Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026856, Mon, 8 Feb 2016 15:00:43 +0000

Nabokov's Primer--An Old Question Answered
Way back in 1997, according to the archives, our list founder queried the name of Nabokov's English primer, which he describes at the start of chapter four in SM.

DBJ remarked:

I am attempting to identify the English primer from which Vladimir Nabokov
learned to read English circa 1904. He describes it as "a brown volume" in
which the early section was restricted to three-letter words. Its heroes
were Ben, Dan, Sam & Ned: "Who is Ben?" "He is Dan," "Sam is in bed." "Ben
has an axe." Near the text's end a simple story was presented: "One day
Ted said to Ann: Let us---"

These are example sentences Nabokov recalled some 40 years later, so they
may well be "illustrative" rather than accurate quotes. The book is
probably British since his governess was. Although, he refers to it as "my
grammar," the examples lead one to assume it was simply an elementary

I would be most grateful for any suggestions. Is there perhaps a
particular information source about the history of English primers that
covers the turn of the century?

I happened upon VN's passage today as I prepared to teach my class and had the same question. Fortunately, Google Books has once again proved useful. Nabokov's primer was likely The Revised Code: The Grade Lesson Books in Six Standards, by E.T. Stevens and Charles Hole (London, 1863). See here:


Matt Roth

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