Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0003517, Mon, 7 Dec 1998 15:02:20 -0800

Isaiah Berlin, Nabokov, Wilson (fwd)
Subject: Isaiah Berlin, Nabokov, Wilson

Galya Diment <galya@u.washington.edu>:

>From Michael Ignatieff's just published ISAIAH BERLIN: A LIFE, p. 209:

"[Berlin's] emotional state in this period [1949] is laid bare by his
translation of Ivan Turgenev's 'First Love'... Since 'First Love' was a
tender study of infatuation, its translation provided Isaiah with an
indirect means of exploring his own feelings for Patricia [Douglas]. Was
it right, he asked Shirley [Morgan], to say that your heart 'turned over'
when your loving glance was first returned? Or should he say the heart
'slipped its moorings'? While at Harvard, Isaiah actually consulted
Vladimir Nabokov -- then a research fellow in lepidoptera at the Harvard
zoology department -- on how to translate this particular passage.
Nabokov's suggestion -- 'my heart went pit a pat' -- left Isaiah
unimpressed. Finally, he settled on 'my heart leaped within me.'"

Interestingly, Brian Boyd mentions the Nabokovs seeing Berlin at Harvard
in the Spring of 1952 -- American Years, p. 216. Furthermore, the only
time Wilson, with whom Berlin was very friendly -- see below -- mentions
Berlin to VN is also in 1952, and here the assumption seemed to be on his
part that VN was yet to meet Berlin: "Dear Volodya: Isaiah Berlin gave
me this [an English review of CONCLUSIVE EVIDENCE] (he is a wonderful
character -- you ought to know him)" (NWL, 269). When VN responded, he
did not suggest that he, in fact, already knew Berlin, so the year in
Ignatieff's biography is probably wrong.

Two Sundays ago, the NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW had a very interesting
article called "The Philosopher and the Critic" which contained excerpts,
never published before, of the interview that Lewis Dabney, the editor of
Wilson's journals, had with Isaiah Berlin in 1991. Nabokov was,
apparently, not mentioned during the interview but Berlin's recollections
and opinion of Wilson are very interesting. Berlin liked Wilson as a
critic, he called him "an old-fashioned 19th century critic [who]
INTERPRETED literature." He also remarked: "You can say about Edmund
that everything he wrote in one way or the other was memorable. It cannot
be said of many people. Because he put his blood in it. Because he gave
himself to it. He didn't just scribble. It cost him." As a person, Wilson
was, according to Berlin, "a highly neurotic man... Nervy. A little
paranoiac.... He was an uncomfortable man, uncomfortable with himself; and
that's what caused the friction, and the friction caused the genius... He
was disharmonious. It was difficult for him: life was difficult, and
writing was difficult. But it was all worthwhile, because of the triumph.
He was a very, very honorable figure, whichever way you looked at it."

The full interview is going to be published in Wilson Quarterly -- there
may be something on Wilson and VN there.

Galya Diment