Having a life-style, transfiguring the daily chaos, mastering one's limitations, is a modish cultural creed with adherents extending from Wilde to Camus. The latter lectured us in a language approaching organ music, the former was content to chatter about the expressiveness of his boutonniere. Only Nabokov has been able to bridge both domains, constructing a literary house of steel where airy elegance could run wild, the dandy and the intellectual exist in enigmatic bliss, and over a tantalizing game of chess heroes and villains exchange roles. Confronted with fiction woven by such a rich, allusive sensibility, it's little wonder that Professor Stegner's discussion, though scholarly, diligent, and instructive, does not really seem very well mated to the spirit of Nabokov and his work. Temperamentally, in fact, the two often appear ready for Reno. The professor's thesis that ""aesthetics has become a virtual religion for Nabokov"" and that through an intricate, highly personalized style, an underlying ""parody of conventions,"" Nabokov triumphs over a ""vulgar, freakish, distorted humanity,"" is illustrated in varyingly incisive explications re the five English novels, Sebastian Kinght, Bend Sinister, Pnin, Lolita, and Pale Fire. The introductory chapters, sturdier and more satisfying, place the Russian emigre's biographical background, transatlantic career, and technical development into interesting perspective, relying heavily on the memoir, Speak Memory. But, in general, an air of academic stolidity vitiates Nabokov's charm in this first long critique.