The Public and Private Nabokov

October 18th, 2013 Comments Off on The Public and Private Nabokov

It is well known that Nabokov projected a persona in his rare public statements and interviews. He used such occasions to stamp his authority on his texts and to preserve the myth of a solitary genius who was not fond of many other authors. It is unsurprising that his correspondence reveals a different, more personable character. Make no mistake, Nabokov-as-public-figure appears in some letters to publishers and authors as he denounces second-rate authors and those who introduce errors into his works!

One of the many examples of this discrepancy can be seen in Nabokov’s mentions of the typewriter in his correspondence and published interviews. Nabokov’s composition method after 1941 relied on index cards and pencils, a method he had transferred from his research into butterflies. When the time came to type up these index cards, he left the typing to his wife, Véra. Although this offers no direct evidence that Vladimir himself could not type, in personal correspondence to James Laughlin, an early American publisher of Nabokov’s novels, in November 1942, Nabokov admitted parenthetically that “I cannot type.” (Selected Letters, 43)

Three years later, however, he included a holograph to a typed letter to Katharine White: “This is the first letter I have typed out myself in my life. Took me 28 minutes but came out beautifully.” (SL, 54) Here we can see an apprentice’s pride and an appreciation of the aesthetic value of typing, especially through the struggle. This moment of glory is in stark contrast to Nabokov’s public pronouncement years later (1963) in a Playboy  interview to Alvin Toffler: “Yes I never learned to type.” (Strong Opinions, 29). Undoubtedly after his initial struggle, he did not take over all his typing duties, but under such a public statement lies a much more complex private engagement with the technology he dismisses.

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