Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Vladimir Nabokov, fully Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov

Russian-born American Novelist, Poet, Critic

"Human life is but a series of footnotes to a vast obscure unfinished masterpiece."

"Revelation can be more perilous than Revolution."

"Life is a great surprise. I do not see why death should not be an even greater one."

"You see, we find comfort in telling ourselves that the world could not exist without us, that it exists only inasmuch as we ourselves exist, inasmuch as we can represent it to ourselves. Death, infinite space, galaxies, all this is frightening, exactly because it transcends the limits of our perception. "

"Our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness."

"[How do you rank yourself among writers?] I often think there should exist a special typographical sign for a smile -- some sort of concave mark, a supine round bracket, which I would now like to trace in reply to your question."

"A certain man once lost a diamond cufflink in the wide blue sea, and twenty years later, on the exact day, a Friday apparently, he was eating a large fish but there was no diamond inside. That's what I like"

"A change of environment is the traditional fallacy upon which rest the love-and lung-condemned."

"A cluster of stars palely glowed above us, between the silhouettes of long thin leaves; that vibrant sky seemed as naked as she was under her light frock. I saw her face in the sky, strangely distinct, as if it emitted a faint radiance of its own."

"A change of environment is the traditional fallacy upon which doomed loves, and lungs, rely."

"A few words more about Mrs. Humbert while the going is good (a bad accident is to happen quite soon)."

"A first-rate college library with a comfortable campus around it is a fine milieu for a writer. There is, of course, the problem of educating the young. I remember how once, between terms, not at Cornell, a student brought a transistor set with him into the reading room. He managed to state that one, he was playing classical music; that two, he was doing it softly; and that three, there were not many readers around in summer. I was there, a one-man multitude."

"A late arrival had the impression of lots of loud people unnecessarily grouped within a smoke-blue space between two mirrors gorged with reflections. Because, I suppose, Cynthia wished to be the youngest in the room, the women she used to invite, married or single, were, at the best, in their precarious forties; some of them would bring from their homes, in dark taxis, intact vestiges of good looks, which, however, they lost as the party progressed. It has always amazed me - the capacity sociable weekend revelers have of finding almost at once, by a purely empiric but very precise method, a common denominator of drunkenness, to which everybody loyally sticks before descending, all together, to the next level. The rich friendliness of the matrons was marked by tomboyish overtones, while the fixed inward look of amiably tight men was like a sacrilegious parody of pregnancy. Although some of the guests were connected in one way or another with the arts, there was no inspired talk, no wreathed, elbow-propped heads, and of course no flute girls. From some vantage point where she had been sitting in a stranded mermaid pose on the pale carpet with one or two younger fellows, Cynthia, her face varnished with a film of beaming sweat, would creep up on her knees, a proffered plate of nuts in one hand, and crisply tap with the other the athletic leg of Cochran or Corcoran, an art dealer, ensconced, on a pearl-grey sofa, between two flushed, happily disintegrating ladies. At a further stage there would come spurts of more riotous gaiety. Corcoran or Coransky would grab Cynthia or some other wandering woman by the shoulder and lead her into a corner to confront her with a grinning imbroglio of private jokes and rumors, whereupon, with a laugh and a toss of her head, he would break away. And still later there would be flurries of intersexual chumminess, jocular reconciliations, a bare fleshy arm flung around another woman's husband (he standing very upright in the midst of a swaying room), or a sudden rush of flirtatious anger, of clumsy pursuit-and the quiet half smile of Bob Wheeler picking up glasses that grew like mushrooms in the shade of chairs. (The Vane Sisters)"

"A masterpiece of fiction is an original world and as such is not likely to fit the world of the reader."

