Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Knopf




Letters to Véra

By Vladimir Nabokov

About the Book:

The letters of the great writer to his wife—gathered here for the first time—chronicle a decades-long love story and document anew the creative energies of an artist who was always at work.

No marriage of a major twentieth-century writer is quite as beguiling as that of Vladimir Nabokov’s to Véra Slonim. She shared his delight in life’s trifles and literature’s treasures, and he rated her as having the best and quickest sense of humor of any woman he had met. From their first encounter in 1923, Vladimir’s letters to Véra form a narrative arc that tells a half-century-long love story, one that is playful, romantic, pithy and memorable. At the same time, the letters tell us much about the man and the writer. We see the infectious fascination with which Vladimir observed everything—animals, people, speech, the landscapes and cityscapes he encountered—and learn of the poems, plays, stories, novels, memoirs, screenplays and translations on which he worked ceaselessly. This delicious volume contains twenty-one photographs, as well as facsimiles of the letters themselves and the puzzles and doodles Vladimir often sent to Véra. 

About Vladimir Nabokov:

Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov was born on April 23, 1899, in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Nabokovs were known for their high culture and commitment to public service, and the elder Nabokov was an outspoken opponent of antisemitism and one of the leaders of the opposition party, the Kadets. In 1919, following the Bolshevik revolution, he took his family into exile. Four years later he was shot and killed at a political rally in Berlin while trying to shield the speaker from right-wing assassins.

The Nabokov household was trilingual, and as a child Nabokov was already reading Wells, Poe, Browning, Keats, Flaubert, Verlaine, Rimbaud, Tolstoy, and Chekhov, alongside the popular entertainments of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Jules Verne. As a young man, he studied Slavic and romance languages at Trinity College, Cambridge, taking his honors degree in 1922. For the next eighteen years he lived in Berlin and Paris, writing prolifically in Russian under the pseudonym Sirin and supporting himself through translations, lessons in English and tennis, and by composing the first crossword puzzles in Russian. In 1925 he married Vera Slonim, with whom he had one child, a son, Dmitri.

Having already fled Russia and Germany, Nabokov became a refugee once more in 1940, when he was forced to leave France for the United States. There he taught at Wellesley, Harvard, and Cornell. He also gave up writing in Russian and began composing fiction in English. In his afterword to Lolita he claimed: "My private tragedy, which cannot, and indeed should not, be anybody's concern, is that I had to abandon my natural idiom, my untrammeled, rich, and infinitely docile Russian tongue for a second-rate brand of English, devoid of any of those apparatuses--the baffling mirror, the black velvet backdrop, the implied associations and traditions--which the native illusionist, frac-tails flying, can magically use to transcend the heritage in his own way." [p. 317] Yet Nabokov's American period saw the creation of what are arguably his greatest works, Bend Sinister (1947), Lolita (1955), Pnin (1957), and Pale Fire (1962), as well as the translation of his earlier Russian novels into English. He also undertook English translations of works by Lermontov and Pushkin and wrote several books of criticism. Vladimir Nabokov died in Montreux, Switzerland, in 1977.

Reviews

“It is the prose itself that provides the lasting affirmation. The unresting responsiveness; the exquisite evocations of animals and of children; the way that everyone he comes across is minutely ­individualized; the detailed visualizations of soirees and street scenes; the raw-nerved susceptibility to weather and underlying it all the lavishness, the freely offered gift, of his divine energy.” —Martin Amis, The New York Times Book Review (front page)
 
“A self-portrait of the young Vladimir unvarnished by Nabokovian irony. The earliest letters, intoxicated with language and desire, are intoxicating to read . . . A lifetime of scholarship informs this massive tome.” —Judith Thurman, The New Yorker
 
“Letters to Véra, a five-decade epistolary love story, is like being handed a celebrity's unlocked iPhone. Pry away . . . I still hope for Nabokovian romance.” —Keziah Weir, Elle
 
“A fascinating collection of correspondence . . . A wife—and indeed, a son—who could inspire such caring and creative letters as these deserve to be included in Nabokov’s literary legacy.” —Peter Tonguette, The Christian Science Monitor
 
“Letters to Véra opens the workshop door and shows us Vladimir not in his accredited hard-shell case of genius but as a soft, vulnerable practicing writer . . . Again and again, we see what Charles Kinbote, in Pale Fire, calls the magic of a mind ‘perceiving and transforming the world, taking it in and taking it apart, re-combining its elements.’” —David Lipsky, Harper’s Magazine

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