NABOKV-L post 0002361, Mon, 22 Sep 1997 08:33:56 -0700

Visit to 47 Bolshaya Morskaya (fwd)
From: Robert Cook <>

A week ago, on September 15, I was in St. Petersburg and made my pilgrim's
way in the morning to Bolshaya Morskaya (so re-named in 1992) #47. The
outside of the house was familiar from Dieter Zimmer's photographs and from
the picture in Speak, Memory. The inside was not. With my Russian friend
Galina serving as interpreter, I entered and came to a receptionist who
showed us to the office of "Nabokov's Museum" on the main floor. Apart from
the receptionist's desk in the hallway and the small office and an
exhibition area with photographs, the main floor is empty, reserved for the
museum. The museum eventually hopes to acquire the two upper floors as
well, but these are at present occupied by newspaper offices. Don Barton
Johnson had told me to ask for Vadim Stark, but unfortunately he was not
present. We talked instead to Irina Dolrovolskaya and Alexander Utishchev.
Irina phoned to Vadim Stark, who said he would be there the next day at ten
AM, but as I only had one more day in St Petersburg I could not promise to
return. Irina and Alexander were most cordial and spent well over an hour
with us. First Alexander showed us the exhibition, which consisted both of
family photographs (many of which would be familiar to readers of Speak,
Memory and Boyd) and of a well-documented account of the history of the
house, from its eighteenth-century beginning and through two considerable
renovations. The second was undertaken after VN was born and was completed
in 1902; it was at this time that the third story was added. After
Alexander finished guiding us through the exhibition, Irina re-joined us
and together they showed us much of the house, which meant poking our heads
into many of the busy newspaper offices on the second and third floors. It
is apparent that many partitions were added later and that walls were
moved, but it was pleasing to see that so much of the flooring and the
elaborate woodwork and even ceiling-work was preserved. We saw the room
(second floor) where VN was born, and the area reserved for his father (at
the other end of the second floor), where a great deal of the woodwork is
intact. Alexander's chief regret was that he could not show us the room
behind the oriel, which he says is the best preserved part of the house,
but a meeting was in progress there, and I did not find a chance to return.
We were made to feel very welcome, and it is clear that our hosts, who
subscribe to this net, are grateful for contact with admirers of VN. My
understanding is that the museum is supported by the state, but they are
obviously in need of all the help they can get, especially if they are to
fulfill their aim of renovating the whole house in time for VN's centenary.
I promised to try to find first or early editions of VN's work in English,
which I think would be a welcome addition to their small library.

Robert Cook, University of Iceland