Vladimir Nabokov was, of course, incredibly well-read. He earned his BA from Trinity College, Cambridge in Slavic and Romance languages, and went on to teach Russian and literature. Of course, being Nabokov, he claimed to have no influences. However, there are a few authors he regularly referenced in interviews, and we may also consult his books Lectures on Literature, Lectures on Russian Literature, Lectures on Don Quixote, Nikolai Gogol, and Notes on Prosody.
In Lectures on Russian Literature, he rated the Russians thus:
"Tolstoy is the greatest Russian writer of prose fiction. Leaving aside his precursors Pushkin and Lermontov, we might list the greatest artists in Russian prose thus: first, Tolstoy; second, Gogol; third, Chekhov; fourth, Turgenev. This is rather like grading students' papers and no doubt Dostoevski and Saltykov are waiting at the door of my office to discuss their low marks."
They are among eleven authors I have found who definitely influenced Nabokov:
- Alexander Pushkin: Nabokov translated Pushkin's verse novel Eugene Onegin. He published it with a detailed commentary, concluding with an appendix titled Notes on Prosody, which earned a reputation of its own. In the spring of 1952, while a visiting lecturer at Harvard, Nabokov gave a seminar in Pushkin alone, and in his Lectures on Russian Literature calls him Russia's greatest poet, and along with Chekhov, one of Russia's "purest" writers "in the sense of the complete harmony that their writings convey."
Leo Tolstoy: In his Lectures on Russian Literature, Nabokov presents Tolstoy as a "moralist" who invented enormously yet resisted inventing - as someone who shared Nabokov's own ontological vision and, like him, captured the unreal in the very fabric of the real. But while Nabokov's word for fiction is "magic," he tells us that, for Tolstoy, the word is "Truth."
Anton Chekhov: On Chekhov, Nabokov said, "Exact and rich characterization is attained by careful selection and careful distribution of minute but striking features, with perfect contempt for the sustained descriptions, repetition, and strong emphasis or ordinary authors."
Ivan Turgenev: Citing Turgenev's "purple patches" in Lectures on Russian Literature, Nabokov says, "It is these mellow colored little paintings — rather watercolors than the Flemish glory of Gogol's art gallery — inserted here and there into his prose, that we still admire to-day. These plums are especially numerous in A Sportsman's Sketches."
William Shakespeare: Well, what writer has not been influenced by Shakespeare? Growing up, Nabokov read all of Shakespeare, in English. Some of his best novels (Lolita, Pale Fire and Ada) are infused with Shakespeare and Shakespeareanisms. Nabokov uses Shakespeare and Shakespeare's works in a surprisingly wide variety of ways, from the most casual references to deep thematic links. For more details on Nabokov's Shakespearean influences, check out the book Nabokov's Shakespeare by Samuel Schuman.
Gustave Flaubert: Nabokov taught Madame Bovary in his classes, and declared that "without Flaubert there would have been no Marcel Proust, no James Joyce."
Mikhail Lermontov: Together with his son Dmitri, Nabokov translated Lermontov's A Hero of Our Time into English. In the foreword he calls Lermontov's prose style in Russian "inelegant; it is dry and drab; it is the tool of an energetic, incredibly gifted, bitterly honest, but definitely inexperienced young man."
The Song of Igor's Campaign: Nabokov also translated this anonymous twelfth-century epic poem into English.
Nikolai Gogol: Nabokov wrote a book of criticism on Gogol, and in his Lectures on Russian Literature had this to say: "The prose of Pushkin is three-dimensional; that of Gogol is four-dimensional, at least."
James Joyce: Nabokov famously had mixed feelings about Joyce, but considered Ulysses brilliant. “You will enjoy the wonderfully artistic pages, one of the greatest passages in all literature, when Bloom brings Molly her breakfast. How beautifully the man writes!” he gushes in Lectures on Literature. To those who teach literature, Nabokov bluntly suggested: “Instead of perpetuating the pretentious nonsense of Homeric, chromatic, and visceral chapter headings, instructors should prepare maps of Dublin with Bloom’s and Stephen’s intertwining itineraries clearly traced.”
If you're interested in more of Nabokov's influences and thoughts on literature, you can always check out his books: Lectures on Literature, Lectures on Russian Literature, Lectures on Don Quixote, Nikolai Gogol, and Notes on Prosody.