move to Stresa, where Nabokov revises Dmitri’s translation of Chapter 1 of Dar (The Gift).
June-August: Living in Champex-Lac in Switzerland, he collects butterflies in the Valais and writes Pale Fire.
August 7: They move to Montreux, staying at the Hotel Belmont. Nabokov finds the atmosphere conducive to writing.
October 1: On the advice of Peter Ustinov, who lives in the Montreux Palace Hotel, they take rooms there, planning to stay until the spring.
December 4: Nabokov completes Pale Fire.
January-March: He corrects the French translation of Pnin and revises Michael Scammell’s translation of the last four chapters of The Gift, which Dmitri did not have time to complete himself.
April 25: Pale Fire is published by Putnam’s, prompting Newsweek to devote a cover story to Nabokov
June: The Nabokovs take the Queen Elizabeth to New York for the premiere of the Lolita film. Nabokov has heard that Harris and Kubrick have extensively reworked his screenplay. Seeing the film at a screening a few days before the June 13 opening, he praises the director and cast and conceals his disappointment that little remains of his screenplay. He gives numerous interviews before taking the Queen Elizabeth back to Europe.
July: While butterfly hunting at Zermatt, he hears that Pale Fire has made the bestseller list. His former schoolmate Samuel Rosov, whom he has not seen since 1919, visits.
August: The Nabokovs travel to Cannes to consider buying land there, but reject the idea. Dmitri becomes ill with a painful swelling of the joints.
September 15: Returning to the Montreux Palace, they move into a sixth-floor apartment in the Cygne wing, overlooking Lake Geneva, where they will live until Nabokov’s death (and Vera until 1990, the year before her death).
October: In remission, Dmitri begins competitive car-racing. During a visit by George Weidenfeld, Nabokov agrees to prepare a revised, illustrated Speak, Memory and a comprehensive catalogue of the Butterflies of Europe, illustrating all species and main subspecies, and with notes on classification, habitat and behavior. He begins working on the latter.
November: He prepares an index to his Eugene Onegin commentary.
December: Dmitri’s illness recurs and is diagnosed as Reiter’s syndrome. He spends the winter in a clinic in Zurich.
January: After months of working on the proofs of Eugene Onegin, Nabokov thoroughly revises his translation.
February: He begins translating Lolita into Russian, and resumes work on The Texture of Time, but spends most of the year working on Butterflies of Europe.
April: The Nabokovs visit Corsica to collect butterflies.
May 27: The Gift (Dar, written 1932-7, serialized 1937-8, published 1952) is published by Putnam’s. Reviews stress the extent and achievement of Nabokov’s oeuvre.
Nabokov hunts butterflies with Vera in Loeche-les-Bains in May-July and at Les Diablerets in July-August, returning to Montreux on August 19. Visitors include George Hessen, Raisa Tatarinov, Elena Sikorski, Anna Feigin and Vera’s sister Sonia Slonim.
September: Nabokov writes an introduction for the Time-Life reissue of Bend Sinister (published in 1964).
October-November: He corrects Scammell’s translation of The Defense.
December: He writes a review of Walter Arndt's translation of Eugene Onegin. His Butterflies of Europe is becoming still more ambitious.
January: Edmund Wilson visits for the last time.
March: Nabokov begins to think about a book on Butterflies in Art.
March-April: With Dmitri well enough to resume singing lessons, Nabokov leaves with Vera for the publication of Eugene Onegin in New York. He gives public readings in New York and (his last) at Harvard, where he meets graduate student Andrew Field. They travel to Ithaca to retrieve some papers from storage and to visit with Morris Bishop. On April 16 Kirill dies in Munich of a heart attack. A reception for Eugene Onegin (published by Bollingen in June) is held on April 21, after which the Nabokovs return to Switzerland.
May: Vera is hospitalized for several weeks of tests and has her appendix removed.
June: Nabokov revises The Eye for Playboy (published March 1965).
July-August: They summer and pursue butterflies at Crans-sur-Sierre in the Valais.
September: The Defense (Zashchita Luzhina, written 1929, serialized 1929-30, published 1930) is published by Putnam’s.
