In Memoriam: Don Barton Johnson (1933-2020)

Submitted by dana_dragunoiu on Sun, 08/30/2020 - 04:09

by Barbara Wyllie


Don was one of the first people to be really enthusiastic about my VN-related efforts, and was instrumental in persuading me to keep going at a difficult time, and to have faith in my own ideas. I often remember the evening I spent talking with him in a Parisian café about all kinds of things, after a day at a conference there. I was still a postgrad, and it was the first time I’d met him, even though we’d corresponded before, and I was struck by his easy, unassuming manner. He also reminded me very much of a close family friend, and that made me feel like I was in familiar company, and less intimidated by the thought that I was sitting across the table from a great Nabokovian. I’m glad I was able subsequently to thank him for all the wonderful, original, provocative work that had been so helpful and stimulating at crucial junctures, whenever I was struggling – as one tends to do with VN! – with something particularly tricky which I couldn’t quite fathom. He was typically self-effacing. To my astonishment he would occasionally write asking my advice about something he was working on which, apart from being incredibly flattering, was an indication of how generous he was as a scholar, and always interested in what you might have to say. I would try to reply as usefully as I could, despite feeling massively inadequate, but he had a wonderful way of treating everyone as an equal, always with respect, and making you feel that he had confidence in you, and trusted your opinion. That was a huge gift. He leaves a great legacy, not just in terms of Nabokov scholarship, but in the contribution and difference he made to so many people’s lives.