St. Petersburg is very conscious of the great writers who lived here. Whether or not they were persecuted, exiled, died (and mostly lived) in the most abject poverty, once their reputation is established and a few decades have past, they do their best to show them off.
Nabokov had a most bourgeois childhood, growing up in a large apartment in the center of town. He was trilingual (speaking Russian, English and French fluently), in an atmosphere he describes in his memoir, Speak Memory, as “perfect.” But of course, then came the revolution, and his father took a role in what became the provisional government before the Bolsheviks took over. For Nabokov and his family, this meant exile. We had the great good luck to wander in to the Nabokov Museum–reconstructed in the apartment he lived in for the first 18 years of his life–when it was virtually empty and got to wander the suite of rooms, peruse his butterfly collection in its boxes, look at his butterfly net and the pictures of his family. He dedicated many of his first editions to Vera, his wife, drawing butterflies and making up genus and species names. Here’s a glimpse of it all:
Part of the butterfly collection and Nabokov’s net, and Nabokov himself with it.
The next photo is of Nabokov and his wife Vera in 1923, and then some of the inscriptions in his books.
The first is a made up butterfly “Eugenia onegeni.” The second reads “For Vera from the captor.”
We saw his eyeglasses, his typewriter, his pencils, some clothing, and even his scrabble set:
It was a fun visit. And it’s the only thing we’ve done in Russia that’s been free. It turned out the museum was closed, and they thought we were part of some conference that was being held there later or maybe earlier. In any case, it was the only time we didn’t have to buy at least one set of tickets.