NABOKV-L post 0019002, Sun, 27 Dec 2009 11:38:03 -0500

Subject review: "The Original of Laura" ...

Vladimir Nabokov's "The Original of Laura"
Author of Lolita"s Last Novel Excerpted in Playboy's December Issue
Dec 18, 2009 Mike Cole

The last unfinished work of the late Vladimir Nabokov remained unpublished until Playboy secured first serial rights furthering the adult magazine's own literary legacy.

The genius of Nabokov may have never found widespread recognition had he not shocked the public by transgressing sexual taboos with his breakthrough novel Lolita. High art has often relied on the erotic to garner mass appeal and Playboy Magazine has a history of publishing the work of great writers. A famous 1964 Playboy interview with the author discusses Lolita's controversial content which revolves around a sexual relationship between a middle aged man and a twelve year old girl. When the interviewer asks if he ever regrets writing Lolita he responds:

"On the contrary,..Of course she completely eclipsed my other works..."

This symbiotic relationship between literature and pornography is continued in Playboy's latest issue.
A Return to the Theme of Nymphets
Alongside a nude pictorial spread of the young porn star Sasha Grey affecting the postures of a Nymphet, Nabokov's own linguistic invention to describe a young girl in the beginning stages of sexual awakening who semi-unconsciously seduces older men, appears the first published excerpt of his last work. It seems that in his final years Nabokov made a return to the theme of Nymphets for in The Original of Laura is another young girl who:

"...nightly dreams of erotic torture in so-called 'labs,' major and minor laboratories with red curtains."

Which is seemingly some brilliant sly word play, for which the author is famous, on the idea of labia minora and majora or the vaginal lips.

Further into the excerpt appears:

"Flora was barely fourteen when she lost her virginity to a coeval...a duty she resolved to perform rather than a casual pleasure she was now just learning to taste."
A Book Within A Book
Another trademark Nabokov literary device which recurs in The Original of Laura is the concept of a work of fiction inside the work of fiction. The narrator of Nabokov's last novel is given a book by a painter which describes his love for a young girl who the narrator recognizes as his wife when she was younger. Descriptions from this fictional book appear in the story itself so the reader is confronted with task of resolving two different fictional works simultaneously while considering how each informs the other. Pale Fire was another novel by Nabokov, who loved puzzles, games, and constructing mirror worlds, which made use of this device.
Controversy Over Publication
The decision to publish The Original of Laura was made by Nabokov's only son Dmitri who in doing so went against his father's final wishes. Nabokov was a perfectionist who meticulously composed his novels in handwriting on note cards. He wrote that he did not want the incomplete manuscript to see the light of day. Dmitri Nabokov however, for reasons know only to him, felt that despite his father's request The Original of Laura should see release. This has attracted negative comments from many critics not only on ethical grounds but also from aesthetic perspective. Martin Amis, a contemporary English novelist and admirer of Nabokov has gone so far as to imply that the quality of this last novel shows that Nabokov had lost his artistic ability and that its publication only tarnishes his legacy.
The Bound Editon
The publisher Knopf has released a hardback copy of The Original of Laura which is now in stores. It contains photographic reprints of the very hand written index cards on which Nabokov composed the story and they are perforated so that the reader can tear them out and rearrange their sequence in any order. Wether this format is just a gimmick or an innovative artistic statement doesn't change the fact that scholars and aspiring novelists will have for the first time in history the ability to take a microscopic look at the creative process of the master novelist Nabokov who seems to be unable to avoid stirring up controversy even in death.


Permission to republish Vladimir Nabokov's "The Original of Laura" in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.

Laura (Porträt einer jungen Frau)

Read more at Suite101:
Vladimir Nabokov's "The Original of Laura": Author of Lolita"s Last Novel Excerpted in Playboy's December Issue

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