Late September: Nabokov resumes serious work on The Texture of Time while waiting on British Museum replies to his queries for Butterflies of Europe.
December: He resumes the translation of Lolita into Russian.
Late December-early January: The Nabokovs rest in Abano, near Padua.
March: Nabokov completes the Russian Lolita and begins extensive revision of his 1936 Despair (translation of Otchayanie). He also composes his first chess problem for many years.
April-June: During construction work at the Montreux Palace Hotel, he travels with Vera, by way of Milan--where he researches paintings for the projected Butterflies in Art--to Gardone to chase live butterflies. He works on The Texture of Time.
July-August 10: The Nabokovs stay in St. Moritz for the butterflies. They are relieved to learn that Dmitri will give up car racing to concentrate on his singing. Nabokov reads Edmund Wilson’s harshly critical review of his Eugene Onegin in the New York Review of Books, and writes an immediate reply (the letter appears on August 26). Over the next year the controversy draws in others, including Anthony Burgess, Robert Lowell and George Steiner.
September: Unable to endure any longer the distraction of publishing uncertainties about his Butterflies of Europe, Nabokov cancels the project, despite Weidenfeld’s offering a $10,000 advance.
September 15: The Eye (Soglyadatay, written 1929-1930, serialized November 1930, book 1938) is published by Phaedra.
Mid-late September: Nabokov is interviewed and filmed by Robert Hughes for New York Educational Television.
October-November: He writes a longer reply to critics of his Eugene Onegin, especially Wilson (“Nabokov’s Reply,” Encounter, February 1967).
November: He begins revising Speak, Memory.
December: He extensively rewrites parts of The Waltz Invention, Dmitri’s translation of Izobretenie Val’sa, and agrees to allow Radio Liberty to publish some of his works for free clandestine distribution in the Soviet Union, under the imprint Editions Victor (they will publish Priglashenie na kazn’ in 1966 and Zashchita Luzhina in 1967). Nabokov has the first detailed flash of a section of Ada.
January: He completes his revisions of Speak, Memory.
February: He writes “Lolita and Mr. Girodias” (Evergreen Review, February 1967), a refutation of Girodias’s “Lolita, Nabokov and I” (Evergreen Review, September 1965). Seeing a link between his December flash (the story of Van and Ada) and his Texture of Time and Letters from Terra projects, he begins to compose Ada at a rapid rate.
February: The Waltz Invention (Izobretenie Val'sa, written and published 1938), is published by Phaedra.
April-August: Nabokov travels with Vera around Italy (Milan, Pompeii, Naples, Amalfi, Chianciano Terme, Ponte di Legno), writing Ada and exploring galleries and museums for Butterflies in Art.
May: The revised translation of Despair (Otchayanie, written 1932, serialized 1934, published 1936) is published by Putnam’s.
August: The Nabokovs collect butterflies at Bad Tarasp in the Engadin.
September: In Montreux, Nabokov is photographed by Philippe Halsman and interviewed by Herbert Gold for Saturday Evening Post (February 11, 1967).
Late October: Nabokov sends Vera to New York to discuss Nabokov’s publishing future with Putnam’s. Dissatisfied with Putnam’s answers about advances, advertising and sales, Nabokov seeks another publisher.
November: Although Ada is progressing rapidly, he stops to revise Eugene Onegin, making it still more literal, despite the recent protests of critics.
December-February: He checks Dmitri's translation of Korol’, dama, valet (King, Queen, Knave) and rewrites the novel extensively.
January: Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited is published by Putnam’s.
April: A French court rules the agreement between Olympia Press and Nabokov canceled as of December 1964.
April-June: Nabokov stays with Vera in Camogli, northern Italy, catching butterflies and working intensely on Ada. They are joined by Dmitri and Elena and visited by Peter Kemeny of McGraw-Hill.
June-August: They move to Limone Piemonte; Ada still surges forward.
August: The Russian Lolita is published by Phaedra.
November: Vera flies to New York to arrange bringing her aging cousin Anna Feigin back to Montreux, and settles the final details of an eleven-book, $250,000 contract with McGraw-Hill.
December: Andrew Field, who is updating and expanding Dieter Zimmer’s 1963 Nabokov bibliography for McGraw-Hill, visits after Christmas.
