This  interview  (published  in  Wisconsin  Studies  in
Contemporary Literature, vol. VIII, no. 2, spring 1967) was
conducted on September 25,  27,  28,  29,  1966,  at  Montreux,
Switzerland.  Mr.  Nabokov  and  his wife have for the last six
years lived in an opulent hotel  built  in  1835,  which  still
retains its nineteenth-century atmosphere. Their suite of rooms
is  on the sixth floor, overlooking Lake Geneva, and the sounds
of the lake are audible through the open doors of  their  small
balcony.  Since  Mr. Nabokov does not like to talk off the cuff
(or "Off the Nabocuff," as he said) no tape recorder was  used.
Mr.  Nabokov ei! ther wrote out his answers to the questions or
dictated them to the interviewer; in some instances, notes from
the    conversation    were    later    recast    as     formal
questions-and-answers. The interviewer was Nabokov's student at
Cornell   University   in  1954,  and  the  references  are  to
Literature 311-312 (MWF, 12), a course on the  Masterpieces  of
European   Fiction  (Jane  Austen,  Gogol,  Dickens,  Flaubert,
Tolstoy, Stevenson, Kafka, Joyce, and Proust).  Its  enrollment
had  reached  four hundred by the time of Nabokov's resignation
in  1959.  The  footnotes  to  the  interview,   except   where
indicated, are provided by the interviewer, Alfred Appel, Jr.

     For   years  bibliographers  and  literary  journalists
didn't know whether to group you under "Russian" or  "American.
"Now  that  you're  living  in  Switzerland  there  seems to be
complete agreement that you're American. Do you find this  kind
of  distinction  at  all important regarding your identity as a

     I have always maintained, even as a schoolboy  in  Russia,
that  the  nationality  of  a worthwhile writer is of secondary
importance. The more distinctive an insect's aspect,  the  less
apt  the  taxonomist  is to glance first of all at the locality
label under the pinned specimen in order  to  decide  which  of
several  vaguely  described races it should be assigned to. The
writer's art is his  real  passport.  His  identity  should  be
immediately   recognized   by   a  special  pattern  or  unique
coloration. His habitat may  confirm  the  correctness  of  the
determination  but  should  not lead to it. Locality labels are
known to have been faked by unscrupulous insect dealers.  Apart
from  these  considerations  I  think  of  myself  today  as an
American writer who has once been a Russian o! ne.

     The Russian writers you  have  translated  and  written
about  all  precede  the  so-called "age of realism, " which is
more celebrated by English and American  readers  than  is  the
earlier   period.   Would   you   say   something   about  your
temperamental or artistic affinities with the great writers  of
the  1830-40  era  of  masterpieces?  Do  you see your own work
falling under such general rubrics as a  tradition  of  Russian

     The  question  of the affinities I may think I have or not
have   with   nineteenth-century   Russian   writers    is    a
classificational,  not a confessional matter. There is hardly a
single Russian major writer of the past whom pigeonholers  have
not  mentioned  in  connection  with  me.  Pushkin's blood runs
through the veins of modern Russian literature as inevitably as
Shakespeare's through those of English literature.

     Many of the major Russian  writers,  such  as  Pushkin,
Lermontov,  and  Bely,  have  distinguished  themselves in both
poetry and prose, an uncommon  accomplishment  in  English  and
American  literature. Does this signal fact have anything to do
with the special nature of Russian  literary  culture,  or  are
there technical or linguistic resources which make this kind of
versatility  more  possible in Russian? And as a writer of both
prose and poetry, what distinctions do you make  between  them?

     On  the  other hand, neither Gogol nor Tolstoy nor Chekhov
were distinguished versificators. Moreover, the  dividing  line
between  prose  and  poetry  in some of the greatest English or
American novels is not easy to draw. I suppose you should  have
used  the  term  "rhymed poetry" in your question, and then one
might  answer  that  Russian  rhymes  are   incomparably   more
attractive  and  more  abundant  than English ones. No wonder a
Russian prose writer frequents those  beauties,  especially  in
his youth.

     Who  are  the  great  American writers you most admire?

     When I was young I liked Poe, and I still  love  Melville,
whom  I  did  not  read as a boy. My feelings towards James are
rather complicated. I really dislike him intensely but now  and
then  the  figure  in  the phrase, the turn of the epithet, the
screw of an absurd adverb, cause me a kind of electric  tingle,
as  if  some  current  of  his  was also passing through my own
blood. Hawthorne is a  splendid  writer.  Emerson's  poetry  is

     You  have often said that you "don't belong to any club
or group, " and I wonder if the historical examples of the ways
Russian writers have  allowed  ideology  to  determine  if  not
destroy  their art, culminating in the Socialist Realism of our
own time, have  not  gone  a  long  way  in  shaping  your  own
skepticism  and  aversion  to  didacticism  of  any kind. Which
"historical examples"' haveyou been most conscious of? 

     My aversion to groups is rather a  matter  of  temperament
than  the fruit of information and thought. I was born that way
and have despised ideological  coercion  instinctively  all  my
life.  Those  "historical  examples"  by  the  way  are  not as
clear-cut and obvious  as  you  seem  to  imply.  The  mystical
didacticism of Gogol or the utilitarian moralism of Tolstoy, or
the reactionary journalism of Dostoevski, are of their own poor
making and in the long run nobody really takes them seriously.

     Would   you   say   something   about  the  controversy
surrounding the Chernyshevskl biography in The Gift? You
have  commented  on  this  briefly  before,   but   since   its
suppression in the thirties expresses such a transcendent irony
and  seems  to justify the need for just such a parody, I think
your readers would be  most  interested,  especially  since  so
little  is known about the emigre communities, their magazines,
and the role of intellectuals  in  these  communities,  lf  you
would  like  to describe something of the writer's relationship
to this world, please do. 

     Everything  that  can  be  profitably  said  about   Count
Godunov-Cherdyntsev's  biography of Chernyshevski has been said
by Koncheyev in The Gift. I can only add that I  devoted
as  much honest labor to the task of gathering the material for
the Chernyshevski chapter as I did to the composing of  Shade's
poem in Pale Fire. As to the suppression of that chapter
by  the editors of Sovremennye Zapiski, it was indeed an
unprecedented occurrence,  quite  out  of  keeping  with  their
exceptional broad-mindedness, for, generally speaking, in their
acceptance  or  rejection  of  literary  works they were guided
exclusively by artistic standards. As to  the  latter  part  of
your  question,  the  revised  !  Chapter Fourteen in Speak,
Memory will provide additional information.

     Do you have any opinions about the Russian anti-utopian
tradition (if it can be called this), from Odoevski's "The Last
Suicide" and "A City Without  a  Name"  in  Russian  Nights
to  Bryusov's  The Republic of the Southern Cross and
Zamyatin 's We (to name only a few)? 

