Portrait of a marriage, revealed through a legendary writer’s letters to his wife.
From the moment Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977) met Véra Slonim (1902-1991) in 1923, he sent her passionate letters, detailing the events of his days (meals eaten, hours slept, butterflies collected), the process of his work, and the sights and sounds of wherever he was. Voronina (Russian and Eurasian Studies/Bard Coll.), who served as deputy director of the Nabokov Museum in St. Petersburg, and Nabokov biographer Boyd (English/Univ. of Auckland; On the Origin of Stories, 2009, etc.) have amassed and translated this copious trove, contextualizing it with a lengthy introduction and hundreds of pages of notes. The letters, some containing drawings, puzzles, and word games, offer a revealing portrait of the Nabokovs’ marriage; the writer’s relationships with his son, mother, editors, publishers, and friends; and, by inference, a portrait of Véra. With “an intense need for privacy” and desire to control her husband’s reputation, she gradually and reluctantly made his letters available to Boyd and her own biographer, Stacy Schiff, but destroyed her letters to him. Moreover, his letters from 1932 never were found and are represented here by transcriptions of portions that Véra read to Boyd. Nabokov’s letters are filled with such effusive declarations of love and “quirky Russian endearments” that one feels almost voyeuristic in reading them: “My poochums, pooch-chums,” “Pussykins,” “My grand ciel rose,” “my greenikin.” “My darling, my sweetest love, my darling,” he wrote, even while in the midst of an affair with another woman. Many letters date from their separation in 1937, when Vladimir fled Germany, leaving his wife, mother, and son to follow him. Véra, exhausted and “overstrung,” subjected her husband to a “long-distance chess game,” pitting her desires against his. She won, as usual.
Fans of Nabokov, and certainly scholars, will be captivated by these intimate expressions of the writer’s heart and mind.