Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0005279, Tue, 4 Jul 2000 09:42:44 -0700

A Glimpse of Konstantin Nabokov
KN, VN's uncle, appears in John Carswell's biography of Ivy Litvinov
(_The Exile_, London, 1983), Maxim Litvinov's English wife and a
translator of many Russian classics into English (and also a writer who
published occasionally in The New Yorker and other places.) The Litvinovs
were married before the Bolshevik revolution and thus prior to Litvinov's
rise to power as the Soviet Union's Foreign Minister. Ivy Litvinov spent
much time in the late 1920s-early 1930s in Berlin -- but she and VN
obviously did not circulate in the same circles, although they did share
some (mostly English) acquaintances.

Maxim Litvinov was still in London when the October revolution took place,
and it fell to him to claim the Russian Embassy for the new Soviet regime
from the old government. Konstantin Nabokov was at the time the embassy's
Charge d'affaires.

Carswell: "Soon [Litvinov] moved his office from Hillfield Road to Victoria
Street, at the same time loudly demanding possession of the Russian
Embassy, which was still [in 1918] occupied by the crestfallen diplomats
of the former regime. Their chief, Nabokov, protested against the
countenance being given to their competitor, but to no effect. 'The
situation of Mr. Nabokoff,' wrote Lord Hardinge, the Permanent
Undersecretary unfeelingly, 'and the Embassy staff, is really pitiable,
but they must recognize that they represent nothing, and that it is
impossible for us to withhold recognition from the de facto
government'" (88).

Konstantin was still in London when the other Nabokovs came there in
1919. Here is Brian Boyd's description of their reunion: "V.D. Nabokov
marched up to his brother, spreading his arms for a Russian embrace. Prim
-- and homosexual -- Konstantin backed off: 'My v Anglii, my v Anglii [we
are in England].' Charge d'affaires at the Russian embassy in London,
Konstantin represented a government abolished a year and a half
earlier. With England changing its policy toward Bolshevik and
anti-Bolshevik Russia from month to month... Konstantin's position
resembled that of one of those cartoon characters who run off a cliff and
pedal in the air until gravity decides to act" (RY, 165).

Konstantin was generous in sharing his numerous contacts in England with
his brother and his family but V.D. Nabokov still could not find any
"traction" in England and, reluctantly, the family went to Berlin, leaving
behind Vladimir and Sergei at Cambridge and Oxford (Sergei would join his
brother at Cambridge later). Konstantin was also helpful in steering some
translation jobs towards his nephew while he was in England.

Galya Diment