     I am indifferent to those works.

     Is it fair to say that Invitation  to  a  Beheading
and  Bend  Sinister  are  cast  as  mock anti-utopian
novels,  with   their   ideological   centers   removed--   the
totalitarian  state  becoming an extreme and fantastic metaphor
for the imprisonment of the mind,  thus  making  consciousness,
rather than politics, the subject of these novels? 

     Yes, possibly.

     Speaking  of  ideology,  you  have often expressed your
hostility to Freud, most noticeably in the  forewords  to  your
translated  novels. Some readers have wondered which of Freud's
works or theories you  were  most  offended  by  and  why.  The
parodies of Freud in Lolita and Pale Fire suggest
a  wider  familiarity  with  the good doctor than you have ever
publicly granted. Would you comment on this? 

     Oh, I am not up to discussing again that figure of fun. He
is not worthy of more attention than I have granted him  in  my
novels  and  in Speak, Memory. Let the credulous and the
vulgar continue to believe that all mental woes can be cured by
a daily application of old Greek myths to their private  parts.
I really do not care.

     Your   contempt   for  Freud's  "standardized  symbols"
extends to the assumptions of a good many other theorizers.  Do
you  think  literary criticism is at all purposeful, and if so,
what kind of  criticism  would  you  point  to?  Pale  Fire
makes it clear what sort you find gratuitous (at best}. 

     My  advice  to  a  budding  literary  critic  would  be as
follows.  Learn  to   distinguish   banality.   Remember   that
mediocrity  thrives  on  "ideas." Beware of the modish message.
Ask yourself if the symbol you have detected is  not  your  own
footprint.  Ignore  allegories.  By  all  means place the "how"
above the "what" but do not let it be  confused  with  the  "so
what."  Rely on the sudden erection of your small dorsal hairs.
Do not drag in Freud at this point. All  the  rest  depends  on
personal talent.

     As   a   writer,   have   you   ever   found  criticism
instructive-- not so much the reviews of your  own  books,  but
any  general  criticism? From your own experiences do you think
that an academic and a literary  career  nourish  one  another?
Since  many writers today know no other alternative than a life
on campus I'd be very interested in your feelings  about  this.
Do you think that your own work in America was at all shaped by
your being part of an academic community? 

     I find criticism most instructive when an expert proves to
me that my facts or my grammar are wrong. An academic career is
especially  helpful  to  writers in two ways: 1) easy access to
magnificent libraries and 2) long vacations. There is of course
the  business  of  teaching,  but  old  professors  have  young
instructors  to  correct examination papers for them, and young
instructors, authors  in  their  own  right,  are  followed  by
admiring glances along the corridors of Vanity-Hall. Otherwise,
our  greatest  rewards, such as the reverberations of our minds
in such minds as vibrate responsively  in  later  years,  force
novelist-teachers  to  nurse  lucidity  and honesty of style in
their lectures.

     What are the possibilities of literary biography? 

     They are great fun to write, generally less fun  to  read.
Sometimes  the  thing  becomes  a  kind  of double paper chase:
first, the biographer pursues his quarry  through  letters  and
diaries,  and  across  the bogs of conjecture, and then a rival
authority pursues the muddy biographer.

     Some critics may find the use of coincidence in a novel
arch or contrived. I recall that you yourself at Cornell called
Dostoevski's usage of coincidence crude. 

     But in "real" life they do happen.  Last  night  you  were
telling  us  at  dinner a very funny story about the use of the
title "Doctor" in Germany, and the very next moment, as my loud
laughter was subsiding, I heard a  person  at  the  next  table
saying  to  her  neighbor in clear French tones corning through
the tinkling and shuffling sounds of a restaurant-- "Of course,
you never know with the Germans if 'Doctor' means a dentist  or
a  lawyer."  Very often you meet with some person or some event
in "real" life that would sound pat .in a story. It is not  the
coincidence  in  the  story  that  bothers  us  so  much as the
coincidence of coincidences in  several  stories  by  different
writers, as, for instance, the r! ecurrent eavesdropping device
in nineteenth-century Russian fiction.

     Could you tell us something about your work habits as a
writer,  and  the  way  you  compose your novels. Do you use an
outline? Do you have a full sense of where a fiction is heading
even while you are in the early stages of composition? 

     In my twenties  and  early  thirties,  I  used  to  write,
dipping  pen  in  ink  and  using a new nib every other day, in
exercise books, crossing out, inserting,  striking  out  again,
crumpling  the  page, rewriting every page three or four times,
then copying out the novel in a  different  ink  and  a  neater
hand,  then  revising  the whole thing once more, re-copying it
with new corrections, and finally dictating it to my  wife  who
has  typed  out  all  my stuff. Generally speaking, I am a slow
writer, a snail carrying its house at the rate of  two  hundred
pages of final copy per year (one spectacular exception was the
Russian original of Invitation to a Beheading, the first
draft of which I wrote in one fortnight of wonderful excitement
and  sustained  inspiration).  In  those days and nights I gen!
erally followed the order of chapters when writing a novel  but
even  so,  from  the  very  first,  I  relied heavily on mental
composition, constructing whole paragraphs  in  my  mind  as  I
walked  in  the  streets  or  sat  in  my  bath, or lay in bed,
although often deleting or rewriting  them  afterward.  In  the
late  thirties,  beginning  with  The  Gift, and perhaps
under the influence of the many notes  needed,  I  switched  to
another,  physically  more  practical, method-- that of wanting
with an eraser-capped pencil on index  cards.  Since  I  always
have  at the very start a curiously clear preview of the entire
novel before me or above me, I find cards especially convenient
when  not  following  the  logical  sequence  of  chapters  but
preparing  instead  this  or  that  passage at any point of the
novel and filling in the gaps in no special order. I am  afraid
to  ! get mixed up with Plato, whom I do not care for, but I do
think that in my case it is true that the entire  book,  before
it  is  written,  seems  to  be  ready  ideally  in some other,
now transparent, now dimming, dimension, and my  job  is
to  take  down as much of it as I can make out and as precisely
as I am humanly able to. The greatest happiness I experience in
composing is when I feel I cannot understand, or  rather
catch  myself  not understanding (without the presupposition of
an  already  existing  creation)  how  or  why  that  image  or
structural move or exact formulation of phrase has just come to
me. It is sometimes rather amusing to find my readers trying to
elucidate in a matter-of-fact way these wild workings of my not
very efficient mind.

     One  often  hears  from writers talk of how a character
takes hold of them and in a sense dictates the  course  of  the
action. Has this ever been your experience? 

