Mark Dunbar

Stings Like a Butterfly

The Feud: Vladimir Nabokov, Edmund Wilson, and the End of a Beautiful Friendship

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To choose sides in the literary feud between Edmund Wilson and Vladimir Nabokov is almost to make a political (even moral) confession. The two men, at least at first glance, embodied very different world-views. Wilson was a dining-room socialist who advocated a ‘temporary dictatorship of the class-conscious workers’ while his children attended private schools and he enjoyed expensive holidays in Europe and the Caribbean. His relationships with women were unstable – he had four marriages and was promiscuous throughout each of them – yet these relationships were among his most honest and dependable. Nabokov, on the other hand, was snobbishly anti-democratic, lamented the human-interest aspect of literary criticism and was happily devoted to one woman throughout his adult life (Nabokov’s love letters to his wife, Véra, contain some of his most evocative prose).

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