Stalking Nabokov

Brian Boyd

Columbia University Press

Stalking Nabokov

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Pub Date: June 2013

ISBN: 9780231158572

464 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $34.00£29.00

Pub Date: November 2011

ISBN: 9780231158565

464 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $105.00£88.00

Pub Date: November 2011

ISBN: 9780231530293

464 Pages

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List Price: $33.99£29.00

Stalking Nabokov

Brian Boyd

Columbia University Press

At the age of twenty-one, Brian Boyd wrote a thesis on Vladimir Nabokov that the famous author called "brilliant." After gaining exclusive access to the writer's archives, he wrote a two-part, award-winning biography, Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years (1990) and Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years (1991). This collection features essays written by Boyd since completing the biography, incorporating material he gleaned from his research as well as new discoveries and formulations.

Boyd confronts Nabokov's life, career, and legacy; his art, science, and thought; his subtle humor and puzzle-like storytelling; his complex psychological portraits; and his inheritance from, reworking of, and affinities with Shakespeare, Pushkin, Tolstoy, and Machado de Assis. Boyd offers new ways of reading Nabokov's best English-language works: Lolita, Pale Fire, Ada, and the unparalleled autobiography, Speak, Memory, and he discloses otherwise unknown information about the author's world. Sharing his personal reflections, Boyd recounts the adventures, hardships, and revelations of researching Nabokov's biography and his unusual finds in the archives, including materials still awaiting publication. The first to focus on Nabokov's metaphysics, Boyd cautions against their being used as the key to unlock all of the author's secrets, showing instead the many other rooms in Nabokov's castle of fiction that need exploring, such as his humor, narrative invention, and psychological insight into characters and readers alike. Appreciating Nabokov as novelist, memoirist, poet, translator, scientist, and individual, Boyd helps us understand more than ever the author's multifaceted genius.

This book is a real treasure. It represents a considerable range of work by the author of one of the great biographies of the late twentieth century, who is also a lucid and consistently engaged and engaging critic. A remarkable read—all readers and scholars of Vladimir Nabokov will need this book.

Michael Wood, Princeton University

Brian Boyd is, without question, the foremost single authority on Vladimir Nabokov's life and art and has been generally considered such ever since the publication of his magisterial two-volume critical biography, Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years and Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years. Not only is anything that Boyd writes about Nabokov significant, but his study of Nabokov is remarkably dynamic—there's just no other word for it. Stalking Nabokov tells a fascinating story of continual intellectual rediscovery and of Boyd's own development as reader, student, literary sleuth, biographer, critic, colleague, collaborator, mentor, and, best of all, rereader.

Susan Elizabeth Sweeney, College of the Holy Cross, president of the International Vladimir Nabokov Society and co-moderator of the Vladimir Nabokov Electronic Forum (NABOKV-L)

At the end of the twentieth century, Vladimir Nabokov was judged as one of the ten greatest writers in the world of that century. And I can confirm that the two best works ever written on Nabokov—anywhere in the world—are Brian Boyd's two-volume account of Nabokov's life and work. In these volumes, the specifics of Nabokov's life are thorough and precisely correct, and the description, evaluation, and interpretation of all of Nabokov's writings remain to this day the finest ever written. All Nabokov scholars must use Boyd's work and interpretations as a basis in order to go forward from any other perspective. So without question, he is the greatest Nabokov scholar in the world

Stephen Jan Parker, University of Kansas, founding editor of The Nabokovian and author of Understanding Vladimir Nabokov

A readable collection on one of the 20th century's greatest writers, this will be enjoyed by Nabokov fans and students of 20th century literature.

Library Journal

Boyd's graceful style and passionate advocacy achieves the goal of the best literary criticism: it compels us to pick up Nabokov and read, or read again, the work of a master.

Publishers Weekly

In Stalking Nabokov Boyd attempts something fairly ambitious: he takes the titanic Nabokov and seeks to revise him upwards. As Boyd sees it, he is not only the greatest novelist of the century; he is also a considerable poet, an important scientist, a controversially original translator, a fearless and liberating critic, a learned psychologist.... Véra [Nabokov] soon came to value him and to trust him; and we should follow her lead.... Professor Boyd, as the author of books on evolution and cognition, is well equipped to give us a real sense of Nabokov's scientific weight.... The long and fervent essay in Stalking Nabokov [on the poem] "Pale Fire," compel us to reexamine the poem as an autonomous whole. And the exercise is epiphanic. "Pale Fire" glows with fresh pathos and vibrancy—and so does Pale Fire. For the first time we see the poem in all its innocence, and register the vandalism of Kinbote's desperate travesty. // So at last the true dimensions of Pale Fire are more clearly revealed to us.... On the timbre of Nabokov's artistic spirit Boyd is fundamentally right-headed.