     I   have  never  experienced  this.  What  a  preposterous
experience! Writers who have had  it  must  be  very  minor  or
insane.  No,  the design of my novel is fixed in my imagination
and every character follows the course I imagine for him. I  am
the  perfect  dictator in that private world insofar as I alone
am responsible for its stability and truth. Whether I reproduce
it as  fully  and  faithfully  as  I  would  wish,  is  another
question.  Some  of  my  old  works reveal dismal blurrings and

     Pale Fire appears to some readers to be in part a gloss
of Plato's myth of the cave, and the constant  play  of  Shades
and   Shadows   throughout   your  work  suggests  a  conscious
Platonism. Would you care to comment on this possibility? 

     As I have said I am not particularly fond  of  Plato,  nor
would  I  survive  very  long  under  his  Germanic  regime  of
militarism and music. I do not think that  this  cave  business
has anything to do with my Shade and Shadows.

     Since  we  are  mentioning  philosophy per se, I
wonder if we might talk about the philosophy of  language  that
seems  to  unfold  in  your  works, and whether or not you have
consciously seen the similarities, say, between the language of
Zemblan and  what  Ludwig  Wittgenstein  bad  to  say  about  a
"private   language.   "   Your   poet's  sense  of  the
limitations   of   language   is   startlingly    similar    to
Wittgenstein's  remark  on  the  referential basis of language.
Whi! le you were at Cambridge, did you have much  contact  with
the philosophy faculty? 

     No   contact  whatsoever.  I  am  completely  ignorant  of
Wittgenstein's works, and the first time I heard his name  must
have  been  in  the fifties. In Cambridge I played football and
wrote Russian verse.

     When in Canto Two  John  Shade  describes  himself,  "I
stand  before  the  window  and I pare/My fingernails, "you are
echoing Stephen Dedalus in A Portrait of the  Artist  as  a
Young  Man,  on  the artist who "remains within or behind or
beyond or  above  his  handiwork,  invisible,  refined  out  of
existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails. " In almost all
of  your  novels,  especially in Invitation to a Beheading,
Bend Sinister, Pale Fire, and Pnin-- but even  in
Lolita,  in  the  person  of  the seventh hunter in Quilty's
play, and in several other phosphorescent  glimmers  which  are
visible  to th! e careful reader-- the creator is indeed bebind
or abo-ve his handiwork, but be is not invisible and surely not
indifferent. To what extent  are  you  consciously  "answering"
Joyce in Pale Fire, and what are your feelings about bis
esthetic  stance--  or  alleged stance, because perhaps you may
think that Stephen's remark doesn't apply to Ulysses.?

     Neither Kinbote nor Shade, nor their maker,  is  answering
Joyce  in  Pale  Fire.  Actually,  I  never  liked  A
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I find it  a  feeble
and  garrulous  book.  The  phrase  you  quote is an unpleasant

     You have granted that Pierre Delalande influenced  you,
and  I  would  readily  admit  that  influence-mongering can be
reductive and deeply offensive if it tries to deny  a  writer's
originality.  But  in  the  instance  of yourself and Joyce, it
seems to me  that  you've  consciously  profited  from  Joyce's
example  without  imitating  him--  that  you've  realized  the
implications in Ulysses without having had  recourse  to
obviously   "Joycean"   devices  (stream-of-consciousness,  the
"callage" effects created out of the vast flotsam and jetsam of
everyday life). Would you comment on what Joyce ! has meant  to
you as a writer, his importance in regard to his liberation and
expansion of the novel form? 

     My first real contact with Ulysses, after a leering
glimpse  in  the  early twenties, was in the thirties at a time
when I was definitely formed as a  writer  and  immune  to  any
literary  influence.  I  studied  Ulysses seriously only
much later, m the fifties, when preparing my  Cornell  courses.
That  was the best part of the education I received at Cornell.
Ulysses towers over the rest of Joyce's writings, and in
comparison to its noble  originality  and  unique  lucidity  of
thought  and  style  the  unfortunate  Finnegans Wake is
nothing but a formless and dull mass of phony folklore, a  cold
pudding  of  a  book, a persistent snore in the next room, most
aggravating to the insomniac! I am. Moreover, I always detested
regional literature full  of  quaint  old-timers  and  imitated
pronunciation.  Finnegans Wake's facade disguises a very
conventional and drab tenement house, and only  the  infrequent
snatches   of   heavenly   intonations  redeem  it  from  utter
insipidity. I know I am going to  be  excommunicated  for  this

     Although  I cannot recall your mentioning the involuted
structure of Ulysses when you lectured on  Joyce,  I  do
remember  your  insisting  that the hallucinations in Nighttown
are the author's and not Stephen's or  Bloom's,  which  is  one
step  away  from  a  discussion  of  the involution. This is an
aspect of Ulysses almost totally ignored  by  the  Joyce
Industry,  and  an  aspect  of  Joyce which would seem to be of
great interest to you. If Joyce's  somewhat  inconsistent  involutions  tend to be obscured by the
vastness  of  his  structures,  it  might  he  said  that   the
structuring   of   your  novels  depends  on  the  strategy  of
involution. Could you comment on this, or compare your sense of
Joyce's  presence  in  and  above  his  works  with  your   own
intention-- that is, Joyce's covert appearances in Ulysses;
the   whole  Shakespeare-paternity  theme  which  ultimately
spirals  into  the  idea  of  the  "parentage"  of  Ulysses
itself;  Shakespeare's  direct address to Joyce in Nighttown
("How my Oldfellow chokit his Thursday-momum, "  that  be!  ing
Bloomsday);  and Molly's plea to Joyce, "0 Jamesy let me up out
of this"-- all this as against the way the authorial voice-- or
what you call the "anthropomorphic deity impersonated by  me"--
again  and again appears in your novels, most strikingly at the

     One of the reasons Bloom cannot be the active party in the
Nighttown chapter (and  if  he  is  not,  then  the  author  is
directly  dreaming  it  up  for  him, and around him, with some
"real" episodes inserted here  and  there)  is  that  Bloom,  a
wilting male anyway, has been drained of his manhood earlier in
the  evening and thus would be quite unlikely to indulge in the
violent sexual fancies of Nighttown.

     Ideally, how should a reader  experience  or  react  to
"the  end"  of one of your novels, that moment when the vectors
are removed and the fact of the  fiction  is  underscored,  the
cast  dismissed?  What  common assumptions about literature are
you assaulting? 

     The question is so charmingly phrased that I would love to
answer it with equal elegance and eloquence, but I  cannot  say
very  much. I think that what I would welcome at the close of a
book of mine is a  sensation  of  its  world  receding  in  the
distance  and  stopping  somewhere there, suspended afar like a
picture in a picture: The Artist's Studio by Van Bock.

