by Suellen Stringer-Hye
Jean and Alexander Heard Library
Vanderbilt University

Nabokov always celebrated his birthday, warmed by Shakespeare, on April 23, but the word is not out, for he is registered in the Anniversary section of several newspapers as "Born: April 22, 1899," thus commemorating perhaps less convivially. Not a single newspaper noted Nabokov's preferred date.

Births: Isabella, Queen of Castille and Leon, 1451 ... Immanuel Kant, philosopher, 1724 ... Madame de Stael (Anne-Louise-Germaine Necker, Baronne de Stael- Holstein), writer, 1766 ... Lenin (Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov), Russian Communist leader, (Old Style 10 April) 1870; ... Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov, novelist, poet, and lepidopterist, 1899 ... Julius Robert Oppenheimer, physicist, 1904.
Journalists often introduce an article using a Nabokov quotation for substance or color. Below you will find Nabokov directly quoted or paraphrased, opening articles ranging from literature to travel:
"In 1983, David Bethea published an engrossing critical biography of the almost forgotten Soviet emigre poet Vladislav Khodasevich, whom Nabokov, rarely a man to say a kind word about contemporary authors, considered 'the greatest Russian poet that the twentieth century has yet produced.'"

Dana Gioia, Washington Times, April 24, 1994, p. B8

"'You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style' says Nabokov's Humbert Humbert. And so it is with Ian Wharton, the narrator of the British writer Will Self's first novel My Idea of Fun. [...] More often, à la Nabokov, they collide and combine in a series of fissions, fusions and transmutations." [Discussing the author's style]

New York Times, April 24, 1994

"Death is a question of style Vladimir Nabokov once wrote. The simultaneous deaths of Fellini and Pheonix were nothing if not stylish."

Alex Ross, Washington Post, November 7, 1993, p. C1, Obituary for River Pheonix and Federico Fellini.

"Nabokov suggested that translations should read like translations"

From a review in the April 5 Guardian of The Desert of Love by Francois Mauriac translated by Gerald Hopkins. The critic (Shaun Whiteside) either condemns or applauds (it is not evident which) the translator for conceding to this dictum.

"Nabokov said there was no such thing as reading a classic once. The same with great paintings, great music, operas and buildings."

Marvin Bragg, Times, February 5, 1994. Feature section--a travel piece.

"Halfway through the century, Vladimir Nabokov described fiction as a constantly evolutionary progress. Each new generation could go deeper than the last, could take on new subjects, or strip away another layer from the old one. It is impossible to imagine Homer describing childbirth in the same detail as Tolstoy does, he said."

"The truth of the comment is on display in every extract in this supplement. At the end of the millennium, fiction now has an unparalled range of talent and freshness. Even Nabokov might be delightedly bewildered by all this."

Richard Gott, The Guardian, February 25, 1994 p. S3

Nabokov also appears within the text, adding spark and sparkle to a wide range of subjects:

"Vladimir Nabokov titled his memoirs Speak, Memory. Mine will be published as Speak, Memory, and Would You Mind Spelling the Proper Names Too.

Jeff Millar Houston Chronicle, March 10, p. 2 Article about Southwest Conference football announcer Kern Tips and the writer's inability to remember how Tips' name is spelled.

Reviews of Saul Bellow's new book of essays entitled It all Adds Up: From the Dim Past to the Uncertain Future often excerpt the comments pertaining to Nabokov and note Bellow's appreciation of Nabokov:

"More than once he (Bellow) acknowledges the "radical mystery" at the center of transcendence: Mozart's genius, Nabokov's aesthetic bliss, Flaubert's grand devotion. [Bellow comments]... "A work of art, Nabokov argued, detaches you from the world of common travail and leads you into another world altogether. It carries you into a realm of aesthetic bliss. Can there be anything more desirable than aesthetic bliss?"

Gail Caldwell, Boston Globe, April 17, 1994, p A14, and Christopher Lehmann-Haupt New York Times, April 11, 1994.

On the political front, it is amazing how quickly the word does get out. In an article about "Political Correctness" in the April 24, 1994 Dallas Morning News, the Random House Dictionary which defines "politically correct" as "Marked by or adhering to a typically progressive orthodoxy on issues involving especially race, gender, sexual affinity or ecology" is credited with being the first to offer an authoratative definition of this term. Random House began "tracking" this phrase "when it first started getting prominence." By relying on a "network of amateur word sleuths" whose newspaper clippings and article citations evidence evolving usage, they are able to document the phrase's history.

In this version Chairman Mao gets no credit while Nabokov takes it all:

"The earliest citation submitted so far is actually 'politically incorrect' In 1947, the Russian-born writer Vladimir Nabokov used that phrase in his novel Bend Sinister to describe the hero, a college professor living under a totalitarian regime who tries to avoid political commitments of any kind."

As an aside and purely for your information, second place, according to this article, goes to Czeslaw Milosz for the actual use of "political correctness" in the 1951 translation of Captive Minds.

Interestingly, a computer search done by someone at the New York Times discovered 103 mentions of "political correctness" in print in 1988 while 1993 yielded publications mentioning "political correctness" over 10,000 times.

Along with Chairman Mao, William Safire was not mentioned at all.

Politics, language and literature combine to question:

"What do Henry Kissinger, Joseph Conrad and Vladimir Nabokov have in common? They all learnt a second language and used it brilliantly, but traces of their native tongue never left them. Conrad had an accent so thick his friends could barely understand him. Kissinger's grinding logic is purveyed in a guttural German accent, while Nabokov refused ever to be interviewed in English. As he said: 'I think like a genius, I write like a distinguished author, I speak like a child.'"

Nigel Hawkes Times April 9, 1994 from a review of Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct

From the land of Realpolitik, literature and polity align:

"New Republic editor Andrew Sullivan finally got a chance to meet a pol he admires, Gov Weld, about 10 days ago when a mutual friend, Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination chief Michael Duffy, brokered a 30-minute corner office sit down. Sullivan.... Besides sharing political views, Weld and Sullivan also found they are kindred literary spirtits: As they chatted Weld quoted Vladimir Nabokv to Sullivan, who responded with passages of Herman Melville."

Boston Globe, April 24, 1994 p. 69

John Leonard, writing in The Nation on March 28, 1994, blackly observes the connection between politics and literature, espionage and text, in an article about the counterspy Aldrich Ames entitled "C.I.A. - An Infinity of Mirrors."
"I concluded that government intelligence itself is a modernist construct, a paranoid text, a furious unstitching of the magic carpet for figure or a pattern, so many Secret Sharers and Underground Men and forged identity papers. At Yale of course John Hollander made a poem out of The Double- Cross System using Masterman code names as Mutt and Jeff, Zigzag and Tricycle, Lipstick, Peppermint, Garbo and Weasel, calling it 'Reflections on Espionage.' But in another way, Nabokov had already done the same job in Pale Fire, and so had Angleton [a WWII spy, ed.] in the 'chill delirium' of his orchids. Zembla."

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