Donald Rayfield

His Better Half

Letters to Véra

By

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Letters from Vladimir Nabokov could be as welcome to their recipients as an enquiry from the taxman or a reproach from an ex-spouse. His most helpful American supporter, Edmund Wilson, was berated for a ‘hopeless infatuation with the Russian language’ and ‘incomprehensible incomprehension of … Eugene Onegin’. Nabokov’s much-abused first biographer, Andrew Field, who tried too hard to probe his subject’s friends, relatives and ancestors, was not only dismissed as a ‘rat’ writing ‘tripe’, but also told, ‘The style and tone of your work are beyond redemption.’ Yet within the tiny inner circle formed by his wife, Véra, and son, Dmitri, Nabokov was unfailingly affectionate and attentive, and in all the surviving correspondence there are few scorpion stings. Perhaps the only chilling aspect is that such love for his wife and son left Nabokov with relatively little sympathy for his widowed mother and struggling siblings.

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