I set aside David Lipsky’s review of Nabokov’s Letters to Vera in Harper’s to read this morning, and was rewarded by a truly elegant piece of work. Lipsky doesn’t just review the letters, he provides a succinct and literate overview of Nabokov’s life, his work, his long marriage. “No marriage of a major twentieth-century writer lasted longer,” he quotes from Brian Boyd’s introduction. He manages to cull and quote gems from the 864 pages and relate them to the body of Nabokov’s fiction.
He notes the shocking intimacy of Nabokov’s work–“The hero takes a sleepy, eye-watering yawn–and the world ‘shivered and dissolved in the prism of his tears.’ …Nabokov’s people are constantly yawning scrunching, nose wiping, bug-bite scratching.”
He’s especially funny about the popular “hurricane” of Lolita, published thirty years into Nabokov’s literary career: “There were Lolita dolls, Lolita cartoons (arriving Martian: ‘Take me to your Lolita’), a Kubrick movie, a San Francisco drive-in serving Lolitaburgers.” And Eichmann–instrumental in the murder of (among others, Nabokov’s brother), who finds the book “unwholesome.”
The essay was especially moving to me having visited the Nabokov museum in St. Petersburg–all those many title pages with hand-drawn butterflies dedicated to Vera. Continue reading “Morning reading”
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:
The entry room with the molded wood ceiling Continue reading “Literary St. Petersburg”