THE NABOKOV-WILSON LETTERS: Correspondence Between Vladimir Nabokov and Edmund Wilson, 1940-1971 by Simon--Ed. Karlinsky
Kirkus Star

THE NABOKOV-WILSON LETTERS: Correspondence Between Vladimir Nabokov and Edmund Wilson, 1940-1971

Email this review


Only about a half-dozen letters from E. Wilson to V. Nabokov were considered worthy of inclusion in Wilson's Letters on Literature and Politics (1977), but ""Bunny"" wrote to friend Nabokov a couple of hundred times between 1940 and 1958; and ""Volodya"" always wrote back. So here are the 264 letters that have survived--a correspondence in which these tetchy titans are most often seen with their hackles up and their blind spots front and center. Things started out well enough. Slavophile Wilson admired Nabokov's reviews for The New Republic and repeatedly helped the new arrival to America to get reviews and stories sold; and Nabokov admired To the Finland Station--except for the rosy portrait therein of Lenin: ""No, not even the magic of your style has made me like him, and I have read years ago the official biographies you have faithfully and fatally followed. . . . "" Wilson couldn't see Nabokov's point (he would decades later), and the issue was left in placid disagreement. But other, often petty clashes keep coming up through the basically warm (""I am sending the socks you lent me"") exchanges: Nabokov's awful punning (""now we come to Ilyitch--and here I itch""), which Wilson abhorred; Wilson's stodgy responses to almost all of Nabokov's fiction in the Fifties (especially Lolita); and Nabokov's hilariously inflexible put-downs of writers recommended by Wilson--James (""that pale porpoise and his plush vulgarities""), Faulkner (Light in August ""is one of the tritest and most tedious examples of a trite and tedious genre""), and Mairaux (""are you just kidding me?""). Above all, however, there's the matter of metrics, Russian and English, that has both men lecturing each other decade after decade--a debate that turned into a scandale with Wilson's 1965 pan of Nabokov's translation of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin. After that: only two letters, in 1971--a half-hearted reconciliation. Karlinsky annotates with a passion, and his thorough, pompous introduction finds Nabokov more in the right (he was ""giving a lesson in Algebra to a pupil who did not know. . . the Arabic system of numerals. . .""). But whichever way the oneupmanship came out, followers of literary give-and-take will find both verbal warriors here in top (and funny, in Nabokov's case) form.

Pub Date: June 6th, 1979
Publisher: Harper & Row