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A Creature of Infinite Melancholy
November 17, 2009 2:39 PM   Subscribe

LIFE magazine presents previously unpublished photos of Vladimir Nabokov, taken by Carl Mydens in 1959.
posted by Lutoslawski (31 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Nabokov preferred to write in a car and penned most of "Lolita" in 1953 while on a butterfly-catching road trip with his wife Vera.

One of my favorite images from Lolita is the descprtion of the vast, over-green American landscape rushing in the rear view mirror, the hand-painted signs and lonely little motels and the road that goes everywhere, America as fable, and the feeling of the trip itself, intimate but isolated.

So, what I'm saying is, seeing the actual car that was wrote in is pretty fucking cool.
posted by The Whelk at 2:46 PM on November 17, 2009


It is not improbable that had there been no revolution in Russia, I would have devoted myself entirely to lepidopterology and never written any novels at all.

With this in mind, I think we should stage some sort of coup, if nothing else than to strike inspiration into those in the grasp of NaNoWriMo.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:51 PM on November 17, 2009


Interesting pictures.
The 12 year-old girl in me is strangely turned on.
posted by chococat at 2:51 PM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Wow. You can just make out Sting in one of the photos, standing behind Nabakov, pacging through a rhyming dictionary.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:57 PM on November 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


Somewhat related fake banner ad from oglaf (sfw).
posted by idiopath at 3:00 PM on November 17, 2009


Feels like I've seen these before, I have to say. He must've gotten tired of being photographed writing in a car. Many similar photos in this book.
posted by mattbucher at 3:05 PM on November 17, 2009


Wonderful photos, and VV would particularly have liked the fact that so many of them show him and Véra hunting butterflies. Thanks for the post.
posted by languagehat at 3:08 PM on November 17, 2009


I have always had the distinct impression that I would enjoy an afternoon with Vera over Vladimir any day.
posted by milarepa at 3:10 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Alternate book cover ideas for Lolita.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 3:14 PM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Alternate book cover ideas for Lolita.

The black/courier/pink scrunchie one is just...chilling.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:21 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nice photographs. Thanks.
posted by OmieWise at 3:53 PM on November 17, 2009


The covers are interesting, we have a drinking game that is a variant of "drink while you think" we call "alternate titles" where you modernize a title ... Nabakov's Lolita is really one of the more fun ones. "Teen No Rules" by Vladmir Nabakov, "iCal" by Malamud, "One Hundred Days without Comcast" by Marquez, erm, well it is more fun when you're drinking you see.
posted by geoff. at 3:58 PM on November 17, 2009


'erm' as generational marker...
but anyway thank God for Камера Обскура aka Laughter in the Dark, which beats Lolita down like a defenseless puppy.
posted by nj_subgenius at 4:06 PM on November 17, 2009


Sweet Jesus, he wrote on 3 X 5 cards ... and I thought Tom Wolfe writing things out, long hand, in pencil, on legal pads was odd.
posted by Relay at 4:15 PM on November 17, 2009


I like these. They jive with my impression of the man behind the prose. This seems like a minor point, but I think it's a revealing fact that I can still enjoy reading his books when tired. It's an incomplete enjoyment compared to an alert reading, but the same can't be said for some of the other members of the pantheon that he occupies.
posted by invitapriore at 4:17 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wrote in cars? In bed? I distinctly remember reading that he wrote at a podium while standing up. Remember seeing a picture of him doing it.

But all I could find was this. Take that, Mailer!
posted by IndigoJones at 4:51 PM on November 17, 2009


Look ye at the face of that good man back in the sweet years of the past century, innocently collecting his butterflies, unaware that in the dark bloggy future, his own begotten son will betray him by publishing "The Original of Laura" for all the world to paw over and shuffle through and be sneered at by critics who are not fit to polish the master's mounting pins. It was a big, open, beautiful world then, with high trees and wide empty sidewalks (and broad back seats of cars). How he would have hated our ugly, crowded age of loud-mouthed ideological pipsqueaks. (Actually, I think with his fine eye for beauty, and he would have loved Sarah Palin.)
posted by Faze at 5:04 PM on November 17, 2009


I like these photos, especially since parts of the Cornell campus that I think I recognize are the backdrops for some of them.
posted by peacheater at 5:31 PM on November 17, 2009


I came upon an exhibit of his butterfly drawings at the New York Public Library one afternoon while in town on business, oh, ten years or so ago. I had thoroughly enjoyed his Lectures on Don Quixote, but hadn't known anything about his lepidoptery until then. Fantastic.
posted by MrMoonPie at 5:34 PM on November 17, 2009



I have always had the distinct impression that I would enjoy an afternoon with Vera over Vladimir any day.