     It may well be a failure of perception, but I've always
been unsure  of  the  very  last   sentences   of   Lolita,
perhaps  because  the  shift  in  voice at the close of your
other books is so clear,  but  is  one  supposed  to  "hear"  a
different  voice when the masked narrator says "And do not pity
C. Q. One bad to choose between him and H. H., and  one  wanted
H.H.  . . ."and so forth? The return to the first person in the
next   sentence   makes   me   think   that   the   mask    has not been lifted, but readers trained
on  Invitation  to  a  Beheading, among other books, are
always looking for the imprint of  that  "master  thumb,  "  to
quote  Franklin  Lane in Pale Fire, "that made the whole
involuted, boggling thing one beautiful straight line. "

     No, I did not mean to introduce a different voice.  T  did
want,  however, to convey a constriction of the narrator's sick
heart, a warning spasm causing him to abridge names and  hasten
to  conclude  his  tale  before  it  was  too late. I am glad T
managed to achieve this remoteness of tone at the end.

     Do Franklin Lane's Letters exist? I  don't  wish
to  appear  like  Mr. Goodman in The Real Life of Sebastian
Knight, but I understand that Franklin Lane did exist. 

     Frank Lane, his published letters, and the  passage  cited
by  Kinbote,  certainly  exist.  Kinbote  was  rather struck by
Lane's handsome melancholy face. And of course  "lane"  is  the
last word of Shade's poem. The latter has no significance.

     In  which  of  your  early works do you think you first
begin to face the possibilities that are fully developed in
Invitation to a Beheading and reach  an  apotheosis  in  the
"involute abode" of Pale Fire.?

     Possibly   in  The  Eye,  but  Invitation  to  a
Beheading  is  on  the  whole  a   burst   of   spontaneous

     Are  there  other  writers  whose involuted effects you
admire? Sterne? Pirandello's plays? 

     I never cared for Pirandello. I love Sterne  but  had  not
read him in my Russian period.

     The   Afterword   to   Lolita   is  significant,
obviously,  for  many  reasons.  Is  it  included  in  all  the
translations,  which,  I  understand, number about twenty-five?


     You once told me after a class at Cornell that  you  'd
been  unable  to read more than one hundred or so pages of'
Finnegans Wake. As it happens, on page 104  there  begins  a
section  very close in spirit to Pale Fire, and I wonder
if you've ever read this, or seen the  similarity.  It  is  the
history  of  all the editions and interpretations of Anna Livia
Plurabelle's Letter (or "Mamafesta, " text included). Among the
three pages listing the various titles of ALP's  letter,  Joyce
includes  Try  our  Taal on a Taub (which we are already
doing), and I wondered  if  you  !  would  comment  on  Swift's
contribution to the literature about the corruption of learning
and  literature.  Is  it  only  a  coincidence  that  Kinbote's
"Forword" to Pale Fire is dated "Oct. 19, " which is the
date of Swift's death? 

     I finished Finnegans Wake  eventually.  It  has  no
inner  connection  with Pale Fire. I think it is so nice
that the  day  on  which  Kinbote  committed  suicide  (and  he
certainly  did after putting the last touches to his edition of
the poem) happens to  be  both  the  anniversary  of  Pushkin's
Lyceum  and that of "poor old man Swift" 's death, which
is news to me (but see variant in note to line 231). In  common
with  Pushkin, I am fascinated by fatidic dates. Moreover, when
dating some special event in my novels I often choose a more or
less familiar one as a point de repere (which  helps  to
check  a possible misprint in the proofs), as for instance "April I" in the  diary  of  Hermann  in

     Mention  of  Swift  moves me to ask about the genre of
Pale Fire; as a "monstrous semblance of a novel,  "  do  you
see it in terms of some tradition or form? 

     The  form  of  Pale  Fire  is  specifically, if not
generically,  new.  I  would  like  to   take   this   pleasant
opportunity  to  correct  the following misprints in the Putnam
edition, 1962, second impression: On page 137, end of  note  to
line  143,  "rustic"  should  be  "rusty". On page 151, "Catkin
Week" should be "Catkin Week." On page 223, the line number  in
the  reference at the end of the first note should be not "550"
but "549". On page 237, top, "For" should  he  "for".  On  page
241,  the word "lines" after "disent-prise" should
be "rhymes". And on page 294, the comma after  "Arnold"  should
be replaced by an open parenthesis. Thank you.

     Do  you  make  a  clear  distinction between satire and
parody? I ask this because you have so often said  you  do  not
wish  to  be taken as a "moral satirist, " and yet parody is so
central to your vision. 

     Satire is a lesson, parody is a game.

     Chapter Ten in The Real Life  of  Sebastian  Knight
contains  a wonderful description of how parody functions in
your own novels. But your sense of what "parody "  means
seems  to  stretch  the  usual  definition, as when Cincinnatus
in Invitation to a Beheading tells his  mother,  "You're
still  only  a  parody  .  . . Just like this spider, just like
those bars, just like the striking of that clock.  "  All  art,
then,  or  at  least  all  attempts at a "realistic" art,
would seem to produce a distortion,  a  "parody.  "  Would  you
expand  on  what you mean by "parody" and why, as Fyodor
says in The Gift, "The  spirit  of  parody  always  goes
along with genuine poetry"? 

     When  the  poet  Cincinnatus  C., in my dreamiest and most
poetical novel, accuses (not quite fairly) his mother of  being
a  parody, he uses the word in its familiar sense of "grotesque
imitation." When Fyodor, in The Gift,  alludes  to  that
"spirit of parody" which plays iridescently around the spray of
genuine  "serious"  poetry,  he  is  referring to parody in the
sense of an  essentially  lighthearted,  delicate,  mockingbird
game,  such  as  Pushkin's  parody  of  Derzhavin  in  Exegi

     What is your opinion of Joyce's parodies? Do you  see  any
difference  in  the  artistic  effect  of  scenes  such  as the
maternity  hospital  and  the  beach   interlude   with   Gerty
Macdowell?  Are  you familiar with the work of younger American
writers who have been influenced by both you and Joyce, such as
Thomas Pynchon (a Cornellian, Class of '59, who surely  was  in
Literature  312),  and  do  you have any opinion on the current
ascendancy of  the  so-called  parody-novel  (John  Barth,  for

     The literary parodies in the Maternal Hospital chapter are
on the whole jejunish. Joyce seems to have been hampered by the
general  sterilized  tone  he  chose for that chapter, and this
somehow dulled and monotonized the in] aid skits. On the  other
hand,  the  frilly novelette parodies in the Masturbation scene
are highly successful; and the sudden junction of  its  cliches
with  the  fireworks and tender sky of real poetry is a feat of
genius. I am not familiar with  the  works  of  the  two  other
writers you mention.

     Why,  in Pale Fire, do you call parody the "last
resort of wit"? 

