Nabokov’s Gonna Knock You Out, Son

Papa Nabokov does not approve.

Vladimir Nabokov‘s final work — an unfinished manuscript scholars call The Original of Laura — was meant to be destroyed 30 years ago. When Nabokov died in 1977, he left instructions for his heirs to burn the 138 handwritten index cards that made up the rough draft”, reports NPR

However, once the beloved pervert kicked that bucked, the matter was out of his hands. Vera, the late novelist’s wife, didn’t carry out his final wish and now, years after her death, their 73-year-old son Dmitri Nabokov intends to publish the manuscript. Having agonized over this decision for 30 years Dimitri is now convinced it’s his gift to the world and his father would ultimately approve.

I’m inclined to believe that if a man requests something be burned, he means it. Nonetheless, whether publishing The Original of Laura is morally sound isn’t up to me to decide and I, undoubtedly with legions of ravenous fans, look forward to reading it. Sorry, Vlad! The choices made regarding editing should be interesting; whether the manuscript will be published as is or transformed into a cohesive novel is yet to be announced.

18 Responses to “Nabokov’s Gonna Knock You Out, Son”

  1. Lauren Says:

    That man’s a genius. Lolita is fookin’ brill.

  2. Ben Morris Says:

    Hmm…I am somewhat conflicted about how I feel about the destruction of artwork at an artists requests after his or her death. I mean, after all had Franz Kafka’s wishes been followed after his death the world would have none of his novels and only a couple of his short stories. Luckily for us, his executor Max Brod ignored the request and gave the world some of the finest short fiction ever written.

    I can’t help but want another Nabokov novel to exist. Pale Fire is one of the finest and funniest novels ever written. Every book of Nabokov’s I’ve read (somewhere around half of them) is wonderful in one way or another. Also, good use of a time machine: go back in time and take one of the literature courses Nabokov taught at Cornell or Wellesley, those had to be great.

  3. aziza x Says:

    I love Nabokov. I read Ada or Ardor and Lolita. Any ideas on what I should read next?

  4. Mer Says:

    Pnin. Or Pale Fire.

  5. Ben Morris Says:

    aziza x: Pale Fire. Alternatively, its not a novel, but Nabokov’s autobiography/memoirs Speak, Memory is really outstanding, and has one of my favorite opening passages of any book ever:

    “The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for (at some forty-five hundred heartbeats an hour.)”

  6. Zoetica Says:

    Pnin, most definitely.

  7. Jake the Rat Says:

    Unfortunately they will probably try and rework it into a cohesive novel and, like as not, butcher it in the process as when Titus Alone was “finished” by a ghost writer. Christopher Tolkien did a marginally better job on The Silmarillion, but as this was never really written for publication it’s still pretty unreadable.

    @Ben regarding the destruction of works – as a huge Sibelius fan I am monstrously aggrieved at his decision (whilst still alive) to burn the only copy of his Symphony No. 8, which had never been heard. He never wrote another note. In short, we was robbed!

  8. Alfonso El Sabio Says:

    Hmmm …this cries out for a technological solution …

    Scans of the note cards, arranged in their (archivally-speaking) original order; with scripting to allow, fridge-magnet style, re-ordering and arranging. 138 cards … should be enough to make the combinatorial possibilities quite intriguing for some time.

  9. Irene Kaoru Says:

    I love VN and I’m a bit pissed about this, but then of course I will read it. I hope they at least have the decency not to fuck around with it too much, if they must publish it against the wishes of the dead. I wonder…..if he wanted it burnt so badly I wonder why he didn’t take care of that detail while he lived.

  10. Erin Says:

    Thanks for the heads up on this. I too am conflicted about the matter, but of course I’ll read it. Nabokov is decidedly my favorite author. Lolita and Invitation to a Beheading are so amazing.

  11. Zoetica Says:

    Alfonso, I think you’ve definitely got a great idea there. Perhaps you should volunteer your services?

  12. Tequila Says:

    Well the question has already been answered since publication is gonna happen but boy is it a bad idea. Unfinished works while great for fans never leave a good taste in the long run. I’d be kinda pissed if my dying wish went ignored but who knows why he never did it himself…not really the issue though. If an editor can honestly look at this manuscript and see something worth publishing then great…but I’m more prone to think this is a financial choice not an artistic one.

    I like Alfonso’s idea provided it’s released as just that…for archival purposes then it doesn’t have to suffer the weight of being an actual novel.

  13. German Says:

    Alfonso is actually halfway right. They will be releasing the whole thing as individual cards along with some sort of booklet with introductions and such. Some of the cards will be replicas of the originals with scribbles and all, so in theory, you will be able to re-arrange them on your fridge if you really want to do that. :)

  14. Red Scharlach Says:

    Has that been confirmed? That sounds acceptable. An archival artefact sounds more in line with some of Nabokov’s crazier experiments anyway (like Pale Fire and his translation of Eugene Onegin).

    As to the last wishes matter, honestly, it’s been a really long time and I’d be a hypocrite to say I’m not interested in reading this, so I suppose that means that I don’t consider them that important in the end.

    This just teaches us we better burn everything we own when we die, preferably in a Viking funeral pyre!

  15. Ben Morris Says:

    In the last several months Slate has had a series of articles concerning The Original of Laura: 1 2 3. The author of the articles exchanged some interesting emails with Dmitri Nabokov (Vladimir Nabokov’s son).

  16. German Says:

    Red Scharlach, if you listen to the audio clip in the NPR article, you will hear Dmitri go into details of how the whole thing will be published.

  17. dan mcenroe Says:

    Have you ever seen scans/replicas of any of Nabokov’s index cards? The New York Public Library had them on display a few years ago – remarkably clean, precise handwriting, very few corrections, almost no “scribbling” in the margins. Dammit, the guy even excelled at index cards!

  18. Tanya Says:

    I’m reading Pnin right now, actually!

    His stories/novellas are good. Invitation to a Beheading.

    I have mixed feelings. I, also, will jump on the new publication. But I think his wishes should have have been respected.