Nabokov’s Last Wishes


You’re probably familiar with the saga of The Original of Laura, Nabokov’s last unfinished book: He left instructions that it should be destroyed if he died before completing it.  He died before completing it, but Vera, his wife, who had previously saved Lolita from destruction, didn’t have the heart to burn Laura, so she stuck it in a Swiss bank vault.

Years later, after Vera died, serial waffler Ron Rosenbaum began pestering Nabokov’s son and executor Dmitri Nabokov to make an almost impossible decision: respect his dead father’s wishes and destroy the last unstudied work of one of the greatest English language writers EVER, or publish the book, and risk a lifetime of guilt, and possibly even a no-holds-barred Hamlet-style haunting for decades to come.

Dimitry eventually decided to have the book published.  A few more twists and turns ensued, but the book is coming out on November 17.  Now, I don’t know if any schmoe can waltz into Random House’s office’s and read the manuscript, but Ron Rosenbaum can, and did.  He talks about what he finds and goes into the whole twisted back story here.

So, did Dimitry do the right thing?

On a lighter note, here we can see notes Nabokov made on his teaching copy of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, tweaking the translation.   I’d really like to see the rest.

-Norm De Plume

Published in: on September 25, 2009 at 10:46 am  Comments (3)  

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  1. This sounds similar to a story I read earlier this week in the New York Times Magazine about Carl Jung’s “Red Book” being thrown in a Swiss vault and now soon to be published, after ten years of scholarly translation and annotation. In Jung’s case, he didn’t leave instructions for his family regarding what to do with his visionary manuscript. Soon though, the record of his dreams and visions, written over a sixteen year period, will be out to be spurn a massive epistolary battle between the Jungians and the naysayers. The decision whether to publish the text or not was a long time dilemma for Jung’s children and grandchildren.

  2. Seems like the big difference is that, unlike Jung, Nabokov specifically requested that his manuscript be destroyed. My first instinct is to say that his request should be honored, but… well, imagine if he had succeeded in destroying Lolita.

    How much do we owe the dead, anyway? I don’t get the impression this was some kind of dying breath-type last request.

    If Nabokov had lived to see how very rare good books have become these days, would he really have wanted to deny us this one, if it is, in fact, any good?

    On the other hand, it was Nabokov’s book to do with as he pleased. If he asked that his book be destroyed, perhaps it should be destroyed.

    It’s a tough call.

  3. […] I read this essay, I mostly thought of Dmitri Nabokov as the poor chump who had to decide whether or not to obey his late father’s wishes and burn an unfinished […]

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