     It is Kinbote  speaking.  There  are  people  whom  parody

     Are  the  composition  of  Lolita and Speak,
Memory, two very different books about the spell exerted  by
the  past,  at  all  connected in the way that the translations
of The Song of lgor's  Campaign  and  Eugene  Onegin
are  related  to  Pale Fire? Had you finished all the
notes to Onegin before you began Pale Fire?

     Yes, I had finished all my notes to Onegin before I
began Pale Fire. Flaubert speaks in one of his  letters,
in  relation  to a certain scene in Madame Bovary, about
the difficulty of painting couleur sur couleur. This  in
a  way  is  what  I tried to do in retwisting my own experience
when  inventing  Kinbote.  Speak,  Memory  is   strictly
autobiographic. There is nothing autobiographic in Lolita.

     Although  self-parody  seems  to  be  a vital part of your
work, you are a writer who believes passionately in the primacy
of the imagination. Yet your  novels  are  filled  with  little
details  that  seem to have been purposely pulled from your own
life, as a reading of Speak, Memory makes clear, not  to
mention  the  overriding  patterns,  such  as  the lepidopteral
motif, which extend through so many of your books. They seem to
partake of something other than the involuted voice, to suggest
some clearly held  idea  about  the  interrelationship  between
self-knowledge and artistic creation, self-parody and identity.
Would   you   comment   on   this,   and  the  significance  of
autobiographical hints in works of art that  are  literally
not autobiographical? 

     I  would  say  that imagination is a form of memory. Down,
Plato, clown, good dog.  An  image  depends  on  the  power  of
association,  and  association  is  supplied  and  prompted  hy
memory. When we speak of a vivid individual recollection we are
paying a compliment not to our capacity  of  retention  hut  to
Mnemosyne's  mysterious  foresight  in having stored up this or
that element which creative imagination may want  to  use  when
combining  it  with later recollections and inventions. In this
sense, both memory and imagination arc a negation of time.

     C. P. Snow has complained about the  gulf  between  the
"two  cultures,  "  the literary and scientific communities. As
someone who has bridged this gulf, do you see the sciences  and
humanities  as  necessarily opposed? Have your experiences as a
scientist influenced your  performance  as  an  artist?  Is  it
fanciful  to  use  the -vocabulary of physics in describing the
structures of some of your novels? 

     I might have compared  myself  to  a  Colossus  of  Rhodes
bestriding  the gulf between the thermodynamics of Snow and the
Laurentomania of Leavis, had that gulf not been a  mere  dimple
of  a  ditch  that  a  small  frog  could  straddle.  The terms
"physics" and "egghead" as used nowadays evoke in me the dreary
image of applied science, the knack of an electrician tinkering
with bombs and other gadgets. One of those  "Two  Cultures"  is
really nothing but utilitarian technology; the other is B-grade
novels, ideological fiction, popular art. Who cares if there e!
xists a gap between such "physics" and such "humanities"? Those
Eggheads are terrible Philistines. A real good head is not oval
but round.

     Where,  through  what  window,  do lepidoptera come in?

     My passion for lepidopterological research, in the  field,
in  the  laboratory,  in  the library, is even more pleasurable
than the study and practice of literature, which  is  saying  a
good  deal.  Lepidopterists  arc obscure scientists. Not one is
mentioned in Webster. But never  mind.  I  have  re-worked  the
classification of various groups of butterflies, have described
and  figured  several  species and subspecies. My names for the
microscopic organs that I  have  been  the  first  to  sec  and
portray   have   safely   found   their   way  into  biological
dictionaries  (compare  this  to  the  wretched   entry   under
"nymphet" in Webster's latest edition). The tactile delights of
precise  delineation,  the silent
paradise of the camera lucida, and the precision of  poetry  in
taxonomic description represent the artistic side of the thrill
which  accumulation of new knowledge, absolutely useless to the
layman, gives its first begetter. Science means to me above all
natural science. Not the ability to repair a radio  set;  quite
stubby   fingers   can   do   that.   Apart   from  this  basic
consideration, I certainly  welcome  the  free  interchange  of
terminology  between  any  branch  of science and any raceme of
art. There is no science without  fancy,  and  no  art  without
facts. Aphoristicism is a symptom of arteriosclerosis.

     In Pale Fire, Kinbote complains that "The coming
of summer  represented a problem in optics. " The Eye is
well-titled, since you plumb  these  problems  throughout  your
fiction;  the apprehension of "reality" is a miracle of vision,
and consciousness is virtually an optical  instrument  in  your
work.  Have you studied the science of optics at all, and would
you say something about your own visual sense, and bow you feel
it has served your fiction? 

     I am afraid you are quoting this out of  context.  Kinbote
was   simply   annoyed  by  the  spreading  foliage  of  summer
interfering with his Tom-peeping. Otherwise you  are  right  in
suggesting that I have good eyes. Doubting Tom should have worn
spectacles.  It  is  true,  however, that even with the best of
visions one must  touch  things  to  be  quite  sure  of

     You  have  said  that Alain Robbe-Grilet and Jorge Luis
Borges are among your favorite  contemporary  writers.  Do  you
find  them  to  be at all similar? Do you think Robbe-Grillet's
novels are as free of "psychology" as he claims? 

     Robbe-Grillet's claims are preposterous. Those manifestos,
those dodoes, die with the dadas. His fiction is  magnificentiv
poetical   and   original,   and  the  shifts  of  levels,  the
interpenetration of successive impressions and so forth  belong
of  course  to  psychology--  psychology at its best. Borges is
also a man of infinite talent, but his miniature labyrinths and
the roomy ones of Robbe-Grillet are  quite  differently  built,
and the lighting is not the same.

     /  recall  your  humorous  remarks at Cornell about two
writers experiencing "telepathy" (I believe you were  comparing
Dickens  and  Flaubert).  You and Borges were both born in 1899
(but so was Ernest Hemingway!). Your Bend  Sinister  and
Borges'  story  "The  Circular Ruins" are conceptually similar,
but you do not read Spanish and that story was first translated
into English  in  1949,  two  years  after  Bend  Sinister^
birth,  just as in Borges' "The Secret Miracle, " Hladik has
created a verse drama uncannily similar  to  your  recently  Englished   play.   The   Waltz
Invention, which precedes Borges' tale, but which  he  could
not  have read in Russian. When were you first aware of Borges'
fictions, and have you and he had any kind  of  association  or
contact, other than telepathic? 

     I  read  a  Borges  story for the first time three or four
years ago. Up till then I had not been aware of his  existence,
nor  do  I believe he knew, or indeed knows, anything about me.
That is not very grand in  the  way  of  telepathy.  There  are
affinities  between Invitation to a Beheading and The
Castle, but I had not yet read Kafka when I wrote my novel.
As to Hemingway, I read him for the first  time  in  the  early
forties,  something  about bells, balls, and bulls, and loathed
it. Later I read his admirable "The Killers" and the  wonderful
fish  story  which  I  was  asked to translate into Russian but
could not for some reason or other.

