Impaling his characters’ vulnerable, finely articulated wings with the precision of the skilled lepidopterist he was, VLADIMIR NABOKOV (1899–1977) often earned the criticism that he held his creations in contempt. It’s as easy, and as misguided, to say that the lepidopterist loathes the monarchs he tenderly mounts for display. Many readers assume the psychological-realist faith that fictive characters, to be “believable,” must appear autonomous. But Nabokov knew that a specific and pervasive anxiety of the twentieth-century human was to feel gripped by unseen forces, ridiculed by omnipotent fates. As supreme deity of his imaginative realm, Vlad the Impaler was happy to play the role of an absent God, subjecting his figures to the comic-horrific predestinations of their own madnesses, lusts, and limitations. Humbert and Lolita, Shade and Kinbote, Professor Pnin and Sebastian Knight, their brethren and sistren — all are gloriously eccentric, unsettling creations, but each is also a brilliant organism, a thing to be studied and enjoyed by both reader and author. So finely etched, so fragile and elusive, Nabokov’s characters still flutter through the dales of our dreams, with such persistence and nearness that you feel the breeze of their passing, hear the desperate beating of their ephemeral wings.
On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Charles Mingus, Aaron Spelling, Giorgio Agamben, John Waters, Charlotte Rae, Glen Campbell.
READ MORE about members of the Hardboiled Generation (1894-1903).