The book opens at a party and there follow four continuous scenes
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THE ORIGINAL OF LAURA by Vladimir Nabokov
hen Vladimir Nabokov died in 1977, he left instructions that the 138 handwritten index cards that composed the rough draft of his novel-in-progress, THE ORIGINAL OF LAURA, were to be burned. Now, more than 30 years later, Nabokov’s son Dmitri—the only surviving heir and a translator of many of his father’s books—has decided to publish Laura. Join Martin Amis, Nabokov biographer Brian Boyd, Laura’s designer Chip Kidd and others as they discuss the master’s life and work, with a reading from Laura to follow. His family debated for over 30 years whether to carry out this wish to destroy an incomplete but perhaps important literary work. In April 2008, Nabokov’s son Dmitri Nabokov announced plans to publish the work, in what Newsnight later said was “likely to be the literary event of 2009.” A review of the German translation in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung resoundingly contradicted this claim, comparing the fragment to a “labyrinthine, overgrown garden without a gazebo in its center” and “a puzzle with too many missing pieces. Philip Wild, an enormously corpulent scholar, is married to a slender, flighty and wildly promiscuous woman called Flora. Flora initially appealed to Wild because of another woman that he’d been in love with, Aurora Lee. Death and what lies beyond it, a theme which fascinated Nabokov from a very young age, are central.
The book opens at a party and there follow four continuous scenes, after which the novel becomes more fragmented. It is not clear how old Wild is, but he is preoccupied with his own death and sets about obliterating himself from the toes upwards through meditation. According to Newsnight, The Original of Laura “apparently concerns a portly academic called Philip Wild, and Flora, his much slimmer, ‘wildly promiscuous’ wife. Flora catches Wild’s eye because of her resemblance to a young woman he had once been in love with. Wild is preoccupied by his own mortality, and resolves to obliterate himself from the toes upward, through the power of meditation.”According to his diaries, Nabokov first noted his work on the project on December 1, 1974 under the title Dying Is Fun. By the summer of 1976, he noted that the story was completed in his mind, but by then his health was failing rapidly. When Nabokov died on July 2, 1977, he was still working on the novel, since retitled. The Opposite of Laura and finally The Original of Laura. The incomplete manuscript consists of Nabokov’s own handwriting across about 125 index cards, the equivalent of about 30 manuscript pages. The use of index cards was normal for Nabokov, also used for many of his works, such as Lolita and Pale Fire. Nabokov was a perfectionist and made it clear that, upon his death, any unfinished work was to be destroyed. Nabokov’s son Dmitri Nabokov and wife Vera Nabokov became his literary executors but could not bring themselves to destroy Nabokov’s final work, and so it was placed in a Swiss bank vault where it has remained since his death. In 1991 Vera died, leaving Dmitri as the sole literary executor. Dmitri has wavered on whether to destroy the manuscript. On the one hand, he is said to feel bound to uphold his “filial duty” and grant his father’s request, but he has also said the novel “would have been a brilliant, original, and potentially totally radical book, in the literary sense very different from the rest.” Scholars and enthusiasts have disagreed over whether the manuscript should be made public, as The Times posed the question: “the demands of the literary world versus the posthumous rights of an author over his art. “Dmitri has remarked cryptically that one other person possesses a key to the manuscript, but has not said who that person is.Like Dmitri, many observers are on the fence about the fate of the manuscript. The author Edmund White has compared the request to Virgil’s request to destroy the Aeneid (ignored by Augustus Caesar) or Franz Kafka’s request to destroy his papers (ignored by his executor Max Brod). Nabokov himself weighed in on Nikolai Gogol’s decision to burn the sequels to Dead Souls. The journalist Ron Rosenbaum, who corresponds with Dmitri, has said that in recent years Dmitri has been inclined toward destroying the manuscript, swayed by criticism of Nabokov such as allegations of plagiarism that arose from the discovery of a 1916 German short story, “Lolita” with some similarities to Nabokov’s work, or critics who have interpreted Nabokov’s work as suggesting that Nabokov himself was sexually abused. In April 2008 Dmitri told many publications including Nabokov Online Journal and Der Spiegel that he intends to publish the manuscript after all. In the Nabokov Online Journal interview with Suellen Stringer-Hye, Dmitri also stated that he had never seriously considered burning the manuscript. Several short excerpts of the work have been made public, most recently by German weekly Die Zeit, which in its 14 August 2008 issue reproduces some of Nabokov’s original index cards that had been obtained by Zeit reporter Malte Herwig. In the accompanying article, Herwig concludes that “Laura”, although fragmentary, is “vintage Nabokov”. In the late 1990s Dmitri read a portion of the book to a group of about 20 scholars at a centenary celebration of Vladimir Nabokov at Cornell University. The scholars Brian Boyd and Lara Delage-Toriel claim to have read the manuscript. In 1999 two passages from The Original of Laura were published in “The Nabokovian” a scholarly publication devoted to Nabokov. Zoran Kuzmanovich, a scholar of Nabokov, said of passages he heard at Cornell University: “It sounds as though the story is about aging but holding onto the original love of one’s life.”According to a 2006 account of the book by Lara Delage-Toriel, the narrator and protagonist of Nabokov’s book receives a novel titled My Laura from a painter. The narrator realizes that the novel is in fact about his own wife Flora, whom the painter had once pursued. In this novel within the novel, Laura is “destroyed” by the narrator (the “I” of the book). Delage-Toriel also notes that the names of Laura and Flora, possibly refer to well-known High Renaissance portraits of women by Titian and Giorgione, both evoking the Italian sonneteer Petrarch’s unconsummated obsession with a woman named Laura. According to Delage-Toriel, the meaning of “the Original” is unclear: Does it refer to the mistress of the “I,” the Laura of My Laura, or to the probable mistress of this novel’s author, the Flora of The Original of Laura? The manuscript’s playful juxtapositions obviously incite the reader to fuse both ‘originals’ into a single original, a gesture which Nabokov graphically performs in ‘chapter’ 5, by contriving an amusing hybrid, ‘Flaura’. On close observation of the manuscript, one notices that the name contains in fact two capital letters, ‘F’ and ‘L’, as though Nabokov had been loath to give precedence to either name and had instead opted for some typographical monster, a bicephalous cipher of sorts.
Vladimir Nabokov, (1899-1977), was a Russian-born author. His novels are noted for their complicated plots and the complex attitudes they express toward their subjects. Critics praised Nabokov’s novels for their wit, intricate use of words, and rich language. His novels, which are often satirical, include INVITATION TO A BEHEADING (published in the Soviet Union, 1938; United States, 1959), THE REAL LIFE OF SEBASTIAN KNIGHT (1941), LOLITA (published in France, 1955; United States, 1958), PNIN (1957), PALE FIRE (1962), and ADA (1969). Nabokov published collections of stories and poetry and translated several Russian literary classics into English. SPEAK, MEMORY (1951, expanded 1966) is his autobiography. A collection of his lectures at Cornell University in the 1950s was published as LECTURES ON LITERATURE (1980). THE STORIES OF VLADIMIR NABOKOV was published in 1995. Nabokov was born in St. Petersburg. The family fled to Western Europe in 1919 because of the Bolshevik revolution. Nabokov attended Cambridge University in England from 1919 to 1922. From 1922 to 1940, he lived in Berlin and Paris among other Russians who had left their country because of the revolution. He wrote his novels in Russian, and most were later translated into English. In 1940, Nabokov settled in the United States and began to write in English. He returned to Europe to live in 1959.
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