nabokov’s letters to his wife

Cca42d26-5f78-11e4_1105200kEric Naiman at The Times Literary Supplement:

We are used to the Nabokov who wrote for a robust, “panting and happy” reader, for the climber of “trackless slopes”. This is the playful Nabokov who loves to fold his magic carpet so that some readers might trip, the scourge of lazy, system-bound critics, the “perfect dictator” who so savagely heaps scorn on idols of the West: Dostoevsky, Freud, Sartre, Mann. The Nabokov on display in this beautifully produced volume of letters, only a few of which have been published in the original Russian, is quite different: not an inveterate competitor besting his characters and critics, but an author who sees his task as talking his fragile reader down from an upper-storey ledge by showing her the luminosity of a world that has somehow ceased to be a source of delight.

Some of the letters contain poems, some are about writing poetry, others are essentially poems in prose. Nearly all the letters from the summer of 1926 are about the importance of noticing things, and, as in The Gift, are informed by a gratitude for the omnipresence of beauty, even in images that might otherwise chill or disgust. Nabokov is delighted by animals: “a charming borzoi” with “ash-blue specks on her forehead (like yesterday’s evening sky)” plays with “a russet dachshund”, their “two long tender snouts prodding each other”.

more here.

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