     Your first book was a translation of Lewis Carroll into
Russian. Do you see any affinities between  Carroll's  idea  of
"nonsense"  and  your  bogus or "mongrel" languages in Bend
Sinister andPa.\c Fire ? 

     In common with many other  English  children  (I  \vas  an
English  child)  I have been always very fond of Carroll. No, I
do not think that his 'invented language shares any roots  with
mine.  He  has  a  pathetic  affinity  with  H. H. but some odd
scruple prevented me from  alluding  in  Lolita  to  his
perversion  and  to  those ambiguous photographs he took in dim
rooms. He got away with it, as so  many  other  Victorians  got
away with pederasty and nympholepsy. His were sad scrawny
little  nymphets,  bedraggled  and  half-undressed,  or  rather
semi-undraped, as if participating in some dusty  and  dreadful

     You  have  bad wide experience as a translator and have
made  fictive  use  of  translation.  What  basic  problems  of
existence   do  you  find  implicit  in  the  art  and  act  of

     There is a certain small Malayan bird of the thrush family
which is said to sing only when tormented in an unspeakable way
by a specially trained child at the annual  Feast  of  Flowers.
There  is Casanova making love to a harlot while looking from a
window at the nameless tortures inflicted on Damiens. These are
the  visions  that  sicken  me  when  I  read  the   "poetical"
translations  from  martyred Russian poets by some of my famous
contemporaries. A tortured author and a deceived  reader,  this
is the inevitable outcome of arty paraphrase. The only obje! ct
and  justification  of translation is the conveying of the most
exact information possible and this can be only achieved  by  a
literal translation, with notes.

     Mention   of  translation  brings  me  to  one  of  the
Kinbotian problems faced by critics who comment on your Russian
novels in translation, but who themselves have no  Russian.  It
has  been  said  that  translations  such  as  The  Defense
and Despair must  contain  many  stylistic  revisions
(certainly  the  puns), and moreover are in general much richer
in language than Laughter in the Dark, written at  about
the  same  time  but,  unlike  the  others,  translated  in the
thirties. Would you  comment  on  this?  If  the  style  of
Laughter   in   the  Dark  suggests  it  should  have
preceded Despair, perhaps it actually was  written  much
earlier:  in  the BBC interview of four years ago you said that
you wrote Laughter in the Dark when you were twenty-six,
which would have been 1925, thus making it  your  first  novel.
Did  you  actually  write it this early, or is the reference to
age a slip in  memory,  no  doubt  caused  by  the  distracting
presence of the BBC machinery. 

     I  touched  up  details here and there in those novels and
reinstated a scene in Despair, as the Foreword explains.
That  "twenty-six"  is  certainly  wrong.  It   is   either   a
tele-scopation or I must have been thinking of Masbenka,
my  first  novel  written in 1925. The Russian original version
(Kamera Obskura) of  Laughter  in  the  Dark  was
written    in    1931,   three   years   before   Otchayanie
(Despair), and an English translation by  Winifr!  ed  Roy,
insufficiently  revised  by  me,  appeared in London in 1936. A
year  later,  on  the  Riviera,   I   attempted--   not   quite
successfully-- to English the thing anew for Bobbs-Merrill, who
published it in New York in 1938.

     There is a parenthetical remark in Despair about
a "vulgar,  mediocre Herzog. " Is that a bit of added fun about
a recent best seller? 

     Herzog means "Duke" in German and  I  was  speaking  of  a
conventional statue of a German Duke in a city square.

     Since  the reissued edition of Laughter in the Dark
is not graced by one of your  informative  forewords,  would
you  tell  us  something  about  the  book's  inception and the
circumstances under which you wrote it? Commentators are  quick
to suggest similarities between Margot and Lolita, but I'm much
more  interested  in  the  kinship between Axel Rex and Quilty.
Would you comment on this, and perhaps on the other  perverters
of the imagination one finds throughout your ^work, all of whom
seem to share Rex's evil qualities. 

     Yes, some affinities between Rex and Quilty exist, as they
do between  Margot  and  Lo.  Actually, of course, Margot was a
common young whore, not an unfortunate little Lolita. Anyway  I
do   not   think  that  those  recurrent  sexual  oddities  and
morbidities are of much interest or importance. My  Lolita  has
been  compared  to  Emmie  in Invitation, to Mariette in
Bend Sinister, and even to Colette in Speak, Memory--
the last is especially ludicrous. But I think it might have
been simply English jollity and leg-pulling.

     The  Doppelganger  motif   figures   prominently
throughout  your fiction; in Pale Fire one is tempted to
call it a Tripling (at least). Would you say that  Laughter
in the Dark is your earliest Double fiction? 

     I do not see any Doubles in Laughter in the Dark. A
lover  can be viewed as the betrayed party's Double but that is

     Would you care to comment on bow  the  Doppelganger
motif  has  been  both  used  and abused from Poe, Hoffmann,
Andersen, Dostoevski, Gogol, Stwenson, and  Melville,  down  to
Conrad  and  Mann? Which Doppelganger fictions would you
single out for pmise? The Doppelganger subject is  a
frightful bore.

     What  are  your  feelings about Dostoevski's celebrated
The  Double;   after   all,   Hermann   in   Despair
considers it as a possible title for his manuscript. 

     Dostoevski's  The Double is his best work though an
obvious and shameless imitation of  Gogol's  "Nose."  Felix  in
Despair is really a false double.

     Speaking  of Doubles brings me to Pnin, which in
my experience has proved to be one of your most popular  novels
and  at the same time one of your most elusive to those readers
who fail to see  the  relationship  of  the  narrator  and  the
characters  (or who fail to even notice the narrator until it's
too late). Four of its seven chapters were published in The
New Yorker over a considerable  period  (1953-57),  but  the
all-important   last  chapter,  in  which  the  narrator  takes
control, is only in the book. I'd be most interested to know if
the design of  Pnin  was  complete  while  the  separate
sections  were  being published, or
whether your full sense of its  possibilities  occurred  later.

     Yes,  the  design  of  Pnin was complete in my mind
when I composed the first chapter which,  I  believe,  in  this
case  was actually the first of the seven I physically set down
on paper. Alas, there was to be an additional chapter,  between
Four  (in  which,  incidentally, the boy at St. Mark's and Pnin
both dream of a passage from my drafts of Pale Fire, the
revolution in Zembla and the  escape  of  the  king--  that  is
telepathy for you!) and Five (where Pnin drives a car). In that
still  uninked  chapter, which was beautifully clear in my mind
down to the last curve, Pnin recovering in the hospital from  a
sprained back teaches himself to drive a car in bed by studying
a 1935 manual of automobilism found in the hospital library and
by  manipulating  the  levers  of  his  cot.  Only  one  of his
colleagues visits him there-- Professor Blorenge. The ch! apter
ended  with  Pnin's  taking  his   driver's   examination   and
pedantically  arguing with the instructor who has to admit Pnin
is  right.  A  combination  of  chance  circumstances  in  1956
prevented  me  from  actually  writing that chapter, then other
events intervened, and it is only a mummy now.

