Regarding Anthony Stadlen's remark (but not his other points): "Is not someone who accepts money to give a public interview and then becomes an "unreliable interviewee", by lying (in, for example, a journal for which his admiring readers pay good money), dishonouring his contract?"

I don't think VN expected to be held to the same standard of truth in his interviews as, say, a public servant is (and should be). Like many artists with doubts about biography's aims and ends (e.g., Bob Dylan:, he seems to have regarded the interview as just another art form to be exploited for entertainment and other purposes. As he put it to Vogue in 1969:

Is it right for a writer to give interviews?

      Why not? Of course, in a strict sense a poet, a novelist, is not a public figure, not an exotic potentate, not an international lover, not a person one would be proud to call Jim. I can quite understand people wanting to know my writings, but I cannot sympathize with anybody wanting to know me. As a human specimen, I present no particular fascination. My habits are simple, my tastes banal. I would not exchange my favorite fare (bacon and eggs, beer) for the most misspelt menu in the world. I irritate some of my best friends by the relish with which I list the things I hate — nightclubs, yachts, circuses, pornographic shows, the soulful eyes of naked men with lots of Guevara hair in lots of places. It may seem odd that such a modest and unassuming person as I should not disapprove of the widespread practice of self-description. No doubt some literary interviews are pretty awful: trivial exchanges between sage and stooge, or even worse, the French kind, starting «Jeanne Dupont, qui etes-vous?» (who indeed!) and sporting such intolerable vulgarisms as «insolite» and «ecriture» (French weeklies, please note!). I do not believe that speaking about myself can encourage the sales of my books. What I really like about the better kind of public colloquy is the opportunity it affords me to construct in the presence of my audience the semblance of what I hope is a plausible and not altogether displeasing personality.

The novelist John Gardner referred to this far from displeasing, highly entertaining personality: Think of the superbly controlled sadist-snob image Hitchcock created for himself. Think of Nabokov as he presented himself both in his writing and in television interviews; using a snob accent as artfully fabricated as the language of Donald Duck, he reveled in such goofiness as, breaking in on himself, "Careful now, here comes a metaphor!" (

Not that VN was always jokey, but I wonder if he would ever have done interviews at all if he hadn't been allowed to distance himself from the proceedings and "play" with the form.

However, it does surprise me that no interviewer ever seems to have elicited from him his sober personal viewpoint on pedophilia and its causes. Maybe the question was asked and he preferred Lolita to answer for him.

Brian T.
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