January: Nabokov’s Hollywood agent Irving Lazar visits to discuss film rights for Ada and a Lolita musical proposed by Harold Prince. Alfred Appel, Jr., working on his Annotated Lolita, visits with his wife Nina; both are former Cornell students of Nabokov’s.
March: Vera flies to New York to bring Anna Feigin, now 80 and ailing, to live nearby in Montreux.
April: King, Queen, Knave (Korol', dama, valet, written 1927-8, published 1928) is published by McGraw-Hill. Nabokov receives from his sister Olga in Prague some 150 letters he had written to his mother.
May: Nabokov agrees to Andrew Field’s request to undertake his biography.
May-July: With Vera, Nabokov hunts butterflies in Bex-les-Bains and Verbier, Switzerland.
October: He completes Ada. Representatives of movie studios arrive to read the novel in typescript and bid for rights.
December: Nabokov begins to select and translate his Russian poems for a collection (later titled Poems and Problems).
January: Columbia Pictures buys the film rights to Ada for $500,000 (the picture is not produced).
March: Joseph Papp stages Russell McGrath’s adaptation of Invitation to a Beheading at the New York Shakespeare Festival.
May 5: Ada is published by McGraw-Hill to initial critical acclaim, popular attention (a Time cover story on Nabokov, a rapturous front-page New York Times Book Review review by Alfred Appel, Jr., a large advance extract in Playboy) and high sales. The novel’s publication marks the high point of Nabokov’s reputation during his lifetime; its difficulty and the high praise will however produce a lasting backlash.
June-August: The Nabokovs summer in Lugano (Ticino) and Adelboden (Bernese Oberland), enjoying a visit from Carl and Ellendea Proffer, who are setting up Ardis Press to publish Russian works.
September: Nabokov writes “Notes to Ada by Vivian Darkbloom” (published in the 1970 Penguin edition in England). Simon Karlinsky visits.
October 7: Nabokov begins writing Transparent Things, but makes slow progress.
January: He completes the compilation of Poems and Problems.
February: He revises Mary, Michael Glenny’s translation of Mashen’ka.
March: After writing replies to the contributors of a Tri-Quarterly issue devoted to him (published as “Anniversary Notes,” Tri-Quarterly, Winter 1970), he leaves with Vera for Rome, where he visits the Vatican Museum for his Butterflies in Art project.
April-May: They travel to Taormina, Sicily, for butterflies, then return to Montreux, where Alan Jay Lerner visits to discuss the Lolita musical.
Late June-July: They travel to Saas Fee in the Valais for butterflies. Transparent Things “bursts into life” (diary, June 30).
Late August: The Appels visit the Nabokovs in Montreux.
September: Mary (Mashen'ka, written 1925-26, published 1926) is published by McGraw-Hill.
September-December: With Dmitri now singing in North and South America, Vera completes the translation of Podvig (Glory), the last of the Russian novels to be translated, while Nabokov revises.
December 31: Field arrives for a month’s stay in Montreux in preparation for his biography of Nabokov.
February-March: The musical Lolita, My Love flops in trials in Philadelphia and then, revamped, in Boston, sparing the Nabokovs a planned April visit to the U.S. for the now-cancelled Broadway opening.
Spring: Nabokov begins translating Russian stories with Dmitri for McGraw-Hill collections.
March: Poems and Problems, a collection of 39 Russian poems with translations, 14 English poems, and 18 chess problems, is published by McGraw-Hill.
Late March-early April: Nabokov and Vera fly to Praia da Rocha, Portugal, but bad weather restricts the butterflies, and they soon return to Montreux.
May: They travel to Draguignan, France.
June: With Vera slightly ill, Nabokov is driven on his own to Anzere in the Valais to chase butterflies. A reaction to antibiotics puts Vera in hospital, and Nabokov returns to Montreux.
August: They rent apartments between Saanen and Gstaad for themselves and Dmitri, Anna Feigin, Elena and Sonia Slonim. At the end of the month, Nabokov writes “Rowe’s Symbols” (published New York Review of Books, October 7) defending his work against critic William Woodin Rowe.
