March 5th marked our second literary salon dedicated to the works of Vladimir Nabokov. This time, our focus was not so much on his creations but rather on his life journey and the circumstances that influenced the plotlines of his novels.

I must say that this time I was merely an audience member. Two passionate readers and members of our literary salon prepared an entire presentation. I knew they were preparing something, but I never expected it to be of such magnitude.

Here are some highlights from the presentation.

Vladimir Nabokov was born on April 10 (22), 1899, in Saint Petersburg, into a wealthy noble family. He passed away on July 2, 1977, in Montreux, Vaud, Switzerland. He is considered both a Russian and American writer, as well as known as a poet, translator, literary scholar, and entomologist. His early publications were under the pseudonym Vladimir Sirin.

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His parents

Mother: Elena Ivanovna Rukavishnikova, born in 1876. She came from a highly educated family. The Rukavishnikovs spent a lot of money on raising their children and charity. Elena Ivanovna was the youngest of eight children in the family of Ivan Vasilievich and Olga Nikolaevna Rukavishnikov.

Vladimir Nabokov’s grandfather on his mother’s side, I.V. Rukavishnikov, managed family enterprises, initially being a co-owner, and then becoming the owner of the main package of shares in the Lensky gold mines. His maternal grandmother was the daughter of the first president of the Russian Imperial Academy of Medicine.

Father: Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov (1869–1922) was a lawyer, involved in political activities, and was one of the leaders of the Constitutional Democratic Party (the Cadet Party). His father was killed during the assassination attempt on Milyutin. This fact found reflection in his book “The Gift.”


The family moved from Russia directly to Germany. It must be said that V. Nabokov was not very fond of this country. His aversion to Germany is evident in the novels of the German period: “Mary”, “King, Queen, Knave”.

In 1922, his family moved to Berlin, where Nabokov’s first publications appeared in the Russian newspaper “Rul”. He lived in Germany until 1937.

1925 – Marriage to Vera Slonim, who becomes his constant collaborator and support.

1937 marked the emigration to the United States, where he began writing in English.

In 1960, he returned to Europe to stay here until the end of his life. He settled in Switzerland, where he passed away in 1977.

His butterflies

Apart from literature, Nabokov had an interest in entomology. He had amassed a rich collection of butterflies. For his closest and dearest, he would draw butterflies on the covers of his publications. He drew the most butterflies for his wife Vera in the last twenty years of his life.

It’s worth noting that from 1940 to 1958, Nabokov earned a living not only by teaching courses on Russian and world literature at Wellesley College and Cornell University, but also by working in the entomology laboratory of the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology.

In general, especially in the early years of his emigration, Nabokov was poor. The family managed to bring out of Russia not very much money. He took on any job that came his way at that time, including work in the film industry.

In 1929, the Nabokovs were able to afford a small trip for butterfly hunting.

On February 5th, the young couple set off for France, into the depths of the Eastern Pyrenees, where they stayed in the commune of Le Boulou.

Butterfly hunting prompted Nabokov to create a new novel – “The Defense”.

Working on “The Defense” was laborious but exhilarating. This is evident in his letter to his mother: “Finishing, finishing… In three or four days, I’ll put a period. I won’t tackle such monstrously difficult subjects for a long time afterwards, and I’ll write something quiet, smooth. Still, I am pleased with my Luzhin – but what a complex, complex machine”.

Dear friends, please come to our literary salon, which will take place in a few days. Bunin will speak against Nabokov – his creative rival. I promise, it will be very, very interesting!