Cornell St ore Sells Nabokov’s Draft Prio r to Globa l Release ...
Cornell Store Sells Nabokov’s Draft Prior to Global Release
November 16, 2009 - 6:17am
By Lucy Li
Since Vladimir Nabokov’s death in 1977, a Swiss bank vault has guarded 138 pencil-written note cards that the writer of Lolita fame instructed to destroy. Thirty years later, copies of these cards, the unfinished draft of Nabokov’s last novel The Original of Laura, will be available today at the Cornell Store, one day prior to the global release date.
Nabokov was born in Russia in 1899 and emigrated to the U.S. in 1940. A celebrated and prolific multilingual novelist, he is the author of many Russian and English novels, novellas, poems, plays and critical essays including Lolita, Pnin, Pale Fire and Look at the Harlequins. Nabokov was working on The Original of Laura at the time of his death in 1977. Ironically, the unfinished draft is subtitled “Dying is Fun,” according to a review by Slate.
After much consideration, his now 75-year-old son, Dmitri, finally agreed to publish the book against his father’s deathbed wish to prolong Nabokov’s legacy. The Knopf hardcover edition to be released globally on Tuesday replicates the 138 notecards with perforated edges, so readers can tear out the cards and shuffle them the way Nabokov did, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Only the first two chapters are completed, and the rest “degenerate rapidly into fragments,” according to a review by Jonathan Bate of the U.K. newspaper, the Telegraph.
Photos of four of the 138 index cards were published a year ago in Die Zeit, a German weekly, and 5000 words from the novel will also also appear in the December issue of Playboy magazine. The 138 original cards will be auctioned at Christie’s in New York on Dec. 4 and are estimated to sell for $400,000 to $600,000, according to the Journal.
According to Ted Arnold of the Cornell Store Book Department, the book will be released early at Cornell because the publisher understands that “Nabokov’s home in higher education is Cornell.” Nabokov taught European literature at Cornell from 1948 to 1959. He was an “idiosyncratic” professor whose lectures were so treasured that once a student approached him at the podium and asked him to “do it again,” wrote Jeffrey Meyers in a 1986 National Review article.
With the publisher’s consent, the books were made available on Friday to Prof. Anindita Banerjee, comparative literature, Prof. Kevin Attell, English, and Prof. Gavriel Shapiro, Russian, to give these faculty members extra time to prepare for the release event on Thursday. While the store typically orders literary fiction one dozen at a time and only purchased 100 copies of A Mercy for Toni Morrison’s reading in October, 250 copies of Nabokov’s book were purchased in the first batch.
Since The Original of Laura is not a complete novel, many contend that it will mostly interest literary scholars and die-hard Nabokov fans.
“That might be right,” said Arnold, “but I don’t want to take the risk of not having enough for those who are excited about it.”
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