September: Despite receiving a friendly reply in March to a friendly letter to Edmund Wilson, Nabokov is outraged to read Wilson’s comments about him in Upstate, and writes a letter to the New York Review of Books (published November 7) refuting statements “on the brink of libel.”
November: After a five-month pause, Transparent Things begins a steady “retrickle” (diary).
December: Glory (Podvig, written 1930, serialized 1931-32, published 1932) is published by McGraw-Hill
April 1: After an intense four months, Nabokov completes Transparent Things.
April 14-May 5: The Nabokovs hunt butterflies in Amelie-les-Bains, Pyrenees Orientales.
June 12: Edmund Wilson dies.
June 19-July 18: They hunt butterflies in Lenzerheide in the Grisons.
August: They return to the apartments between Saanen and Gstaad.
September-October: Nabokov prepares a collection of interviews and articles (later titled Strong Opinions).
October 13: Transparent Things is published by McGraw-Hill to mixed reviews and poor sales.
November: At the request of Edmund White, Nabokov writes the article “On Inspiration” for Saturday Review of the Arts Nabokov issue (January 6, 1973).
November-December: He revises Dmitri’s translations of stories for the collection Tyrants Destroyed and Other Stories.
January 6: Anna Feigin dies.
Mid-January: Vera is hospitalized with two slipped discs; Nabokov writes that the “feeling of distress, desarroi, utter panic and dreadful presentiment every time V. is away in hospital, is one of the greatest torments of my life.”
January-February: He reads and corrects the manuscript of Andrew Field’s Nabokov: His Life in Part, distressed by its inaccuracies.
February 6: He begins writing Look at the Harlequins!
April: He begins translating stories with Dmitri for Details of a Sunset and Other Stories.
April 10: A Russian Beauty and Other Stories is published by McGraw-Hill.
Late spring: Before Elena’s trip to Leningrad for the summer, Nabokov gives his sister a list of details to check for his Look at the Harlequins!
June-July: Nabokov and Vera hunt butterflies in Cervia and Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy.
August-September: Back in Montreux, Nabokov reads and corrects the revised manuscript of Field’s biography; beyond a letter asking him to acknowledge corrections, he will never communicate directly with Field again.
September 25: He returns to Look at the Harlequins!, writing out the final consecutive draft.
November: Strong Opinions is published by McGraw-Hill. Nabokov is awarded the National Medal for Literature prize of $10,000.
Winter-spring: He is deeply engrossed in writing Look at the Harlequins!, completing it on April 3.
February 14: When news breaks that Alexander Solzhenitsyn has been deported to Germany, Nabokov at once writes a letter welcoming him to the West.
February 25: Lolita: A Screenplay is published by McGraw-Hill and sells very poorly.
April: Nabokov signs a new agreement with McGraw-Hill for another six books over the next four years. He and Vera spend eight days with the German translators of Ada, the third and final of their revision sessions.
May: He sorts through Edmund Wilson’s letters for his widow, Elena, who is preparing a volume of Wilson’s correspondence, and writes to her that it is “agony” to go over the exhanges from the “early radiant era of our correspondence.” He receives and begins revising the manuscript of the French Ada, and has a new novel (eventually titled The Original of Laura) “mapped out rather clearly for next year.”
June-July: At Zermatt with Vera, he hunts butterflies and revises the French Ada.
July 27-August 2: He travels on with Vera for a week with Dmitri at Sarnico, Italy.
August 27: Look at the Harlequins! is published to mixed reviews.
Autumn: The Nabokovs are visited in Montreux by Viktor Nekrasov and Vladimir Maximov, and are distressed when Solzhenitsyn and his wife fail to arrive for a visit due to a miscommunication.
November: Mashen'ka (the original of Mary) and Podvig (the original of Glory) are reissued by Ardis, which will reissue all of Nabokov’s Russian fiction over the next decade.
Late November: Nabokov resumes intense work on checking French Ada.
January 27: Tyrants Destroyed and Other Stories is published by McGraw-Hill.
February: Nabokov completes the revisions to the typescript of the French Ada.
March-April: He checks the galleys and page proofs of the French Ada, exhausting himself to meet the May publication deadline.
