Vladimir Nabokov’s opinions on various writers, culled from Strong Opinions:

  • Austen, Jane. Great.
  • Balzac, Honoré de. Mediocre. Fakes realism with easy platitudes.
  • Beckett, Samuel. Author of lovely novellas and wretched plays.
  • Borges, Jorge Luis. A favorite. How freely one breathes in his marvelous labyrinths! Lucidity of thought, purity of poetry. A man of infinite talent.
  • Camus, Albert. Dislike him. Second-rate, ephemeral, puffed-up. A nonentity, means absolutely nothing to me. Awful.
  • Chekhov, Anton. A favorite between the ages of 10 and 15, and thereafter. Talent, but not genius. Love him dearly, but cannot rationalize that feeling.
  • Conan Doyle, Arthur. A favorite between the ages of 8 and 14, but no longer. Essentially a writer for very young people. Romantic in the large sense.
  • Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Dislike him. A cheap sensationalist, clumsy and vulgar. A prophet, a claptrap journalist and a slapdash comedian. Some of his scenes are extraordinarily amusing. Nobody takes his reactionary journalism seriously.
    • The Double. His best work, though an obvious and shameless imitation of Gogol’s “Nose.”
  • Eliot, T. S. Not quite first-rate.
  • Emerson, Ralph Waldo. His poetry is delightful.
  • Flaubert, Gustave. A favorite between the ages of 10 and 15, and thereafter. Read complete works between 14 and 15.
  • Freud, Sigmund. A figure of fun. Loathe him. Vile deceit. Freudian interpretation of dreams is charlatanic, and satanic, nonsense.
  • García Lorca, Federico. Second-rate, ephemeral, puffed-up.
  • Gogol, Nikolai. Nobody takes his mystical didacticism seriously. At his worst, as in his Ukrainian stuff, he is a worthless writer; at his best, he is incomparable and inimitable. Loathe his moralistic slant, am depressed and puzzled by his inability to describe young women, deplore his obsession with religion.
  • Hemingway, Ernest. A writer of books for boys. Certainly better than Conrad. Has at least a voice of his own. Nothing I would care to have written myself. In mentality and emotion, hopelessly juvenile. Loathe his works about bells, balls, and bulls.
  • Joyce, James. Great. A favorite between the ages of 20 and 40, and thereafter. Let people compare me to Joyce by all means, but my English is patball to Joyce’s champion game. A genius.
  • Kafka, Franz.
    • The Metamorphosis. Second-greatest masterpiece of 20th century prose.
  • Kazantzakis, Nikos. Second-rate, ephemeral, puffed-up.
  • Keats, John. A favorite between the ages of 10 and 15, and thereafter.
  • Kipling, Rudyard. A favorite between the ages of 8 and 14. Essentially a writer for very young people. Romantic in the large sense.
  • Maupassant, Guy de. Certainly not a genius.
  • Melville, Herman. Love him. One would like to have filmed him at breakfast, feeding a sardine to his cat.
  • Marx, Karl. Loathe him.
  • Pasternak, Boris. An excellent poet, but a poor novelist.
    • Doctor Zhivago. Detest it. Melodramatic and vilely written. To consider it a masterpiece is an absurd delusion. Pro-Bolshevist, historically false. A sorry thing, clumsy, trivial, melodramatic, with stock situations and trite coincidences.
  • Plato. Not particularly fond of him.
  • Poe, Edgar Allan. A favorite between the ages of 10 and 15, but no longer. One would like to have filmed his wedding.
  • Proust, Marcel. A favorite between the ages of 20 and 40, and thereafter.
  • Pushkin, Alexander. A favorite between the ages of 20 and 40, and thereafter. A genius.
    • Eugene Onegin. A great poem. Walter Arndt’s translation is abominable.
  • Rimbaud, Arthur. A favorite between the ages of 10 and 15, and thereafter.
  • Sartre, Jean-Paul. Even more awful than Camus.
  • Shakespeare, William. Read complete works between 14 and 15. One would like to have filmed him in the role of the King’s Ghost. His verbal poetic texture is the greatest the world has ever known, and immensely superior to the structure of his plays as plays. It is the metaphor that is the thing, not the play. A genius.
  • Tolstoy, Leo. A favorite between the ages of 10 and 15, and thereafter. Read complete works between 14 and 15. Nobody takes his utilitarian moralism seriously. A genius.
  • Turgenev, Ivan. Talent, but not genius.
  • Updike, John. By far one of the finest artists in recent years. Like so many of his stories that it is difficult to choose one.
  • Verne, Jules.
    • Around the World in Eighty Days. A favorite between the ages of 10 and 15, but no longer.
  • Wilde, Oscar. Rank moralist and didacticist. A favorite between the ages of 8 and 14. Essentially a writer for very young people. Romantic in the large sense.

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