NABOKV-L post 0011675, Wed, 10 Aug 2005 20:57:17 -0700

Stacy Schiff interview re her bio "VERA"
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Date: Sun, 07 Aug 2005 13:18:35 -0400
From: "Sandy P. Klein" <>




Stacy Schiff answered questions from readers about "Vera (Mrs.
Vladimir Nabokov)," the August selection of The Oregonian's book

Dear Ms. Schiff, I am intrigued by your choice of subject matter.
Did you live in Russia at one time, and what made you decide to write
about Vera?

-- Sally Brown, McMinnville

Largely it was an attempt to solve a mystery. Why did Nabokov's
biographers refuse to write about his wife -- but then concede that
until someone did, there would be a hole at the center of Nabokov's
story? Why did he dedicate every one of his books to his wife? I
operated on an assumption that Mrs. Dostoyevsky articulated: You
can't necessarily find a man in his books, but you can find him in
his home life.

When you started your research, did you consider Vera a feminist or
simply a tragically co-dependent wife? When and why did your opinion
of her shift?

-- Shannon Leonetti, Portland

Neither. I considered her the answer to a riddle. A previous
biographer had written that the Nabokov marriage was as essential and
as intricate as the work. What did he mean? I thought about Mrs.
Nabokov in terms of dual and shifting identities, a favorite
Nabokovian theme. Hence the title.

What impact did the publication of "Lolita" have on the life of Vera

-- Bonnie Acker, Newberg

"Lolita" changed everything about the Nabokovs' lives. It liberated
VN from teaching, at which he excelled but which he never enjoyed. It
returned the couple to financial health, something that had eluded
them since pre-Revolutionary days. Interestingly, it made them
Europeans again; with their celebrity, they moved from upstate New
York to Switzerland. Most notably, it proved Vera right. Since l923
she was convinced that Nabokov was the greatest writer alive. Three
decades and 12 novels later, the world finally agreed with her. The
novel's success also increased her workload immensely.

The brilliant Mr. Nabokov wrote often about sexually precocious
prepubescent girls, not only in "Lolita" but also in the masterpiece
"Ada" and elsewhere. Did Vera have any difficulty with his attention
to this subject? And how did she handle the censorship of "Lolita"
and the associated moral condemnations of her husband?

-- Tina Castarnares, White Salmon, Wash.

She had no difficulty with the subject artistically, though she very
much did practically. She was plainly nervous about publication
(something she denied later). She spent a lot of time explaining the
novel when mailing it to family members. (She was, after all, the
woman who wanted Mark Twain kept from her l2-year-old son.) She was
uncertain about the repercussions at Cornell; VN's position there was
hard-won. That said, never once did Vera waver in her conviction that
the novel was great literature. And no, she never read it as
autobiography. Its themes had turned up in her husband's pages early
on; they came as no surprise to her. She was only amused by the moral
condemnations -- but then again by the time they registered, the novel
was on the best-seller list, and Cornell had not imploded.


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