Portrait of a Marriage
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The fascinating story of a modern woman who made a life-long career as her husband's intellectual companion, secretary, manager, and guardian angel. When in 1925 exiled Jewish Saint-Petersburger VÇra Slonim (1902—91) married Vladimir Nabokov, a brilliant Russian aristocrat and promising writer, she entered into a covenant with art itself. Through 52 years of marriage and for 14 years after her spouse's demise, she saw the sole meaning of her life as nourishing Nabokov and safeguarding his works and image for posterity. During the lean Berlin years, VÇra provided the lion's share of the family's income through her work as a translator. Her dedication helped her to weather Vladimir's tumultuous 1937 affair with Irina Guadanini. While Nabokov masqueraded as a literature professor at Wellesley and Cornell, his wife conducted research for his lectures, which she typed and occasionally even delivered in his stead. After the success of Lolita catapulted her husband to celebrity in the 1950s, Mrs. Nabokov served as his unique liaison with publishers, lawyers, and the media. VÇra indulged Nabokov's every whim, treating him as a protective mother would a child prodigy, carrying books after him across the Cornell campus, committing to memory every word he uttered, and chaperoning him on butterfly hunts. Schiff skillfully presents VÇra Nabokov as a living paradox. To some, she was uptight, self-righteous, and snooty, to others, charming and friendly. She forbade her son to read Mark Twain for moral reasons, but unhesitatingly endorsed Lolita. Purposefully skirting the limelight, she was at her husband's side at all interviews and receptions. Throughout two decades spent in the United States, VÇra never stopped ridiculing American provincialism and lack of taste. After the Nabokovs settled in Switzerland, however, she became an ardent advocate of the country she had so eagerly deserted, even justifying the Vietnam War. Schiff's entertaining biography powerfully argues that in effacing herself for her husband's aggrandizement, VÇra Nabokov entered history arm in arm with one of the century's greatest men of letters.

Pub Date: April 23rd, 1999
ISBN: ---
Page count: 608pp
Publisher: Random