Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0001400, Wed, 30 Oct 1996 13:11:57 -0800

Vidal on Nabokov (fwd)
From: Brian Walter <bwalter@dobson.ozarks.edu>
While this hardly qualifies as news now a year after the publication of
PALIMPSEST, Gore Vidal's memoir includes a gossipy trivium that might
prove of interest to Nabokovians:

"I also, suddenly, recall with shame the only time I was a judge for a
literary prize (with Elizabeth Hardwick and Professor Harry Levin of
Harvard). Lizzie and I wanted the prize to go to _Morte d'Urban_ by J.
F. Powers. Levin argued powerfully for Nabokov's _Pale Fire_. _Lolita_,
yes, I said, but to this latest overelaborate bit of academic funning,
no. Levin then said that he would accede to our bad taste if we would
drop from our list of finalists a book so terrible that it might destroy
literature. Cravenly, we erased _Naked Lunch_. Yet even then, I
suspected that Levin's hatred of the book was proof of its merit. I was
never again a judge." (229)

In several passages of his biography, Boyd describes the oddity, even the
unlikelihood, of the Nobel Academy's persistent snubbing of Nabokov's
work, but apparently, this was not the only prize for which his serious
candidacy did not prevail.

One final sidebar: in a May 1953 letter to Levin (one of his closer American
friends, apparently), Nabokov throws in a parenthetical aside that lends
further credence to the recent suggestions that the Eliot allusions in
_Pale Fire_ may finally lead all the way back to Conan Doyle's inhuman

"From eight a.m. to noon, or later, I collect butterflies (only Wells,
Conan Doyle and Conrad have portrayed lepiodopterists -- all of them
spies, or murderers, or neurotics) and from two p.m. to dinner time I
write (a novel)." (_Selected Letters_ 136)

Of course, the inhumanity of the lepidopterist has become something of a
cliche, even trickling all the way down to form the basis for an episode
of that prime example of pop culture inanity, _Gilligan's Island_. If
(dimming) memory serves, the episode focuses on a heedless
butterfly-chaser who lands on the island in quest of some surpassingly
rare specimen, but who, in the course of the hunt, forgets his promise to
help the stranded inhabitants finally to escape the island, oblivious to
their fate as he departs in search of his next rare capture. Curiously,
the show originally ran during the mid-'60's, when Nabokov's fame was at
its height and images of him as the butterfly-hunter had recently
appeared in _Life_ and in television interviews.

Brian Walter
University of the Ozarks