This Explains a Lot

From Speak Memory (or: 'Conclusive Evidence') by Vladimir Nabokov, in the 1966 revised edition, page 265 where he is writing about his time at Cambridge.

At a bookstall in the Market Place, I unexpectedly came upon a Russian Work, a secondhand copy of Dahl's Interpretive Dictionary of the Living Russian Language in four volumes. I bought it and resolved to read at least ten pages per day, jotting down such words and expressions as might especially please me, and I kept this up for a considerable time.

This quote confirms a theory of mine, that Nabokov writes English as only a foreigner with an expensive dictionary does. It turns out that this really developed while he was still writing primarily in Russian.

Russian, by the way, was not Nabokov's first language. As a boy, his mostly Swiss governesses spoke mostly French to him. Once his tutelage began, he learned English, as was popular in the Russian aristocracy at the time. It was only when he was old enough to begin paying attention to people outside his parents' estates that he learned Russian.

2012.08.30 at 10:30am EDT