NABOKV-L post 0012189, Wed, 7 Dec 2005 20:12:15 -0800

Ron Rosenbaum re Nabokov's LAURA (continued)
NYO - Ron Rosenbaum

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Nabokov's Laura Is
Saved From Burning;
Who Was This Woman?

By Ron Rosenbaum

Breathe easy: I think it's safe to say without much exaggeration (and only an understandable modicum of self-congratulation) that The Observer has saved Laura. Saved the last, incomplete, unseen Vladimir Nabokov manuscript from a threat of destruction.

In a convoluted way, my plea to Dmitri Nabokov, the son, translator and defender of his father's legacy ("Dear Dmitri Nabokov: Don't Burn Laura!", The Observer, Nov. 28, 2005) has apparently resulted in the revocation of the threat.

I suppose I should feel good, but in fact I feel uneasy. I can see the arguments on the other side. I spoke of my conflicted feelings in the initial column: about the argument that Nabokov deserves to have his unequivocally expressed wishes carried out-The Original of Laura (full title) burned. But if she lives or dies, I think, as we'll see, it's now possible to make an educated guess about the identity of the original Laura of The Original of Laura.

Why the conflicted feelings over this apparent rescue? Well, Nabokov made clear that he didn't want to leave behind an imperfect version of something he cherished. Despite what we might want him to want, he wanted the incomplete manuscript of Laura-30 to 40 index cards of handwritten draft that Dmitri says would have become "the most concentrated distillation of [his father's] creativity"-destroyed. Before he died in 1977, VN asked his wife Véra to do it, and when she hadn't by the time of her death 14 years later in 1991, the burden of his father's injunction was bequeathed to Dmitri.

Dmitri, an honorable and devoted son, obviously has a conflict. His father wanted him to do one thing; the world wants him to do something else. Most of those who know about Laura-and, until recently, not many did-hoped or assumed that Dmitri would ultimately find some way to make the manuscript available. After all, it was a document that might provide both clues to the final aesthetic direction of the greatest writer of the past century-and a new perspective from which to look at his astonishing, puzzling, endlessly rewarding past work.

I certainly would like to study it, but I don't feel that the argument for preserving it is as obvious as most people seem to assume. The argument that "Nabokov's genius belongs to the world" in effect punishes him for being the greatest writer of the past century, by declaring he is so great that we need pay no attention to him, to his heartfelt wishes about the disposition of his drafts. I can see Nabokov's stern face saying, "But I said destroy it and I meant destroy it. What part of 'destroy it' don't you understand?" Well, I can't see him saying the last sentence, but I'm talking about the sentiment, the gravamen, here.

Before I get deeper into this question and the fascinating debate that has subsequently developed about who the "Laura" of The Original of Laura might be, let me explain my claim that The Observer saved Laura.

After my story was published, two developments rapidly ensued. It was picked up in the European press from Ireland to Moscow, and the headlines were variations on the theme of "NABOKOV SON TO DESTROY FATHER'S LAST WORK." I had cited Dmitri's comment from his e-mail to me that he would "probably destroy it." The headlines omitted "probably," but they put a spotlight on Dmitri as the sole custodian of a work he had described as something that would have been "Father's most brilliant novel, the most concentrated distillation of his creativity, but whose release in incomplete form he expressly forbade."

The final distillation! All we know about the novel's content, aside from the fact that it's a "distillation" of something, is the testimony of the editor of Nabokov Studies, Professor Zoran Kuzmanovich, who apparently heard Dmitri read some excerpts of it at a gathering of Nabokovians at Cornell in the 90's. Professor K. tells us that Laura seemed to concern "aging but holding onto the original love of one's life."

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You may reach Ron Rosenbaum via email at: .

This column ran on page 1 in the 12/12/2005 edition of The New York Observer.


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Petrarch wearing laurels: Was his Laura 'the original of Laura'?

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