Lately I’ve been rereading Vladimir Nabokov’s memoir Speak, Memory. To me, Nabokov is a kindred soul. He has such an admirable command of the English language, considering that his native language is Russian. My favorite Nabokov novel is Pale Fire, but Bend Sinister is a close second. Nabokov’s novels, like those of Flaubert, Dickens, Conrad, Woolf, Twain, and Hardy, are infinitely rereadable. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t retain every aspect of the splendor of the language used in these authors’ novels. They beg to be reread periodically.
Vladimir Nabokov grew up in a wealthy Russian family but his childhood was interrupted by the Russian Revolution. His family was exiled to Paris and Vladimir ended up studying butterflies and teaching literature in the USA. Here’s a short passage from his memoirs which impressed me:
Neither in environment nor in heredity can I find the exact instrument that fashioned me, the anonymous roller that pressed upon my life a certain intricate watermark, whose unique design becomes visible when the lamp of art is made to shine through life’s foolscap.