Writer, born in St Petersburg, Russia. He studied at the Prince Tenishev School, St Petersburg (1910–17), and at Trinity College, Cambridge (1922 BA). To escape the Bolshevik Revolution, he and his family left Russia (1919) and moved to Berlin, Germany. He taught English and tennis, as well as composing crossword puzzles for the Russian emigré newspaper, Rul (1922–37), and gained a reputation as a fiction writer (in Russian) under the pen name, V Sirin. He moved to Paris (1937–40), then fleeing the Nazis he emigrated to the USA with his wife and child (1940). He taught at Stanford during the summer of 1941 and at Wellesley (1941–8), and as an authority on butterflies he became a research fellow in entomology at Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology (1942–59). During 1948–59 he also taught at Cornell. An accomplished linguist, he had known English since his childhood but did not begin writing in it until after he settled in the USA. His varied work includes poetry, fiction, drama, autobiography, essays, translations, and literary criticism, as well as works on butterflies and chess problems. He is most widely known for his novel, Lolita (1955), conveying the infatuation of a middle-aged man with a 12-year-old girl; many critics and moralists attacked the novel, but it became a best-seller, if for all the wrong reasons. With the financial security that followed the success of this novel and several later books, he retired from teaching and settled at the Palace Hotel in Montreux, Switzerland, and continued issuing his literary works and pronouncements until his death.
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