May 30: He is interviewed live for Bernard Pivot’s influential television books programme, Apostrophes. The quality of the translation, the positive reviews and the interview propel Ada ou l’ardeur to number 2 on the French best-seller lists.
June 18-July: Nabokov goes with Vera to Davos for the butterflies. During one hunt late in July, he has a severe fall on the mountainside.
August-September: He continues to feel unwell, and tests show he has a tumor on the prostate.
October 16: An operation removes the tumor, which is found to be benign.
December: He returns to writing The Original of Laura.
December 30: The revised translation of Eugene Onegin is published by Princeton University Press.
January: Nabokov suggests that McGraw-Hill bring out a volume of the Nabokov-Wilson correspondence with Simon Karlinsky as editor (The Nabokov-Wilson Letters, 1940-1971, is posthumously published by Harper and Row in 1979).
March 9: Details of a Sunset and Other Stories is published by McGraw-Hill to good reviews, thus completing the stories Nabokov wants to collect.
April 20: He reports that he anticipates completing his new novel before the summer is over.
May 1: He trips, suffers concussion, goes to hospital for ten days, and returns feeling leaden.
June: A lumbago attack postpones the summer butterfly excursion and an undiagnosed infection causes fever.
June 17-September 7: Semi-conscious, he is admitted to hospital, and remains delirious much of the summer.
September: He undergoes two weeks of convalescence and physiotherapy in Valmont Clinic with Vera, who has damaged her spine attempting to support him after a fall.
Autumn-winter: He selects poems for the collection Stikhi (Poems) for Ardis. Weak, with almost no sleep, he can write out little of The Original of Laura.
February: He has a last interview with BBC Television.
March: He catches cold from Dmitri, develops fever, and from March 19 to May 7 is re-hospitalized in Lausanne.
June 5: When fever recurs, he is readmitted to the Nestle Hospital in Lausanne.
Late June: Severe bronchial congestion sets in.
July 2: At 6:50 P.M. he dies, with Vera and Dmitri at his bedside, of a fluid buildup in the lungs. After cremation on July 7 at a non-religious service in Vevey attended by a dozen family members and friends, his ashes are interred the next day at Clarens cemetery.
Vladimir Nabokov Society (later Intenrational Vladimir Nabokov Society) founded by Stephen Jan Parker.
The Nabokovian, edited by Stepehn Jan Parker, begins publication.
Stikhi, ed. Vera Nabokov, published.
The Nabokov-Wilson Letters, ed. Simon Karlinsky, published.
Lectures on Literature, ed. Fredson Bowers, published.
Lectures on Ulysses (facsimile) published.
Lectures on Russian Literature, ed. Fredson Bowers, published.
Lectures on Don Quixote, ed. Fredson Bowers, published.
The Man from the USSR and Other Plays, ed. Dmitri Nabokov, published..
Perepiska s sestroy, ed. Elena Sikorski, published.
Novella L’Enchanteur (Volshebnik, 1939) published for the first time, in French.
The Enchanter published in English.
Selected Letters 1940-1971, ed. Dmitri Nabokov and Mathew J. Bruccoli, published.
April 7: Vera Nabokov dies in Vevey.
Volshebnik published in Russian.
Stories of Vladimir Nabokov, ed. Dmitri Nabokov, published.
Nabokov’s Butterflies, ed. Brian Boyd and Robert Michael Pyle, published.
Speak, Memory, ed. Brian Boyd, published with Chapter 16.
Dear Bunny, Dear Volodya (2nd ed. of Nabokov-Wilson Letters), ed. Simon Karlinsky, published.
Verses and Versions: Three Centuries of Russian Poetry, ed. Brian Boyd and Stanislav Shvabrin, published.
Tragediya gospodina Morna, ed. Andrei Babikov, published (written 1923-24).
The Original of Laura published (written 1974-1977).
February 22: Dmitri Nabokov dies in Vevey.
Selected Poems, ed. Thomas Karshan, published.
The Tragedy of Mister Morn, trans. Anastasia Tolstoy and Thomas Karshan, published.
Letters to Vera, ed. Olga Voronina and Brian Boyd, published.
Insomniac Dreams: Experiments with Time, ed. Gennady Barabtarlo, published (dated 2018).