Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026592, Sun, 1 Nov 2015 18:02:38 -0200

Schiff reviews "Letters to Véra" NY Times

‘His Joy, His Life’
Stacy Schiff <http://www.nybooks.com/contributors/stacy-schiff/>
NOVEMBER 19, 2015 ISSUE <http://www.nybooks.com/issues/2015/nov/19/>
Letters to Véra
by Vladimir Nabokov, edited and translated from the Russian by Olga
Voronina and Brian Boyd
Knopf, 794 pp., $40.00
Dominique Nabokov Archives
Véra and Vladimir Nabokov, Berlin, 1934; photograph by Nicolas Nabokov
When he mailed the first missive to the woman who would become his wife,
Vladimir Nabokov was a penurious, Berlin-based poet known to the émigré
community as “V. Sirin,” a name that felt more familiar to him than his own.
He dreamed still of Russia. When he mailed his last letter, he was a wealthy
American novelist living in Switzerland, self-conscious about the quality of
his Russian. In between came a shelf of literature, three wrenching changes
of country, and nearly fifty years of marriage. It was the longest-running,
most intimate correspondence of Nabokov’s life, in part because his wife
quickly came to handle most others. Her husband had, she explained to
William Maxwell when he phoned in 1964 on New Yorker business, a
“communicatory neurosis.”
She molted too, from the fictional Mme Bertran, a code name she assumed in
Berlin to disguise herself from Nabokov’s family, to the marble, monumental
Véra Nabokov of Montreux. Both had been “perfectly normal trilingual
children” in St. Petersburg, where their paths crossed but never
intersected. When finally they met, in their early twenties, in Germany,
Nabokov believed destiny had arranged the encounter. Their union felt to him
preordained, a point he made by summoning an image from The Count of Monte
Cristo. He mangled it a bit; he generally felt himself beyond language,
illiterate, clumsy on the page when it came to Véra Evseevna Slonim. “I
can’t tell you anything in words,” wailed the greatest prose stylist of the
twentieth century. He knew a fairy tale when he saw one. He was a man deeply
in love. […]

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