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Vladimir Nabokov: Selected Letters 1940-1977 Paperback – October 29, 1990

4 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

If Vladimir Nabokov's fiction merits any criticism, it is for its iciness. The master himself declared in a 1977 BBC interview, "My characters cringe as I come near them with my whip. I have seen a whole avenue of imagined trees losing their leaves at the threat of my passage." Nabokov's correspondence, however, reveals a far warmer individual, though one ever-ready with a verbal shiv. This volume begins with a 1923 letter to his mother, written while he was a farmhand in the French Alps, and ends with a 1977 letter sent to his wife, Vera, for Mother's Day: "My dearest, your roses, your fragrant rubies, glow red against a background of spring rain..."

Nabokov's son, Dmitri, and Matthew Bruccoli have created the fullest, and by far the most amusing, portrait of the serious artist as trickster. There's the famous letter to Burma-Vita, in which Nabokov offers the company an advertising jingle (alas, they turned him down). There's the best, and most amusing, account of "l'affaire Lolita." Here is his response to his New Yorker editor, Katharine White: "Let me thank you very warmly for your frank and charming letter about LOLITA. But after all how many are the memorable literary characters whom we would like our teen-age daughters to meet? Would you like our Patricia to go on a date with Othello? Would we like our Mary to read the New Testament temple against temple with Raskolnikov? Would we like our sons to marry Emma Rouault, Becky Sharp or La belle dame sans merci?"

In another letter, however, he takes care to thank White for a "chubby check." (One wishes this phrase had gained greater circulation.) Nabokov again and again comes off as a difficult author, challenging his publishers left, right, and center over issues large (and there were many) and as well as those that were niggling. Calling the British paperback cover of Laughter in the Dark "atrocious, disgusting, and badly drawn besides having nothing to do whatever with the contents of the book," he tells his U.K. publisher, "I would appreciate if you would use your influence and have them substitute a pretty dark-haired girl, or a palmtree, or a winding road, or anything else for this tasteless abomination." Still, one is most often convinced that he's right, even when he makes the large claim that the French film Les Nymphettes infringes on his rights, "since this term was invented by me for the main character in my novel Lolita."

Not only is this volume endlessly quotable, it also reads like a great epistolary novel--fraught with high thought, high drama, and the delightfully unexpected. Who would have guessed that Nabokov would ask Hugh Hefner, "Have you ever noticed how the head and ears of your Bunny resemble a butterfly in shape, with an eyespot on one hindwing?"

From Publishers Weekly

Nabokoviana for fans of VN's every facet turns up throughout this comprehensive collection of letters gathered by the author's son and Bruccoli ( Some Sort of Grandeur). Extending from the author's 1940 arrival in America to his death in Switzerland in 1977, the letters are written mainly to publishers, literary friends and editors. They reveal Nabokov's sure sense of himself as a major literary figure (a reminder to publisher M. Girodias: "I wrote LOLITA."), provide glimpses of his politics ("I never have attended, nor ever will attend, any function to which Soviet agents are invited."), his teaching career at Wellesley and Cornell, and his lepidopteran pursuits. Of particular interest is the anguished attention required to find publishers for Lolita ; he called the complex legalities surrounding that book "lolitigating." Letters to New Yorker editor Katherine White evince a warm mutual regard; Nabokov's exasperated affection for Edmund Wilson is another theme. Revealing his spleenic side, his good humor and above all his wit (he said titling a translation of Gogol ' s Dead Souls as Home Life was "like calling a version of ' Fleurs du Mal'--'The Daisychain.' "), this collection presents an intimate, invaluable view of the writer writing. Illustrations not seen by PW .
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books (October 29, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156936100
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156936101
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,135,950 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov was born on April 23, 1899, in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Nabokov household was trilingual, and as a young man, he studied Slavic and romance languages at Trinity College, Cambridge, taking his honors degree in 1922. For the next eighteen years he lived in Berlin and Paris, writing prolifically in Russian under the pseudonym Sirin and supporting himself through translations, lessons in English and tennis, and by composing the first crossword puzzles in Russian. In 1925 he married Vera Slonim, with whom he had one child, a son, Dmitri. Having already fled Russia and Germany, Nabokov became a refugee once more in 1940, when he was forced to leave France for the United States. There he taught at Wellesley, Harvard, and Cornell. He also gave up writing in Russian and began composing ficticvbn ral books of criticism. Vladimir Nabokov died in Montreux, Switzerland, in 1977.

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Format: Paperback
I have never read Lolita, and I don't know if I will. But I can certainly see now that it was written by a great writer who cared about his work and his family. Who would expect a book of "selected letters" to be a page-turner? But it is. Nabokov's example of hard work, uncompromising attention to detail (what other kind is there? I'm sure he would ask), respect for knowledge, humility when ignorant, and warmth towards family and friends is a pleasure to read. Also an education, whether it be about scientific naming of butterflies, or about the wide variety of Nabokov's writings -- whoever thinks Lolita is not for them can choose from other stories, poetry, or a literal prose translation of Eugene Onegin.

P.s. Letters collected, arranged, and translated as necessary by his loving and loved son. How nice, then, that I rediscovered this book on my shelf, marked with a birthday present note from my father, waiting for when I had the time to read it. Thanks, Dad!
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But you cannot blame the editors of this book.

Nabokov is only the magician in his art.

In his letters one only finds some pearl
hidden beneath tons and tons of anodine
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Vladimir Nabokov: Selected Letters 1940-1977
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