     In a television interview last year,  you  singled  out
Bely's St. Petersburg, along with works by Joyce, Kafka,
and   Proust,   as   one   of   the  greatest  achievements  in
twentieth-century prose (an endorsement, by the way, which  has
prompted  Grove  Press  to  reissue St. Petersburg, with
your statement across the front cover). I greatly  admire  this
novel  but,  unhappily  enough,  it  is  relatively  unknown in
America. What are its qualities which you most admire? Bely and
Joyce are sometimes compared; is the comparison a just one?

     Petersburg is  a  splendid  fantasy,  but  this  is  a
question  I  plan  to  answer  elsewhere. There does exist some
resemblance in manner  between  Petersburg  and  certain
passages in Ulysses.

     Although  I've  never  seen  it  discussed  as  such,  the
Ableukhov father-son relationship to me constitutes a doubling,
making  Petersburg  one  of  the  most  interesting  and
fantastic  permutations of the Doppelganger theme. Since
this kind of doubling (if you would agree it is one) is  surely
the  kind  you'd  find  more  congenial, say, than the use Mann
makes of the motif in Death in Venice, would you comment
on ifs implications? 

     Those murky matters have no importance to me as a  writer.
Philosophically, I am an indivisible monist. Incidentally, your
handwriting is very like mine.

     Bely  lived  in  Berlin  in  1922-23.  Did you know him
there? You and Joyce lived in Paris at the sane time;  did  you
ever meet him? 

     Once,  in 1921 or 1922, at a Berlin restaurant where I was
dining with two girls. I happened to be sitting  back  to  back
with  Andrey  Bely  who was dining with another writer, Aleksey
Tolstoy, at the table behind me. Both writers were at the  time
frankly  pro-Soviet  (and on the point of returning to Russia),
and a White Russian, which I still am in that particular sense,
would certainly not  wish  to  speak  to  a  bolsbevizan
(fellow traveler). I was acquainted with Aleksey Tolstoy but of
course ignored him. As to Joyce, I saw him a few times in Paris
in the late thirties. Paul and Lucy Leon, close friends of his,
were  also old friends of mine. One night they brought him to a
French lecture I had been asked to deliver on !  Pushkin  under
the  auspices  of Gabriel Marcel (it was later published in the
Nouvelle revue frangaise). I had happened to replace  at
the very last moment a Hungarian woman writer, very famous that
winter,  author  of a best-selling novel, I remember its title,
La Rue du Chat qui Peche, but not  the  lady's  name.  A
number  of  personal  friends  of mine, fearing that the sudden
illness of the lady and a sudden  discourse  on  Pushkin  might
result  in a suddenly empty house, had done their best to round
up the kind of audience they knew I would  like  to  have.  The
house  had,  however,  a  pied  aspect since some confusion had
occurred among the lady's fans. The Hungarian consul mistook me
for her husband and, as I entered, dashed towards me  with  the
froth  of condolence on his lips. Some people left as soon as I
started to speak. A source of unforgettable consolation!
 was the sight of Joyce sitting, arms folded and glasses glinting, in the midst of the Hungarian football team. Another time my wife and I had dinner with him at the Leons' followed by a long friendly evening of talk. I do not recall one word of it but my wife remembers that Joyce asked about the exact ingredients of myod, the Russian "mead," and everybody gave him a different answer. In this connection, there is a marvelous howler in the standard English version of The Brothers Karamazov: a supper table at Zosima's abode is described with the translator hilariously misreading "Medoc" (in Russian transliteration in the original text), a French wine greatly appreciated in Russia, as medok,!
 the diminutive of myod (mead). It would have been fun to recall that I spoke of this to Joyce but unfortunately I came across this incarnation of The Karamazovs some ten years later.

     You mentioned Aleksey Tolstoy a moment ago.  Would  you
say something about him? 

     He  was  a  writer  of  some  talent  and has two or three
science fiction stories or novels which are  memorable.  But  I
wouldn't  care  to  categorize writers, the only category being
originality and talent. After all, if we start  sticking  group
labels,  we'll have to put The Tempestinthe SF category,
and of course thousands of other valuable works.

     Tolstoy was initially an anti-Bolshevik, and his  early
work  precedes the Revolution. Are there any writers totally of
the Soviet period whom you admire? 

     There were a few writers who discovered that if they chose
certain plots and certain characters they could get  away  with
it  in  the  political  sense, in other words, they wouldn't be
told what to write and how to finish the novel. llf and Petrov,
two wonderfully gifted writers, decided  that  if  they  had  a
rascal adventurer as protagonist, whatever they wrote about his
adventures  could  not  be criticized from a political point of
view, since a perfect rascal or a madman or a delinquent or any
person who was outside Soviet society--  in  other  words,  any
picaresque  character--  could not be accused either of being a
bad Communist or not being  a  good  Communist.  Thus  Ilf  and
Petrov,   Zoshchenko,   and  Olesha  managed  to  publish  some
absolutely first-rate fiction under that standard  of  complete
independence, since these charac! ters, plots, and themes could
not be treated as political ones. Until the early thirties they
managed  to  get away with it. The poets had a parallel system.
They thought, and they were right at first, that if they  stuck
to  the garden-- to pure poetry, to lyrical imitations, say, of
gypsy songs, such as llya. Selvinski's-- that  then  they  were
safe. Zabolotski found a third method of writing, as if the "I"
of  the  poem  were  a  perfect  imbecile, crooning in a dream,
distorting words, playing with words as  a  half-insane  person
would.  All  these people were enormously gifted but the regime
finally caught up with them and they disappeared, one  by  one,
in nameless camps.

     By  my  loose approximation, there remain three novels,
some fifty stories, and six plays still in Russian.  Are  there
any   plans   to   translate  these?  What  o/The  Exploit,
written during what seems to  have  been  your  most  fecund
period  as  a  "Russian  writer"-- would you tell us something,
however briefly, about this book? 

     Not all of that stuff is as  good  as  I  thought  it  was
thirty  years  ago but some of it will probably be published in
English by and by. My son is now working on the translation  of
The  Exploit. It is the story of a Russian expatriate, a
romantic young man of my set and time, a lover of adventure for
adventure's  sake,  proud  flaunter  of   peril,   climber   of
unnecessary  mountains,  who  merely  for the pure thrill of it
decides one day to cross illegally into Soviet Russia, and then
cross back to exile. Its main theme is the overcoming of  fear,
the glory and rapture of that victory.

