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Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov) Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 456 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First edition. edition (April 20, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679447903
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679447900
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 7 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #853,324 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

She was wearing a black satin mask when they first met in 1923, and in a sense she wore a mask--that of the dutiful wife and helpmeet--throughout their 52-year marriage. Especially after the American publication of Lolita made her husband notorious in 1958, Véra Nabokov's presence at her husband's side was crucial, writes her biographer Stacy Schiff: "[It] kept the fiction in its place, reassured readers ... that Nabokov's perversities were of a different kind." But Véra Slonim (1902-91) was essential to Vladimir Nabokov's literary career from the beginning. She had a gift for handling practical matters that her spouse proudly lacked; she screened him from his publishers and his admirers with equal firmness, and in doing so she liberated him to fulfill the artistic genius they both believed he possessed. Praised for a previous biography of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Schiff here cements her reputation as a literary biographer of striking subtlety and perceptiveness. She establishes a strong base in chapter 1 with her excellent analysis of Véra Slonim's youth in a privileged Russian Jewish family in St. Petersburg. She then pursues her subject's elusive personality through hints in Nabokov's work and the comments of friends and colleagues. Schiff's elegant prose and eye for nuance nearly match Nabokov himself in this lucid, unsentimental portrait of a marriage. --Wendy Smith

From Publishers Weekly

V?ra Nabokov was not only devoted to her husband's literary career; she was crucial to it. Schiff (Saint-Exup?ry) contends that Nabokov's public image was V?ra's doing: "we are used to husbands silencing wives, but here was a wife silencing, editing, speaking for, creating, her husband." For almost all their married lives, the Nabokovs were inseparable. Russian ?migr?s in Germany, France and then the U.S., they eked out a bare existence despite Nabokov's reputation as a stellar Russian novelist. With no market for his writing, he needed his wife to work as a translator so they could survive. After hours she also edited and translated his writings, conducted his professional affairs and maintained their marriage. Only the runaway international success of Lolita when they were in their later 50s freed the couple from scraping together a living. (A film advance gave Nabokov 17 times his annual salary at Cornell, a post that had taken years to secure.) Suddenly flush, the Nabokovs, by choice, again became ?migr?s, wealthy residents of a Swiss luxury hotel. Schiff's best pages evoke the years of adversity, as when the Jewish V?ra, regal even in penury, perilously remained in Nazi Germany until May 1937 (after non-Jewish Vladimir exited) because it was the only country where either one could legally work. Often described as "hovering" over her husband by his Cornell colleagues, V?ra was always close byAeven working as his teaching assistantAbecause, according to Schiff, he simply could not function without her. This book offers more than a peek at the famous author through his wife's eyes. When her 1991 New York Times obit called V?ra "Wife, Muse, and Agent" it only hinted at her role, which is rescued from obscurity in Schiff's graceful prose. 16 pages of b&w photos.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Stacy Schiff is the author of Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov), winner of the Pulitzer Prize; Saint-Exupéry, a Pulitzer Prize finalist; and A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America, winner of the George Washington Book Prize and the Ambassador Book Award. Schiff has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. The recipient of an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, she lives in New York City.

Customer Reviews

Perhaps a book for Nabokov's fans, but a great one for sure.
David Alston
She typed and read his manuscripts, found quotations for him helped him create one of the twentieth century's great literary oeuvres.
Shalom Freedman
Literary biography rarely gets as good as this: a witty, subtle, perceptive, and elegantly written portrait.
Linda H. Davis

