Vladimir Nabokov: Life, Work and Criticism


47 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-919966-44-6





Reviewed by Terrence Paris

Terrence Paris is Public Services Librarian at Mount St. Vincent
University in Halifax.


College students in need of a brief survey of the works of a single author will appreciate the guides issued in the Authoritative Studies in World Literature Series. Charles Stanley Ross, Associate Professor of English at Purdue University, is a Nabokov enthusiast. He edited a special issue of Modern Fiction Studies (Autumn 1979) devoted to the self-described “author and lepidopterist.”

The study begins with an eight-page biography of Nabokov, followed by a chronological list of his major works. The longest chapter provides critical synopses of each of Nabokov’s major fiction works — from his first novel, Mary (1926), to his last novel, Look at the Harlequins! (1974), written with undiminished vigor in Switzerland near the close of his life. Ross devotes equal space to the two main phases of Nabokov’s creative life: the Russian emigré period in Berlin from 1923 to 1938, and the United States exile from Fascism beginning in 1940. The detailed plot outlines may intimidate the newly initiated. The wider audience, who know Nabokov from the short stories in Esquire and The New Yorker will appreciate the difficulty of describing fictions in which the narrative point of view is often unclear and in which a description of an actual event in a novel may suddenly shift without warning to an event as imagined by a character. Ross is aware of the difficulties inherent in Nabokov’s style and technique; he recommends Pnin as the most accessible. His enthusiasm for Nabokov should attract new devotees — at one point he describes Lolita as “the greatest American novel written since World War II.”

Although designed as an overview, the study does assume knowledge of certain works (like Strong Opinions, which Ross considers to have had an undesirable influence over the “silver age” critics of the late seventies and early eighties). The more advanced scholar will also appreciate the up-to-date, annotated bibliography of secondary sources; all will be grateful for the detailed index to titles, personal names, and themes.


Ross, Charles Stanley, “Vladimir Nabokov: Life, Work and Criticism,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 23, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/36081.