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Out of the fire: Cornell celebrates Nabokov's final work

The manuscript of Vladimir Nabokov's unfinished final work, "The Original of Laura," will finally be published next week, after years of controversy and despite the author's wishes that the manuscript be destroyed.

Cornell will celebrate the long-awaited release of the book with early sales at the Cornell Store and a lecture by leading Nabokov scholar Brian Boyd.

The novella's fate was decided last year by Nabokov's son Dmitri, his translator and sole surviving heir. Knopf will publish it Nov. 17, and the Cornell Store has permission to sell copies beginning Nov. 16. The book also will be excerpted in the December issue of Playboy magazine.

Nabokov taught literature at Cornell from 1948 to 1959, when he moved to Switzerland with his family following the success of his 1955 novel "Lolita."

The "Laura" manuscript, consisting of 138 handwritten index cards, has resided in a Swiss safety deposit box since the author's death in 1977. Nothing was known of it for more than 30 years other than its existence, and Nabokov's wish that it be destroyed.

The Knopf edition reproduces the original manuscript cards, front and back, on detachable pages with a transcription below each one. Dmitri Nabokov wrote the preface; he has called it "the distillation of my father's art."

The book bears a parenthetical subtitle: "(Dying is Fun)." The text is the outline of a story, the author's commentary and notes on source material. What exists of the narrative is preoccupied with mortality and shows flashes of Nabokov's dark, playful prose, according to a Publisher's Weekly review. The last card is a list of synonyms for "efface" -- "expunge, delete, rub out, wipe out, and, finally, obliterate."

Nabokov biographer Boyd will speak on "Nabokov's Literary Legacy" for the inaugural Wendy Rosenthal Gellman Lecture, Nov. 19 at 4:30 p.m. in Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium, Goldwin Smith Hall. A reception will follow in the Pale Fire Lounge, which memorializes Nabokov's Cornell career.

Boyd, a professor of English at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, will discuss the decision to publish "Laura" despite Nabokov's wishes and what contemporary readers can make of "Laura." Boyd wrote the two-volume biography, "Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years" and "Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years." He also cataloged the Nabokov archives in Switzerland, edited volumes of Nabokov's writing and is now editing a volume of Nabokov's previously unpublished Cornell lectures on Russian literature.

Boyd will deliver "On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, Art and Fiction," Nov. 20 at 4:30 p.m., also in Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium.

The Cornell Store will sell the Nabokov and Boyd books at the lectures. A selection of Nabokov materials from Cornell collections will be on display on the first floor of Olin Library.

Cornell faculty members M.H. Abrams and Ken McClane (who works in Nabokov's old Goldwin Smith Hall office) will appear in a BBC-TV program on Nabokov, "The Curse of Lolita," scheduled to air in mid-December. Professor of Russian literature Gavriel Shapiro published "The Sublime Artist's Studio: Nabokov and Painting" earlier this year and will take part in a roundtable discussion on "Laura" at the December Modern Language Association convention in Philadelphia.

The annual Gellman lecture series was established by a gift from Wendy Rosenthal Gellman '81 to express her appreciation for the English faculty instilling in her a lifelong love of learning and literature.

The events are co-sponsored by the Creative Writing Program.

Media Contact

Joe Schwartz