The Police’s Don’t Stand So Close to Me was my first exposure to Vladimir Nabokov (or more exactly the lyric referring to Lolita “It’s no use, he sees her. He starts to shake and cough, just like the old man in that book by Nabokov.”) I’ve always respected Nabokov. According to Brian Boyd’s Nabokov biography I read years ago, he once did a Russian translation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland in which he added his own unique nuances. To a young fellow in the late 1980s/early 1990s, fascinated with the concept of intertextuality, Nabokov was a shining, unwitting example of the concept for me.
So it was with great interest that I read Ron Rosenbaum’s Slate piece about the literary status of Nabokov’s unpublished work (consisting of 50 index cards) , The Original of Laura, which Nabokov requested be destroyed upon his death. As explained by Rosenbaum:
At the time, the task fell to V.N.’s adored and devoted wife, Véra, but for one reason or another, by the time she died in 1991, she had not gotten around to putting a match to Laura. The grim task then fell to Dmitri [ed.: Nabokov's 73-year-old son], who has long been an assiduous and acerbic defender of his father’s literary legacy from those he regards as egregious misinterpreters-and it now appears that such “misinterpretations” may prove to be a factor in swaying his sentiments on the fate of Laura.
Rosenbaum, who has been in correspondence with Dmitri, wanted to solicit his readers’ opinions as to what they thought Dmitri should do. I actually considered it for a minute and my answer came rather easily. It’s none of my business. Sure, I’m mystified as to what prevented Vladimir from destroying it himself, rather than leaving it as a responsibility to those he left behind. And I appreciate the value those 50 index cards represent, but my belief in an afterlife makes it likely that at some point Dmitri will need to explain to his father why he did or did not follow his wishes. So whatever decision the son must make about his father’s unfinished work, who am I to weigh in on, what is at its core, a private family matter that has gone public (albeit by the son’s own choice). I wish you luck in the choice you make, but it is yours to make, not mine to opine upon in any way.