Monday, June 18, 2007

Nabokov's Mental Asthma

To: James Laughlin

V. Nabokov c/o Prof. M. Karpovich
July 16, 1942.

Dear Laughlin,

Vermont is very pleasant and beautiful--although beautiful in a kind of gobelin way, and of course lacking the floral versatility of the West. The other day I got a butterfly here which has never been recorded yet from this state: Colias interior Scudder which was first found by Agassiz on the North shore of Lake Superior.

I have turned part of the attic into a most comfortable studio; but although I devote to Gogol from eight to ten hours a day of solid work, I now see that I shall never have the book ready before the Fall. I shall probably need two months more and then at least a fortnight to dictate it. What causes this irritating delay is the fact that I have to translate every scrap of quotation myself: most of the Gogol material (letters, articles etc.) is not translated at all, and the rest is so abominably botched that I cannot use it . . . This book on Gogol will be something new from beginning to end: I disagree with the bulk of Russian critics of Gogol and use no sources except Gogol himself. My book will make the Oliver Allstons very mad, I hope. It is a pity that I cannot publish it in Russian as well. The emigre book market is not worth the trouble and, as you know, my works are banned in Russia. . .

To be quite frank with you, both as publisher and as a friend, I cannot help feeling that the intense and rather devastating work which Gogol is giving me is worth more than the remuneration you suggested. I have had to postpone writing an essay which Weeks* asked me to do, and other things too. The enervating part is that the translations of Gogol I have to make require another section of the brain than the text of my book and switching from one to another by means of spasmodic jumps causes a kind of mental asthma.

Yours cordially,

*Edward A. Weeks Jr. editor of The Atlantic Monthly.

-from Vladimir Nabokov Selected Letters 1940-1977 edited by Dimitri Nabokov and Matthew J. Bruccoli (San Diego: Harcourt, Brace and Jovanovich, 1989) p. 40-42.

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