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

96 of 101 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 1, 2000
Format: Paperback
"Vera was a pale blonde when I met her, but it didn't take me long to turn her hair white."
The above was taken from one of Nabokov's own journal entries and, although it may seem humorous, it is no doubt true. Pulitzer-Prize winner, Stacy Schiff, suggests, even in the title of her book, that Véra Nabokov was a woman who was only capable of being known as Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov. Her relationship with her famed husband, no matter what its course, was the defining factor of her life. And Véra would have it no other way.
Véra Nabokov has been described as Vladimir Nabokov's "disciple, bodyguard, secretary-protector, handmaiden, buffer, quotation-finder, groupie, advance man, nursemaid and courtier." She is, not unjustly, celebrated as being the ultimate Woman Behind the Man.
Véra graduated from the Sorbonne as a master of modern languages, but, sadly, she did not keep copies of her own work as she did her husband's. In fact, she probably would have denied that her own work was worth keeping, although everything leads us to believe otherwise.
In addition to transcribing, typing and smoothing Valdimir's prose while it was still "warm and wet," Véra cut book pages, played chauffeur, translated, negotiated contracts and did the many practical things her famous husband disdained. This remarkable woman even made sure that the butterflies he collected died with the least amount of suffering.
A precocious child who read her first newspaper at the age of three, Véra was born into a middle-class Jewish family at the beginning of the twentieth-century in Czarist St. Petersburg. In 1921, with the advance of communism, her family settled in Berlin. It was there that she met the dapper and non-Jewish Vladimir.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 14, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This was a biography I found spellbinding as much for the force of its story as for the beauty of its language. There are hidden pleasures here as there are in Nabokov; each one makes you feel that a first-rate biographical intelligence is at work. And I can't say I've ever read a better portrait of Nabokov, anywhere. None of his chroniclers write with anything close to Schiff's style or sensitivity. Not to mention her insight, which is remarkable.
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 18, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This is the book Nabokov fans have been waiting for, but suspected would never (COULD never) be written. From the opening sentences it's clear that Schiff has the stuff equal to her daunting task--to get behind the artfully constructed public face of two of the most brilliant, but most private, people ever to enter the public eye. Schiff does it with awesome research and a, by turns, witty, moving, penetrating, sometimes acerbic, but always admiring prose. The portrait of Vera, you feel, is definitive, but so, too, is the portrait of Vladimir--a portrait that points up the flaws and gaps in earlier depictions, like that of the dutifully plonking Boyd biographies with their laughable "interpretation" of Pale Fire. That Schiff is delineating the dynamic of a highly unique marriage (not just the two complex personalities that made up that marriage) makes her accomplishment seem all the more miraculous. Finally, Schiff's method is ultimately Nabovian in that she gives us a portrait of the master without peering at him directly: the book is Vladimir reflected in Vera's pale fire--which, as it turns out, is the best way to see him whole. Or, rather, to see them BOTH whole. After reading this book, it is impossible to speak of either Vladimir, or Vera, as a single entity, ever again.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Mschwindt on September 8, 2002
Format: Paperback
Although I would advise a Nabokov fan to read "Speak Memory" and Brian Boyd's biography first, I definitely recommend this biography of the devoted Véra. She was an extremely strong-willed and talented woman. The fact that she didn't try to become an author in her own right and even downplayed her contributions to Vladimir's work will baffle some readers. These same readers (especially females), many of whom believe the secret to happiness is in "self-expression," will decide that Véra paid an exorbitant price for her very happy marriage.
A quibble: most of this book is about Véra and Vladimir after 1940. One of the many interesting things about Nabokov was that he had been a leading Russian émigré writer years before he arrived in America (with Véra's help, of course). And this part of the story is not developed as fully as the years after the Nabokovs arrived in America. Perhaps this book, and the many Nabokov biographies, will have be re-written some day by an author who moves as easily through the Russian and English languages as Nabokov did himself.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 10, 2000
Format: Paperback
Even without the Pulitzer Prize, which this book won for Biography, Schiff's scrupulously written paean to marriage--well, to one complex marriage in particular--would stand out as an extraordinary achievement. Including vivid writing that reminds one of the best fiction, and strong research that follows the trajectory of two strong-willed "characters," Vera and Vladimir, this is a work of Richard Ellmann-like quality, and it will be remembered.
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