The Admirable Work
Although Vladimir Nabokov was the precise master of the letter and one of the great letter writers in all of literature, he was often at his most humorous in short replies, even to people he didn't know very well. Here are some of the best of those messages and telegrams.
December 31th, 1956
to: GRAHAM GREENE
Dear Mr. Greene,
From various friends I keep receiving heart-warming reports on your kindness to my books. This is New Year's Eve, and I feel I would like to talk to you.
My poor Lolita is having a rough time. The pity is that if I had made her a boy, or a cow, or a bicylce, Philistines might never have flinched. On the other hand, Olympia Press informs me that amateurs (amateurs!) are disappointed with the turn my story takes in the second volume, and do not buy it. I have been sent copies of the article, in which, about a year ago, a Mr. Gordon with your witty assistance made such a fool of himself. It would seem, however, that a clean vulgar mind makes Gordon's wonderfully strong, for my French agent tells me that the book (the English original) is now banned by governmental decree in France. She says: "La réponse de James Gordon à l'article de M. Graham Greene à indigne certains puritains et...c'est le Gouvernement anglais qui à demande au Ministre de l'Intérieur (of France) de prendre cette décision."
This is an extraordinary situation. I could patter on like this till next year. Wishing you a very happy New one, I remain
Greene had named Lolita one of the best books of 1955.
March 24th, 1957
to: PROF. MARK SCHORER
I shall be glad to make my contribution to the D.H. Lawrence Fellowship Fund, although, between you and me, I dislike Lawrence as a writer and detest Taos, where, in 1954, I had the misfortune of establishing my headquarters when collecting butterflies in the N. Mexico mountains.
I would like you to know how much I appreciated your eyespot on Pnin's underwing.
Véra and I remember with pleasure our meetings with you and your wife in Cambridge.
January 16th, 1961
to: DMITRI NABOKOV
I have interrupted my literary labors to compose this instructive little jingle:
In Italy, for his own good,
A wolf must wear a Riding Hood
Please bear this in mind.
The Nabokovs were concerned with their son's romantic misadventures in Italy.
October 9th, 1965
to: LYNDON B. JOHNSON
WISHING YOU A PERFECT RECOVERY AND A SPEEDY RETURN TO THE ADMIRABLE WORK YOU ARE ACCOMPLISHING
The president had undergone surgery.
January 14th, 1967
to: HUGH M. HEFNER and A.C. SPECTORSKY
Dear Mr. Hefner and Mr. Spectorsky,
I want to thank you warmly for the many kindnesses - the good wishes, the beautiful cigarette box, the album in which I was pleased to find myself represented, and the 500 doll. bonus. I apologize for being so late with my thanks and my own New Year wishes of happiness and prosperity for yourselves and for Playboy. I was submerged in work some of which had to be finished by Christmas but was not.
I always enjoy reading Playboy, and the latest issue was especially entertaining and informative.
I welcome Freud's "Woodrow Wilson" not only because of its comic appeal, which is great, but because that surely must be the last rusty nail in the Viennese Quack's coffin.
November 11th, 1967
to: INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE
For obvious reasons I refuse to tell you, in answer to your questionnaire, what brand of cigarettes my cousin smokes, nor can I divulge my "choice of shipping methods", or the price of my wristwatch. However: I like you very much, and here are four suggested improvements that would increase my affection.
1. Splash U.S. successes with a little more enthusiasm.
2. Reestablish the Monday stock exchange tables for the past week.
3. Consign, at once and for keeps, Mrs. Sawyer to a mental asylum (this will give everybody more elbow room)
4. Cut out the pop art (Chag et al) and replace it by a Book Review page once a week.
March 17th, 1965
DEAR PLAYBOY ADA FRAGMENTS BEAUTIFULLY PRINTED BUT GOODNESS WHAT ILLUSTRATIONS THAT IMPROBABLE YOUNG MAMMAL AND TWO REVOLTING FROGS
The above was a holograph sent to his wife Véra on their fiftieth anniversary. It was inscribed on a 2" x 4" section cut from a checked index card, perhaps attached to a present, and illustrated with a beautiful iridescent butterfly. It reads, "Here we are at last, my darling."
You can find more of VD on TR here.
"The Motion Makes Me Last" - Eluvium (mp3)
"In Culmination" - Eluvium (mp3)
"Leaves Eclipse the Light" - Eluvium (mp3)