Ron Rosenbaum, Writer

February 7, 2008

Nabokov's "Laura" Makes a Minor Dream Come True For Me

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 9:05 pm

Ever since I left Yale Graduate School I’ve had a love/ hate affair with academia and academics. There are so many scholars I respect, and yet so many pretentious frauds. And every year they all gather at the Modern Langauage Association convocation. And this year they are convening a panel inspired by me! By my reporting on the perilous fate of Vladimir Nabokov’s final unfinished manuscript “The Original of Laura” which Nabokov wanted destroyed and whose fate is now in the hands of his son Dmitri, now 73.

People all over the world are fascinated by this story, by the drama of Dmitri’s Choice and what it says about filial obligation and who owns an unfinished work of art the now-dead author didn’t want the world to see. I’ve been interviewed by the BBC, the CBC, NPR, next week an Austrailian book show. A tribute not to mme of course but to the power Nabokov’s recondite genius holds over the imagination of those under his spell.

And today, three weeks after my story apppeared, I received this notice from a Nabokov list-serve I belong to:

Special Topic for Nabokov Society session at the MLA convention in San Francisco, CA, Dec. 27-30, 2008:

The debate over The Originals of Laura, contextualized with Nabokov’s strategies of revision, treatment of unfinished works, or concerns with editors, annotators,
executors (either real or fictional) and the like. Proposals to Eric Hyman by 20 March:

Once papers are accepted, panelists will need to become (if they are not already) members of the Modern Languages Association and the Nabokov Society. Be there or be square.

( I added that last sentence.) Contextualize away MLAers. I’ll come up with another topic for you next year. Maybe Tom Petty?

Update: according to a member of the Nabokov Society, the “Laura” panel has been postponed til the following year. The reason; the Nabokov Society already has their maximum of two panels at the MLA. I’m a little suspicious, but willing to wait. A dream deferred is not always a dream denied.



  1. Well, as Edmund Wilson might opine, (“Fruits of the MLA, 1968”). nothing good can come out of the MLA

    Comment by charlie finch — February 11, 2008 @ 10:00 am | Reply

  2. Although I sympathize with the urge to read all of an author’s output, very few have been well served by posthumous publication. I suppose the exception is probably Franz Kafka, but even there, it seems to me that Max Brod, his best friend, was kind of a rat to betray Kafka’s dying wish to burn his manuscripts. Brod’s justification, “Franz should have appointed another executor if he had been absolutely and finally determined that his instructions should stand,” has always impressed me as creepy. Is my life better because of “The Trial”? I suppose so, but Kafka didn’t owe it to the world– the obligation was his executor’s, and Brod failed there.

    Particularly in the case of a meticulous crafter of language and plot like Nabokov publishing unfinished work seems reckless. I wish the Hemingway we have today did not have “Islands in the Stream” as part of his corpus, and you may come to feel the same way about “Laura”. Writers and other artists owe us nothing. I think we should respect what they want to give us, and leave the rest alone.

    Comment by Bill Altreuter — February 12, 2008 @ 5:06 pm | Reply

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