"A little downy girl still wearing poppies still eating popcorn in the colored gloam where tawny Indians took paid croppers because you stole her from her wax-browed and dignified protector spitting into his heavy-lidded eye ripping his flavid toga and at dawn leaving the hog to roll upon his new discomfort the awfulness of love and violets remorse despair while you took a dull doll to pieces and threw its head away because of all you did because of all I did not you have to die"

"A man who has decided upon self-destruction is far removed from mundane affairs, and to sit down and write his will would be, at that moment, an act just as absurd as winding up one’s watch, since together with the man, the whole world is destroyed; the last letter is instantly reduced to dust and, with it, all the postmen; and like smoke, vanishes the estate bequeathed to a nonexistent progeny."

"A novelist is, like all mortals, more fully at home on the surface of the present than in the ooze of the past."

"A pale self-portrait looked out of the mirror with the serious eyes of all self-portraits."

"A person hoping to become a poet must have the capacity of thinking of several things at a time."

"A philistine is a full-grown person whose interests are of a material and commonplace nature, and whose mentality is formed of the stock ideas and conventional ideals of his or her group and time. I have said "full-grown person" because the child or the adolescent who may look like a small philistine is only a small parrot mimicking the ways of confirmed vulgarians, and it is easier to be a parrot than to be a white heron. "Vulgarian" is more or less synonymous with "philistine": the stress in a vulgarian is not so much on the conventionalism of a philistine as on the vulgarity of some of his conventional notions. I may also use the terms genteel and bourgeois. Genteel implies the lace-curtain refined vulgarity which is worse than simple coarseness. To burp in company may be rude, but to say "excuse me" after a burp is genteel and thus worse than vulgar. The term bourgeois I use following Flaubert, not Marx. Bourgeois in Flaubert's sense is a state of mind, not a state of pocket. A bourgeois is a smug philistine, a dignified vulgarian."

"A sense of security, of well-being, of summer warmth pervades my memory. That robust reality makes a ghost of the present. The mirror brims with brightness; a bumblebee has entered the room and bumps against the ceiling. Everything is as it should be, nothing will ever change, nobody will ever die."

"A sentiment becomes a nuisance. Finally, there is something overly physical in an attempt to preserve his childhood particles bridge."

"A special feature of the structure of our book is the monstrous but perfectly organic part that eavesdropping plays in it."

"A thousand years ago five minutes were equal to forty ounces of fine sand. Outstare the stars. Infinite foretime and infinite after time: above your head they close like giant wings, and you are dead."

"A soap bubble is as real as a fossil tooth."

"A wise reader reads the book of genius not with his heart, not so much with his brain, but with his spine. It is there that occurs the telltale tingle."

"A toothache will cost a battle, a drizzle cancel an insurrection."

"A wave would arrive, all out of breath, but, as it had nothing to report, it would disperse in apologetic salaams."

"Abruptly provided a retroactive clarification of certain oddities of behavior on his part."

"Actually she was at least in her late twenties (I never established her exact age for even her passport lied) and had mislaid her virginity under circumstances that changed with her reminiscent moods."

"Actually, observed Lucette, wiping the long envelope which a drop of soda had stained,- Bergson is only for very young people or very unhappy people, such as this available rousse."

"Ada girl, adored girl... I'm a radiant void. I'm convalescing after a long and dreadful illness. You cried over my unseemly scar, but now life is going to be nothing but love and laughter, and corn in cans. I cannot brood over broken hearts, mine is too recently mended."

"Adultery is a most conventional way to rise above the conventional."

"Advice to A Young Writer: 1. If possible, be Russian. And live in another country. Play chess. Be an active trader between languages. Carry precious metals from one to the other. Remind us of Stravinsky. Know the names of plants and flying creatures. Hunt gauzy wings with snares of gauze. Make science pay tribute. Have a butterfly known by your name. 2. Do not be awed by giant predecessors. Be ill-tempered with their renown. Point out flaws. Frighten interviewers from Time. Appear in Playboy. Sell to the movies. 3. Use unlikely materials. Who would choose Pnin as hero, but how did we live before Pnin? 4. Delight in perversity. Put a noun into the dictionary. Now we recognize the Lolita at every corner, see her sucking sweetened milk through straws at every soda fountain, dream her through all our fantasies. 5. Burn pedants in pale fire. Accept no fashions. Be your own fashion. Do not rely on earlier triumphs. Be new at each appearance. 6. Age indomitably, in the European manner. Do not finish your labours young. Be a planet, not a meteor. Honor the working day. Sit at your desk."

