NABOKV-L post 0018876, Mon, 30 Nov 2009 01:22:19 -0500

Nabokov For Posterity ...

Paul Owen

Monday, 23 November 2009

Nabokov For Posterity

Before his death in 1977, Vladimir Nabokov - author of Lolita and one of the last century's truly great writers - asked quite specifically that the early work he had put in to his last unfinished novel - The Original of Laura - should be destroyed. This work amounts in fact to not very much, just early notes and fragments of prose which do not in any sense create a book or even the semblance of one.

So why is it being published apart from the obvious reason?

Most writers will tell you that the art of writing is in rewriting. Once the first draft is completed they can then go back and order it, refine it; they can work on characterisation, plot and possibly just punctuation. Nabokov had not even completed a first draft. He was jotting down ideas as any writer might do when an idea is forming in his head.

On one level of course it is fascinating to see how the great man worked, although this is the merest of glimpses. It is why museums and other collectors are willing to pay such vast sums for the notes and other papers of famous authors. Writers often have idiosyncratic ways of working and to follow the evolution of a famous work through early drafts, to see how chapters and paragraphs were reordered, how characters were created and then mutated can be endlessly fascinating. Indeed, since the development of a the word processor such records may end up being lost forever unless someone somewhere retrieves drafts from a hard drive somewhere and presses the print button.

But do an author's wishes count for nothing? It isn't as if this was a great work cut off in its prime. This is a barely formed work which he might have abandoned. Since he expressed the desire that it never be seen perhaps that was indeed his intention. How do we know that he didn't regularly work this way, start to flesh out ideas and then abandon them as unworkable?Surely we should suppress our prurient desire to pry even if we dress it up as intellectual curiosity? As it is, a great writer's last wishes have been ignored for a few pages which aren't at all illuminating with just a hint of some great phrases which might eventually have seen the light of day. I rather wish they had been consigned to the unforgiving light of the fire as requested.

Posted by Paul Owen

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