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The Original of Laura: Legacy or Exploitation?

nabokovVladimir Nabokov’s last work has finally been published by his son, Dmitri, and the book received a cool reception from some corners of the literary world. Nabokov was working on The Original of Laura just prior to his death in 1977, and though some regard its publishing as an unearthing of a literary treasure, others feel it is a violation of a dying man’s last wish. Before his passing, the author requested that his wife, Vera, burn the collection of 138 index cards that held all his notes for the book. After his death, Vera could not bear to destroy the work, and stored the cards in a Swiss bank vault. This was not the first time she had prevented Nabokov’s work from being destroyed; she previously stopped him from burning the manuscript of his seminal work Lolita. The notes remained locked away for decades, even after Vera’s death in 1991, until their son, Dmitri, recently decided to publish them. Further eyebrows were raised when, Dmitri, released a 5,000-word excerpt to Playboy magazine, though he defended his choice by explaining his father’s fondness for the publication’s cartoons.

The published book is not really a cohesive draft, but a collection of notes. Each page has a perforated reproduction of Nabokov’s original note cards with the transcribed text printed below. The story follows the life of an unabashed party girl named Flora, who falls into an unhappy marriage with a dower, older man, and later becomes the subject of a tawdry novel. The notes show quick flashes of the author’s brilliance, but his severely declining health is reflected in the fragmentation of ideas, with some cards holding only a few scrawled words. It is unfortunate that Nabokov’s last published work does not represent an artist in his prime, but rather a sickly man facing his own mortality. Alexander Theroux of The Wall Street Journal concludes: “English professors may assign The Original of Laura to their students someday, but it is really better suited to a college ethics class.”

Read The Wall Street Journal review

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