Opinions about ail writers are divided; even Shakespeare has had his detractors, from Voltaire to Tolstoy. But on few writers are they as widely and evenly divided as on Vladimir Nabokov. From some, he commands a vassal’s fealty; from others, he elicits shudders of revulsion. Philip Rahv, no flighty hothead in his mature years, kept passionately urging me to perform radical surgery on Nabokov’s reputation, which he considered as hypertrophic as the man’s ego. And Rahv, who flatteringly but mistakenly considered me the man for the demolition job, could simply not understand my hesitation.

Partly, I was daunted by the magnitude of the task; even then there was too much material, both primary and secondary, for a less than rabid nonbeliever to slog through. And although I had, and continue to have, grave doubts about Nabokov’s greatness, I balked at being handed a ready-made conclusion to which I only had to...