Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025897, Sat, 20 Dec 2014 00:00:41 -0500

Every writer needs a Vera ...

The Sydney Morning Herald


Every writer needs a Vera
December 20, 2014 - 12:15AM
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Jane Sullivan

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Woman alone: Lorrie Moore responded to criticisms about her latest story collection being too slim by pointing out that as a single mother and writing professor she didn't have much time for her own writing.
Annabel Crabb's book The Wife Drought was born from that joke women make when juggling work and family: they need a wife. But writers of both genders need something even more precious. They need a Vera.
Vera's vocation was to be married to Vladimir Nabokov and to be the mother of their son Dmitri. She did everything wives of that era were expected to do, and so much more. She was her husband's editor, translator, assistant, secretary and typist. She was his chauffeur when he went to hunt butterflies. She carried a gun to protect him and she saved Lolita from burning. She even licked his stamps. No wonder he dedicated his work to her and said he would have been nowhere without her.
Literary wives of the past (and sometimes in the present) have often been selflessly devoted to their husbands' work, but few measured up to Vera's standards. She died in 1991, but she remains the paragon all writers yearn to have. And increasingly, the yearners are women.

Partner in crime: George Eliot had her own version of Vera – an admirer and supporter who encouraged her to write fiction.
Call it coincidence, call it a sign of the times, but lately there have been several articles about women looking for Veras. When critics complained that Lorrie Moore's latest collection of stories, Bark, was a bit slim to represent 10 years of work, Moore pointed out that as a single mother and as a writing professor, she didn't have much time to devote to her own writing.
"There are some men I know who are teaching and writing who are single fathers," she told the New York Times. "But not many. Most of them have these great, devoted wives, some version of Vera Nabokov. Writers all need Vera."
The theme has been taken up by Koa Beck in The Atlantic, Laura Miller in Salon and our own Lee Kofman in her blog for Writers Victoria. Where are the Veras for women, they ask? Where are the literary husbands? It's like looking for hen's teeth.
Which is not to say that Veras for women have never existed. George Eliot had her partner George Henry Lewes, an admirer and supporter of her work who persuaded her to write fiction. Gertrude Stein had one, who happened to be a woman (Alice B. Toklas). Virginia Woolf, a great champion of women writers, had her husband Leonard (though Kofman doubts whether he counts as a literary husband if the marriage was sexless).
Are Veras for women more common today? Or with more egalitarian views of marriage, could partners be taking turns to play the Vera role? Talking to both male and female writers, Beck discovered something nuanced and complicated: reciprocal creative relationships "in which domestic duties, writing criticism, and professional support are generally shared or outsourced".
The trouble is, as author Jennifer Weiner pointed out, that the writer's helpmeet is no longer a popular job: "Everyone wants to be Vladimir, and no-one wants to lick Vladimir's stamps." Which means that support has to be negotiated or paid for – and only the most successful writers can afford to hire a Vera.
I suspect that the Vera type of literary spouse is becoming an anachronism: far from women gaining their own Veras, we're more likely to see men losing theirs. Writers of both genders will continue to see their careers develop as a series of compromises with other aspects of their lives, and will learn to make the best of what they have.
Unless they're someone like Elizabeth Gaskell. Seven children, 10 books, and married to a clergyman in the days when ministers' wives were very busy women. How did she do it?

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/every-writer-needs-a-vera-20141211-125a0d.html#ixzz3MPXlY473

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