Martin Amis, Times Literary Supplement

Advances a consistent and intriguing reading of [Nabokov's] work.... a powerful corrective to a prevailing view of Nabokov.

Larry Hardesty, Boston Globe

Essential for everyone interested in the Russian master.


Boyd's deft analysis of the novels is superb.... genuinely exhilarating.... Brian Boyd is not only Nabokov's biographer but also his pre-eminent critic. This is a valuable and delightful collection of essays on one of the twentieth century's most significant novelists.

Paul Morgan, Australian Book Review

There is plenty of sensible and revealing stuff here.

New Yorker

Absolutely fascinating.... Uniquely compelling.... This is Boyd at his best.

Eric Naiman, San Francisco Chronicle

There is much here that will inform, enliven, and enlighten the work of one of the greatest novelists of his century.

New York Times Book Review

Required reading for serious students of Nabokov.


Boyd is always a pleasure to read...and this collection does not disappoint.

Stephen H. Blackwell, Slavic Review

Ambitious.... Fervent.... Epiphanic.

Martin Amis, Times Literary Supplement

Substantial.... Impressive.... Enlightening.... Best of all, his enthusiasm for Nabokov's verbal pyrotechnics, for his comically deluded heroes pursuing elusive objects of desire, for the ability to depict life itself, joyously 'swarming with inexhaustible diversity and delight,' sends you back to read the books... of one of literature's great masters.

David Eggleton, The Listener

Boyd's sophisticated use of texts and contexts, close readings informed by archival materials and decades of experience, and wonderful writing style mean that all Nabokov scholars and fans will enjoy.

Jason Merrill, The Russian Review

Boyd is, without a doubt, an incredibly exacting and rigorous scholar — his tireless research and collection of a vast array of materials is something which coming generations of academics will continue to be grateful for.

U.H. Dematagoda, Slavonic and East European Review
List of Abbreviations
Nabokov: The Writer's Life and the Life Writer
1. A Centennial Toast
2. A Biographer's Life
3. Who Is "My Nabokov"?
Nabokov's Manuscripts and Books
4. The Nabokov Biography and the Nabokov Archive
5. From the Nabokov Archive: Nabokov's Literary Legacy
Nabokov's Metaphysics
6. Retrospects and Prospect/s
7. Nabokov's Afterlife
Nabokov's Butterflies
8. Nabokov, Literature, Lepidoptera
9. Netting Nabokov: Review of Dieter E. Zimmer, A Guide to Nabokov's Butterflies and Moths
Nabokov as Psychologist
10. The Psychological Work of Fictional Play
Nabokov and the Origins and Ends of Stories
11. Stacks of Stories, Stories of Stacks
Nabokov as Writer
12. Nabokov's Humor
13. Nabokov as Storyteller
14. Nabokov's Transition from Russian to English: Repudiation or Evolution?
Nabokov and Others
15. Nabokov, Pushkin, Shakespeare: Genius, Generosity, and Gratitude in The Gift and Pale Fire
16. Nabokov as Verse Translator: Introduction to Verses and Versions
17. Tolstoy and Nabokov
18. Nabokov and Machado de Assis
Nabokov Works
19. Speak, Memory : The Life and the Art
20. Speak, Memory : Nabokov, Mother, and Lovers: The Weave of the Magic Carpet (1999)
21. Lolita : Scene and Unseen
22. Even Homais Nods: Nabokov's Fallibility; Or, How to Revise Lolita
23. Literature, Pattern, Lolita ; Or, Art, Literature, Science
24. "Pale Fire": Poem and Pattern
25. Ada : The Bog and the Garden; Or, Straw, Fluff, and Peat: Sources and Places in Ada
26. A Book Burner Recants: The Original of Laura
Web Features:

About the Author

Brian Boyd is University Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Auckland. His work on American, Brazilian, English, Greek, Irish, New Zealand, and Russian literature, from epics to comics, has appeared in seventeen languages and has won awards on four continents. He is the author of Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years and Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years, books on Pale Fire and Ada, and the enormous AdaOnline. He has edited Nabokov's English fiction, autobiography, butterfly writings, and verse translations and is now editing a collection of the author's letters to his wife. Also known for his evolutionary and cognitive work, he is the author of On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction and the forthcoming Why Lyrics Last: Evolution, Cognition, and Shakespeare's Sonnets and is coeditor of Evolution, Literature, and Film: A Reader. He is currently working on a biography of the philosopher Karl Popper.