How are you at target practice? She was apparently a crack shot. Took up the sport as a prelude for attempting to kill Trotsky, but the plot fizzled.

but anyway thank God for Камера Обскура aka Laughter in the Dark, which beats Lolita down like a defenseless puppy.

You are surely mad, sir. Margot is a cartoon, Dolores Haze the masterwork.
posted by Diablevert at 6:04 PM on November 17, 2009


Thanks for the link! I never would have found this on my own.
posted by Houyhnhnm at 6:19 PM on November 17, 2009


That last Nabokov book, "The Original of Laura," sounds iffy. The real posthumous prize for the literary world presumably sleeps peacefully inside a locked safe somewhere on the Salinger estate waiting for its day to shine. Or, he could burn them ahead of time and we lose out. Or, it could be Hapworth II, in which case we really lose out.
posted by milarepa at 6:48 PM on November 17, 2009


Astro Zombie:Wow. You can just make out Sting in one of the photos, standing behind Nabakov...

He shouldn't stand so close to him.
posted by dr_dank at 8:14 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


> That last Nabokov book, "The Original of Laura," sounds iffy.

"Iffy"? It's not a book at all (except in the literal sense that it's been bound and published), it's a collection of index cards that might, had VV lived, been turned into a book. It might or might not have been good, but it would have been a Nabokov novel. This is just shameless cashing-in.
posted by languagehat at 6:28 AM on November 18, 2009


This is just shameless cashing-in.

I'm willing to give a little more benefit of the doubt. Sure, they're making bucks on it, but on the other hand, we are talking a literary icon and we do live in an age where fanatics and English professors scrutinize every last scrap of the oeuvre, more often than for out of love. That why we invented the University of Texas. Right or wrong, I think there was more in the decision than mere bottom line.

(Not, mind you, that I necessarily approve of the decision. Not sure I wouldn't have burned Kafka's work if he had asked me, come to that.)
posted by IndigoJones at 7:50 AM on November 18, 2009


> we are talking a literary icon and we do live in an age where fanatics and English professors scrutinize every last scrap of the oeuvre, more often than for out of love

Yes, and it should be available to such people in an archive. There is no reason in the world for it to be published as a "book" except to make $$$.
posted by languagehat at 9:10 AM on November 18, 2009


Iffy was my genteel way of saying "like garbage."
posted by milarepa at 2:24 PM on November 18, 2009


Yes, and it should be available to such people in an archive. There is no reason in the world for it to be published as a "book" except to make $$$.

Would you be okay with it being published on line? Not trying to snark, just curious. The problem with archives is they can be so very exclusionary and far far away, which bothers me as an open information kind of guy (albeit with strong feelings about copyright protections).
posted by IndigoJones at 6:04 PM on November 18, 2009


> Would you be okay with it being published on line?

Huh, that's an interesting question. I guess if millennia-old manuscripts from Benedictine abbeys can be pored over online, why not this? I'm a fan of open information, too. But obviously this is different. Maybe after I get some more coffee into me I'll be able to think more decisively.
posted by languagehat at 5:06 AM on November 19, 2009


Huh, that's an interesting question. I guess if millennia-old manuscripts from Benedictine abbeys can be pored over online, why not this? I'm a fan of open information, too. But obviously this is different.

Well, I think everyone acknowledges that the ideal solution would have been for him or herself alone to have a chance at reading it, and then for the manuscript to be destroyed per VN's instructions.

In all seriousness, I'm a bit of a zealot on this --- I think they should have destroyed it. We're talking about a guy who would only consent to an interview if he got to receive the questions beforehand and type out his responses. He wouldn't even allow himself to be quoted for publication in a celebrity puff piece without the privilege of being able to edit himself for posterity --- it is absolutely clear that he would not have wanted this. And further, the badly unfinished state of it seems to limit what one could profitably glean from it as a reflection of his body of work as a whole. It seems from the descriptions that one can discern similar themes, there seems to be a deliberate riffing on the earlier works --- but we have no idea what those hints would have led to, what fruit would have bloomed. Like trying to judge the effect of the spectacle from examining the powder in a damp firework.

I mean, I'm not one who would say that a work means only what its author intended it to mean, once it gets out there in the wild the reader brings their own brain and sucks their own sustenance from the text. But I don't think intentions count for nothing, nor skill. An artist should have the right to shape their own legacy.
posted by Diablevert at 12:27 PM on November 19, 2009


Update- Brian Boyd, Nabokov's biographer, who initially urged burning, has changed his mind now the he has read the published version. His review can be found in today's Financial Times. (Sorry, no link just yet. Possibly later)
posted by IndigoJones at 7:24 AM on November 21, 2009


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