on Vladimir Nabokov from Written Lives by Javier Marias

Given his reputation as a misanthrope, it  is odd how often the words “pleasure,” “bliss,” and “rapture” appear in his mouth. He admitted that he wrote for two reasons: in order to achieve pleasure, bliss and rapture and to rid himself of the book on which he was currently working. Once it was started, he said, the only way to get rid of it was to finish it. On one occasion, though, he was tempted to resort to a quicker and more irrevocable method. One day in 1950, his wife, Véra, only just managed to stop him as he was heading out into the garden to burn the first chapter of Lolita, beset as he was with doubts and technical difficulties. On another occasion, he blamed the saving of the manuscript on his own startled conscience, convinced, he said, that the ghost of the destroyed book would persue him for the rest of his life. Nabokov clearly had a soft spot for the novel, for, after pouring all his energies into writing it, he still found the strength to translate it into Russian, knowing full well that it would not be read in his own country for more years than he would be alive.

translated by Margaret Jull Costa

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