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VLADIMIR NABOKOV by Vladimir Nabokov


Selected Letters 1940-1977

by Vladimir Nabokov

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1989
ISBN: 0156936100

            Hilarious collection of letters by the Russian-American maestro that must rank as one of the most contentious and eccentric of all time.  While there are no hefty literary gems here – Nabokov’s letters tend to be small, albeit glittery with intelligence, gleaming with style – fans of perverse masterpieces like Lolita and Ada won’t be disappointed.  Nabokov loved to duel, frolic, and tease.  Consider his evaluations of Dr. Zhivago (“that trashy, melodramatic, false, and inept book”) and Robert Lowell (“I do not mind Robert Lowell’s disliking my books, but I wish he would stop mutilating his betters – Mandelshtam, Rimbaud, and others.  I regret not having entitled my article ‘Rhyme and Punishment’”).  Or his response when asked what he’d like Neil Armstrong to say on the moon:  “I want a lump in his throat to obstruct the wisecrack.”  Or the jingle he sent in unsolicited to the Burma-Shave company:  “He passed two cars; then five; then seven;/and then he beat them all to Heaven.”  Other letters skirt the edge of his massive war with Edmund Wilson (the main battles don’t see print here); detail his run-ins with prudes over the publication of Lolita; trace his triple careers as lepidopterist, novelist, professor.  Even his political naiveté acquires in hindsight a certain quaint charm, as in this 1965 telegram to an ailing President Johnson:  “Wishing you a perfect recovery and a speedy return to the admirable work you are accomplishing.”  All in all, the portrait emerges of a brilliant, fussy, combative iconoclast who adopted a literary persona (filled with laughter, thank goodness) at an early age and never afterwards dropped his mask.  Devilish and baroque.  In other words, classic Nabokov.