NABOKV-L post 0000591, Fri, 12 May 1995 14:59:17 -0700

Subject
VN & James Laughlin
Date
Body
James Laughlin, poet and founder of New Directions, was Nabokov's
publisher and friend in the forties. Boyd writes of their relationship,
inter alia, in AY, pp. 63-65. The May-June 1995 issue of _Poets & Writers_
(vol. 23, 3), pp. 46-61, has a long interview with Laughlin (by Eliot
Weinberger) is which Laughlin talks about many of the writers he worked
with. He concludes with an account of VN's summer 1943 stay at Laughlin's
ski lodge in Alta, Utah. Since his story contains some material not in
Boyd, I pass it on. The Nabokov material is on pp. 60-61. (Somewhere along
the line "Volodya" seems to have become "Volya.")

"He [VN] was fascinating, but cool. Unless you were Harry Levin
or Edmund Wilson, it was difficult to become chummy with him. Which was
quite natural: he expected great brains to converse with, not young
snoofle snappers. But I was very fond of him. He came out one summer to
my ski lodge in Utah. His hobby was lepidopterology. He stayed in Alta with
me for about a month, chasing butterflies. At Alta the living room has
big glass windows. At night Volya would put a lamp light against the
window and soon it would be covered with moths. He would get up on a
little stepladder withhis magnifying glass to examine the genitalia of
these moths. He was looking for a particular one which he knew existed
because he had read about it in books. And he finally found it. He was
very happy. He collected seven or eight of those rarities, on different
night, which he later traded with lepidopterists in Japan and Brazil."

"At the end of the Wasatch Range, in Alta, the highest mountain
is Lone Peak, 13,000 feet. Volya said that we must climb up there,
because he knew there was a rare butterfly which circled this peak for a
very few days in the summer. So we set out, and drove to the foot of Lone
Peak. It was a longer climb than we expected. We climbed and climbed and
climbed, and finally at about four o'clock, we got to the top of that
bloody mountain, and there it was. A butterfly flying around the rock peak.
Volya had his net, of course, and he got his prize and put it very
carefully in his cyanide bottle.
Then we started to descend. But we had overlooked one important
fact. The last part of the climb was on a snow field. A steep snowfield.
And it had frozen when the sunlight left it. As we started going down, we
began to slip. And below us was a sheer drop into the abyss. But Volya
had the prsence of mind--he always had presence of mind for any
situation--and he hooked his net over a small rock that was sticking up
out of the frozen snow. I grabbed hold of his ankle, and gradually he
pulled me up to safety and saved my life. But there we were at six
o'clock still on the snow field. Fortunately he had his jackknife
with him, and he led down the slope cutting footsteps in the ice with his
knife. By this time, of course, they had missed us at thelodge and had
sent out the alarm. As dark came on and my strength was ebbing, we heard
the sound of the Salt Lake helicopter and we were picked off Lone Peak
and saved."