Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov)
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
Winner of the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for biography and hailed by critics as both “monumental” (The Boston Globe) and “utterly romantic” (New York magazine), Stacy Schiff’s Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov) brings to shimmering life one of the greatest literary love stories of our time. Vladimir Nabokov—the émigré author of Lolita; Pale Fire; and Speak, Memory—wrote his books first for himself, second for his wife, Véra, and third for no one at all.
“Without my wife,” he once noted, “I wouldn’t have written a single novel.” Set in prewar Europe and postwar America, spanning much of the century, the story of the Nabokovs’ fifty-two-year marriage reads as vividly as a novel. Véra, both beautiful and brilliant, is its outsized heroine—a woman who loves as deeply and intelligently as did the great romantic heroines of Austen and Tolstoy. Stacy Schiff's Véra is a triumph of the biographical form.
from the kind of provocative comments that had secured him his reputation in Berlin, a reputation that had found its way to Cornell via convoluted émigré pathways and, to some, suggested a different reason for his wife’s dancing attendance on him. At least he adopted a fresh set of similes. When he saw an attractive favorite student again in 1958 he was quick to assure her that she was looking more than ever like Audrey Hepburn. Véra was an encyclopedia, but so was Vladimir. The seminar courses
came to this one obliquely, if not accidentally; the exercise may well have belonged to the my-husband-started-but-had-to-switch-to-something-else-in-a-hurry school. The datebook began its second life on Tuesday, May 20, 1958. Its first entry is in Vladimir’s hand, though not entirely in his words: “Long distance has always a bracing effect, says Véra. A call from Jason Epstein, Doubleday, at 10 AM asking if [I] would undertake a translation of Tolstoy’s short novels—Hadji-Murad etc. Véra
was not far off: Véra had begun to refer to those lines as the book’s soul.) Toward the end of the first week, after teas, dinners, movies, after Véra had shared her scrapbooks and spoken candidly about their finances, Vladimir wondered if Rolf would like him to read from the work. He had been complaining that he was trying to make the thing obscure, a difficult task as he was by nature so eminently lucid. Véra and Rolf sat together on the couch as Vladimir, from his armchair, recited the first
world. For Nabokov, this left a mark on the fiction; for his wife the trapdoors were very real. She had made the same request of Irving Lazar, who claimed he had had to consult an economics text to fathom her meaning. She was felt to be bracing herself for the wildly improbable. The lawyers who believed Véra bizarrely preoccupied with her cost-of-living increases in 1967 thought her positively clairvoyant several years later. “It goes without saying that McGraw-Hill—unlike Mrs. Nabokov—never
Véra’s impact rather as one measures the effect of gravity, or invisible particles, by their impact on distant visible bodies … [A] wonderfully acute and delicate study.” —The Independent “Schiff, no mean writer herself, shows how every reader of Nabokov should be grateful to his long-suffering wife. Her superb book, a triumph of research, rhythm, and style, casts his novels in a new light.” —Mail on Sunday “At heart a love story … Stacy Schiff fills in a glaring gap in the ‘wives of’