Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0015652, Tue, 6 Nov 2007 10:00:42 -0500

Re: QUERY: Marianne Moore, Edsel Ford, and VN
R.S. Gwynn said: "This may be possible, but I suspect that Edsel Ford sent
him a book and that he admired some of the work. When I was a grad student
at Arkansas, Edsel Ford was a "native son" who had gained some recognition,
and I always thought he was a pretty good poet, despite his being from rural
Arkansas and having that unfortunate name. It's just like VN to have
championed, in a very small way, a poet from the hinterlands who would never
be taken very seriously because of his cognomen."

MR: For the full story on how VN came across Edsel Ford, see my note in the
Spring 2007 Nabokovian. To summarize, I too thought it might have been
possible that Ford sent VN his book, since it says somewhere in SO that
publishers and authors sometimes did so. It turns out, however, that this
was not the case. "The Image of Desire" was first published in the New York
Herald Tribune on February 18, 1961. At this time, VN was in Nice, where he
daily walked to a newsstand and purchased a copy of the international
edition of the NYHT. (He was working on Pale Fire at this time.) This fact
alone makes it much more likely that VN saw the poem in the NYHT.
Confirmation of this can be found in the Edsel Ford papers housed at that
Univ. of Arkansas library. Here we find a letter, dated July 24, 1962, from
Ford to the editor of the NYHT, Nicholas King.

Dear Mr. King,
It has come to my attention that Vladimir Nabokov in his latest novel, Pale
Fire, has quoted two lines from my poem, "The Image of Desire", which first
appeared in The Herald Tribune early last year. Since I am mentioned by name
as the author of "the admirable image," I presume I am supposed to be
pleased; but at the same time I would like to know if The Herald Tribune was
asked for permission to use the lines. I was not.

If your going rate for poems has dropped to 5 dollars, as reflected by the
latest check for a sonnet, then I've got to sue somebody, or else whittle
slingshots for the gift shops.

I enclose two new poems, the longer one only because it might fit alongside
Mrs Palmer's story.

Happy Homecoming. I hope it was a good rest for you.

Edsel Ford

MR: I trust you all will find that letter as humorous as I do. Especially
the lament followed by the petition, a poet's prayer if I ever saw one.
Anyway, this certainly proves that Ford did not send VN the book. Given that
fact, combined with the fact that VN was in Europe and was a regular reader
of the NYHT, we can only conclude that VN saw the poem in the newspaper, not
in Ford's book, A Thicket of Sky. King, by the way, wrote back in August. In
a completely unbelievable dodge, he told Ford that he had "not been able to
get a copy of the book to see in what context your lines were used." But, he
added, "I am interested in seeing them, and also in the fact that the author
of Lolita reads our editorial page verse." Then he told Ford to take it up
with VN's publisher. No word if he accepted the poems.

Matt Roth

Search the archive: http://listserv.ucsb.edu/archives/nabokv-l.html
Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors: mailto:nabokv-l@utk.edu,nabokv-l@holycross.edu
Visit Zembla: http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/zembla.htm
View Nabokv-L policies: http://web.utk.edu/~sblackwe/EDNote.htm