     / understand that The Real Life of Sebastian Knight
was written in English in 1938. It is very dramatic to think
of you  bidding farewell to one language and embarking on a new
life in another in this way. Why did you  decide  to  write  in
English  at this time, since you obviously could not have known
for certain you would emigrate two years later? How  much  more
writing  in  Russian  did  you  do between Sebastian Knight
and your emigration to America in 1940, and once there,  did
you ever compose in Russian again? 

     Oh,  I  did  know  I  would  eventually land in America. I
switched to English after convincing myself on the strength  of
my  translation of Despair that I could use English as a
wistful standby for Russian. I still feel  the  pangs  of  that
substitution,  they  have not been allayed by the Russian poems
(my best) that I wrote in New York, or the 1954 Russian version
of Speak, Memory, or even my recent two-years-long  work
on  the  Russian  translation  of  Lolita, which will be
published in 1967. I wrote Sebastian  Knight  in  Paris,
1938.  We  had that year a charming flat on rue Saigon, between
the Etoile and the Bois. It consisted of a huge  handsome  room
(which  served  as  parlor,  bedroom, and nursery) with a small
kitchen on one side and a large sunny bathroom on the ot!  her.
This  apartment  had  been  some bachelor's delight but was not
meant to accommodate a family of three. Evening guests  had  to
be  entertained  in  the kitchen so as not to interfere with my
future translator's sleep.  And  the  bathroom  doubled  as  my
study. Here is the Doppelganger theme for you.

     Do you remember any of those "evening guests"? 

     I  remember Vladislav Hodasevich, the greatest poet of his
time, removing his dentures  to  eat  in  comfort,  just  as  a
grandee would do in the past.

     Many  people  are  surprised  to  learn  that  you have
written seven plays, which is strange, since  your  novels  are
filled    with   "theatrical"   effects   that   are   patently
unnovelistic. Is it just to say that your frequent allusions to
Shakespeare are more than a matter  of  playful  or  respectful
homage?  What do you think of the drama as a form? What are the
characteristics of Shakespeare's  plays  which  you  find  most
congenial to your own esthetic? 

     The verbal poetical texture of Shakespeare is the greatest
the world has known, and is immensely superior to the structure
of his plays as plays. With Shakespeare it is the metaphor that
Is the  thing,  not  the play. My most ambitious venture in the
domain of drama is a huge screenplay based on Lolita.  I
wrote  it  for Kubrick who used only bits and shadows of it for
his otherwise excellent film.

     When I  was  your  student,  you  never  mentioned  the
Homeric parallels in discussing Joyce's Ulysses. But you
did  supply  "special  information"  in introducing many of the
masterpieces:  a  map  of  Dublin   for   Ulysses,   the
arrangement  of  streets and lodgings in Dr. Jekyll and Mr.
Hyde, a diagram of the interior of a railway  coach  on  the
Moscow-Petersburg  express  in Anna Karenin, and a floor
plan of the Sarnsa apartment in The Metamorphosis and an
entomological drawing of Gregor. Would you be able  to  suggest
some equivalent for your own readers? 

     Joyce  himself  very  soon  realized  with dismay that the
harping  on  those  essentially  easy   and   vulgar   "Homeric
parallelisms" would only distract one's attention from the real
beauty  of  his book. He soon dropped these pretentious chapter
titles which already were "explaining" the book to non-readers.
In my lectures I tried to give factual  data  only.  A  map  of
three  country estates with a winding river and a figure of the
butterfly Parnassius mnemosyne for a cartographic cherub
will be the endpaper in my revised edition of Speak, Memory.

     Incidentally, one of my colleagues  came  into  my  office
recently  with  the breathless news that Gregor is not a
cockroach (be had read an article to that effect). I  told  him
I've known that for 12 years, and took out my notes to show him
my  drawing from what was for one day only Entomology 312. What
kind of beetle, by the way, was Gregor? 

     It was a domed beetle, a scarab beetle with  wing-sheaths,
and  neither  Gregor  nor his maker realized that when the room
was being made by the maid, and the window was open,  he  could
have  flown  out  and  escaped  and joined the other happy dung
beetles rolling the dung balls on rural paths.

     How are you progressing in your novel. The  Texture
of  Time?  Since  the donnees for some of your novels
seem to be present,  however  fleetingly,  in  earlier  novels,
would  it  be fair to suggest that Chapter Fourteen of Bend
Sinister contains the germ for your latest venture? 

     In a way, yes; but my Texture of Time,  now  almost
half-ready,  is  only the central rose-web of a much ampler and
richer novel, entitled Ada, about passionate,  hopeless,
rapturous sunset love, with swallows darting beyond the stained
window and that radiant shiver . . .

     Speaking of donnees; At the end o/Pale Fire,
Kinbote says of Shade and bis poem, "I even suggested to him
a good  title--  the title of the book in me whose pages he was
to cut: Solus Rex; instead of which I saw Pale Fire,
which meant to me nothing."' In 1940 Sovremennye Zapiski
published a long section from your  "unfinished"  novel.
Solus Rex, under that title. Does Pale Fire represent
the  "cutting"  of  its pages? What is the relationship between
it, the  other  untranslat!  ed  fragment  from  Solus  Rex
("Ultima  Thule,'"  published  in  Novyy Journal, New
York, 1942) and Pale Fire?

     My Solus Rex might have disappointed  Kinbote  less
than Shade's poem. The two countries, that of the Lone King and
the  Zembla  land,  belong  to  the same biological zone. Their
subarctic bogs have much the same butterflies  and  berries.  A
sad  and  distant  kingdom  seems to have haunted my poetry and
fiction since the  twenties.  It  is  not  associated  with  my
personal  past.  Unlike Northern Russia, both Zembla and Ultima
Thule are mountainous, and  their  languages  are  of  a  phony
Scandinavian  type.  If a cruel prankster kidnapped Kinbote and
placed him,  blindfolded,  in  the  Ultima  Thule  countryside,
Kinbote  would not know-- at least not immediately-- by the sap
smells and bird calls that he was not back in  Zembla,  but  he
would  be  tolerably  sure  that he was not on the banks of the

     This may be like asking a father  to  publicly  declare
which  of his children is most loved, but do you have one novel
towards which you feel the most  affection,  which  you  esteem
over all others? 

     The  most  affection,  Lolita, the greatest esteem,
Priglashenie na Kazn '.

     And as a closing question, sir, may I return  to  Pale
Fire: where, please, are the crown jewels bidden? 

     In  the  ruins,  sir,  of some old barracks near Kobaltana
(q.v.); but do not tell it to the Russians.

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