"A wonderful point in favor of some kind of hereafter is this: When the mind rejects as childishly absurd a paradise with musical angels or abstract colonnades with Horace and Milton in togas conversing and walking together through the eternal twilight, or the protracted voluptas of the orient or any other eternity -- such as the one with devils and porcupines -- we forget that if we could have imagined life before living it would have seemed more improbable than all our hereafters"

"Above all, beware of platitudes, i.e., word combinations that have already appeared a thousand times.... As a general rule, try to find new combinations of words (not for the sake of their novelty, but because every person sees things in an individual way and must find his own words for them)."

"A writer should have the precision of a poet and the imagination of a scientist."

"A work of art has no importance whatever to society. It is only important to the individual, and only the individual reader is important to me."

"After Olympia Press, in Paris, published the book, an American critic suggested that Lolita was the record of my love affair with the romantic novel. The substitution "English language" for "romantic novel" would make this elegant formula more correct."

"Against whom was it turned? Against whom did he conspire? Tum-tee-tum. And once more - TUM! ... I have not gone mad. I am merely producing gleeful little sounds. The kind of glee one experiences upon making an April Fool of someone. And a damned good fool I have made of someone. Who is he? Gentle reader, look at yourself in the mirror."

"Ah, my dear Madam, ah, "Mr." Serge Solntsev, how easy it is to guess that the author's name is a pseudonym, that the author is not a man! Every sentence of yours buttons to the left."

"Alas, I was unable to transcend the simple human fact that whatever spiritual solace I might find, whatever lithophanic eternities might be provided for me, nothing could make my Lolita forget the foul lust I had inflicted upon her. Unless it can be proven to me -to me as I am now, today, with my heart and my beard, and my putrefaction- that in the infinitude run it does not matter a jot that a North American girl-child names Dolores Haze had been deprived of her childhood by a maniac, unless this can be proven (and if it can, then life is a joke), I see nothing for the treatment of my misery but the melancholy and very local palliative of articulate art. To quote an old poet: The moral sense in mortals is the duty We have to pay on mortal sense of beauty."

"All at once we were madly, clumsily, shamelessly, agonizingly in love with each other; hopelessly, I should add, because that frenzy of mutual possession might have been assuaged only by our actually imbibing and assimilating every particle of eachother's soul and flesh; but there we were, unable even to mate as slum children would have so easily found an opportunity to do so."

"to mate as slum children would have so easily found an opportunity to do so."

"All my best words are deserters and do not answer the trumpet call, and the remainder are cripples."

"All colors made me happy: even gray. My eyes we're such that literally they took photographs."

"All great novels are great fairy tales."

"All my life I have been a poor go-to-sleeper. People in trains, who lay their newspaper aside, fold their silly arms, and immediately, with an offensive familiarity of demeanour, start snoring, amaze me as much as the uninhibited chap who cozily defecates in the presence of a chatty tubber, or participates in huge demonstrations, or joins some union in order to dissolve in it. Sleep is the most moronic fraternity in the world, with the heaviest dues and the crudest rituals. It is a mental torture I find debasing. The strain and drain of composition often force me, alas, to swallow a strong pill that gives me an hour or two of frightful nightmares or even to accept the comic relief of a midday snooze, the way a senile rake might totter to the nearest euthanasium; but I simply cannot get used to the nightly betrayal of reason, humanity, genius. No matter how great my weariness, the wrench of parting with consciousness is unspeakably repulsive to me."

"All my stories are webs of style and none seems at first blush to contain much kinetic matter. For me style is matter."

"All religions are based on obsolete terminology."